Why Doesn’t NASCAR Use Real Stock Cars?

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You may have looked up the term stock car, only to realize that NASCAR cars today don’t conform to the true definition of what a stock car is. However, there are a few reasons you hear fans and broadcasters sound as though NASCAR still uses real stock cars.

NASCAR does not use real stock cars as the need for improved safety and performance became the priority. The Generation 1 cars started off as strictly stock. But with each passing generation, innovation and safety took over, causing NASCAR to deviate from using actual stock cars.

Below, we will pinpoint when NASCAR deviated from its strictly stock mentality and discuss two theories as to why they stopped using true stock cars early in the sport’s history. We will also talk about efforts NASCAR made for their cars to at least resemble their production line counterparts.

Are NASCAR Cars Really Stock?

NASCAR cars are not stock vehicles built on a production line. Instead, they are handmade, or “built from the ground up.” You can’t just go to your local Ford Dealer, buy a Ford Mustang, modify it, and enter the vehicle into a NASCAR event. It would never pass an inspection.

NASCAR stands for the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing. However, many fans debate why NASCAR continues to use the phrase ‘stock car’ in its acronym, with many poking fun at the term, referring to NASCAR as “No Actual Stock Cars Are Racing.”

Before we tackle why NASCAR cars are not stock cars, let’s define what a stock car is. A stock car is “an automobile of a standard make modified for racing.” With that definition in mind, it is easy to realize that NASCAR cars are not real stock cars anymore.

Instead, NASCAR cars feature safety and other components that you don’t see on production cars, like advanced restraint systems, a more central driver’s cockpit on the Next Gen Cars, treadless tires, lack of air conditioning or a traditional dashboard, the list never ends.

Why Say Stock Car?

Stock car has become a symbolic term to refer to NASCAR cars. So, if someone still refers to these machines as stock cars, or if they call NASCAR stock car racing, few people will strive to correct the offending individual. The phrase has become part of NASCAR lexicon and it always will be.

Next Gen Car To The Rescue

Although the Next Gen Car is not coming off an assembly line, they are designed to better resemble their street legal equivalents. This is something that took a few years to develop, since safety remained NASCAR’s top priority. Once they figured out technicalities like aerodynamics and downforce, they were ready to make the cars’ design look as though they came right off the production line.

Both NASCAR and its manufacturers wanted those Chevy Camaros to resemble their counterparts in the window at General Motors dealerships nationwide. Ditto for the Toyota Camrys and Ford Mustangs, which led the organization to bringing back the old “Win on Sunday, sell on Monday” moniker.

NASCAR also believed that, given the further resemblance between street legal Camaros, Mustangs, and Camrys had to those gracing the track, they could recoup some of those ratings they lost in the past decade. Time will ultimately tell whether NASCAR is successful.

Not True Stock Cars

Either way you look at it, the Next Gen Cars are not true stock cars. NASCAR can try to “put the stock back in stock car racing” all they want, but when you look closer at the new cars, they still hold noticeable differences from production Camaros, Mustangs, and Camrys.

While the resemblance between the production and NASCAR cars are striking, the latter still lack air conditioning, airbags, doors, real headlights, and real taillights. These cars are still built by hand inside race shops at team headquarters.

When Did NASCAR Stop Using Real Stock Cars?

NASCAR started to deviate away from stock cars as early as Generation 1 and that deviation continued through Generation 4. Some also argue NASCAR cars were no longer stock when they nixed their factory-size engine restriction mandates, which occurred between 1973 and 1974.

Generation 1

In 1949, NASCAR called itself the Strictly Stock Series. If you take one look at those cars, you know immediately that they came straight off the production line. In 1961, following Lee Petty’s near-fatal accident at the Daytona 500 qualifying race with Johnny Beauchamp, he, according to his son, Richard Petty, said, “go on to the Plymouth Dealership and buy a new car.”

The new car was needed because Petty’s famed number 42 was torn to pieces given the severity of the crash in which he and Beauchamp smashed through the guard rail and landed outside the track.

There were also few standards on what became the Generation 1 Cars, with numerous manufacturers eligible to compete. Drivers, like Petty, all purchased the cars from dealerships and were not allowed to modify the car’s body or frame, hence the term, “Strictly Stock.”

The only major difference between the Generation 1 Cars and their production counterparts was the fact NASCAR mandated they bolt or weld the doors shut for safety purposes. NASCAR also encouraged heavy-duty rear axles, which helped prevent cars from rolling over, and they mandated seat belts.

NASCAR Deviates From Real Stock Cars

In 1967, NASCAR started to deviate from shorter, dirt tracks and fairgrounds raceways. Something they would do away with completely following the 1970 season when they rebranded as the Winston Cup Series.

NASCAR still wanted to “Win on Sunday, sell on Monday.” However, they abandoned the “anything goes as long as it’s stock” approach, instead allowing teams to freely adjust the chassis as long as they didn’t make modifications to the body. They also did away with doors.

Despite further adjustments to the frames and lack of doors, these cars still closely resembled those you could find at a local dealership. But you may argue that these cars were not truly stock, as NASCAR outsourced Holman-Moody, Banjo Matthews, and Hutchensen-Pagan to build chassis for all cars.

However, some fans may consider the Generation 2 rides as stock cars, as NASCAR still mandated teams to sell at least 500 cars to the public. To the NASCAR purist, however, the Generation 2 cars were not stock given the more liberal adjustments teams could make.

Enter Generation 3

While NASCAR distanced itself from its strictly stock moniker as early as the Generation 1 car, its Generation 2 designs still held staunch similarities to production line stock cars. But when the Generation 3 cars debuted in 1981, they further distanced themselves from street legal equivalents.

However, their bodies still held striking similarities to their road car counterparts. The Ford Thunderbirds and Chevrolet Monte Carlos still looked a lot like their factory-made cousins,per NASCAR historian, Buz McKim.

Production-line vehicles grew smaller, and Generation 3 cars followed suit, with the most notable change occurring in their smaller 110-inch wheelbase. And they still purchased body panels through their GM, Ford, and Chrysler manufacturers.

However, the Generation 3 models were also custom-built, which ended most traces of anything being truly stock within them. When the Generation 4 Car debuted in February 1992, the last vestiges of any resemblance to their production line counterparts vanished.

When NASCAR Cars Were No Longer Stock

As to when NASCAR really stopped using stock cars is up for debate and it boils down to your personal point of view. If you believe NASCAR’s deviance from traditional stock cars marked the end of the stock car era, then you would say they were no longer stock when 1967 rolled around.

However, if you could still consider the Generation 2 designs stock cars because they still looked just like their production line equivalents to the point NASCAR mandated selling them to the public, then 1981’s advent of the fully customized Generation 3 rides would be your date.

Some sources and fans even opined that NASCAR cars stopped being stock during the Generation 1 era.They argued that after Bill France Jr. placed restrictions on chassis, powertrains, and body styles, NASCAR was no longer truly a stock car organization.

Or others have even considered the actual stock era to have ended in the 1990s (Generation 4). The Gen 4 Cars were only required to have their “hood, roof, and decklid” resemble their factory-made counterparts.

Why Did NASCAR Stop Using Stock Cars?

NASCAR stopped using stock cars to improve safety. This is the simple answer many would point to, but it is more complex and innovations in performance also played a large role in the move away from stock cars. NASCAR mandating improvements ultimately meant stock cars could no longer be used.

Innovators like Banjo Matthews and his modified chassis is another and perhaps primary reason NASCAR ultimately stopped using stock cars.

Matthews, plus other innovators like Homan Moody and Hutchensen-Pagan, sought to provide equipment to teams that would build not just safer cars, but faster ones. And this makes sense, considering the high speeds the cars reached throughout Generation 2 and well into Generation 3’s lifespan.

These changes unraveled slowly over time. Which also explains why it is more of one’s subjective opinion as to when NASCAR cars were no longer truly stock. But the reason behind NASCAR’s deviation from stock is also subjective. Some will say safety. Others say innovation.

Will NASCAR Go Back To Stock Cars?

NASCAR will never go back to stock cars. Though great strides have been made in making the Next Gen Car look much more like its street legal counterpart, it’s not possible for teams to buy a car from a dealership and modify it to the standards needed to race in NASCAR.

The organization has come a long way in adding safety features to its vehicles, especially the CoT, which set the stage for even greater safety features in the Gen 6 and Next Gen Cars. The sport has come a long way, but it is asking a lot for NASCAR to return to its strictly stock roots.

To truly return to true stock cars, NASCAR would need its teams to buy production cars from dealers and somehow keep up with all the technology and safety features in their custom-built cars. This just isn’t feasible in the NASCAR landscape. At least not as of 2022.

But it doesn’t mean NASCAR won’t keep finding ways to “put the ‘stock’ back into stock car racing.” Something that hadn’t been seen, at least from the cars’ bodies, since the Generation 3 rides graced the track from 1981 to 1991.

What NASCAR Can Do

NASCAR can continually tweak the Next Gen and future generations to resemble production equivalents to the point you wouldn’t tell the two apart if they parked next to one another. They already proved headway with the Next Gen Car, so they only need to make further tweaks.

But they can’t put doors back on the cars like the Generation 1 cars had. They also can’t use production vehicles because at that point, they would be using real headlights, taillights, and even air conditioners, all of which NASCAR prohibits.

Final Thoughts

NASCAR cars are not truly stock cars and, given all the features they have in the 21st century that differ from their production line counterparts, they will never again be true stock cars. However, the Next Gen Cars provided headway for the cars to at least resemble those you see on the street.