Saturday, April 5, 2008

Fun what?

I’m no “race-car ya ya.” By the way, that’s a Cake reference. . . yes, their new stuff sucks but in the ’90s they rocked. Back to the point, I don’t like NASCAR. In fact, I loath NASCAR and consider it an over-scripted bit of profiteering that preys upon a nation of overfed, couch-tethered, Jerry Springer fans (wow, that sounds a lot like WWF wrestling). Plus, NASCAR is boring - really boring. Come on, what fun is there in watching a bunch of sponsor-festooned slot cars orbit an oval? Besides, who can really tell the Fords from the Toyotas!?

There is, however, a new low-buck alternative to the otherwise cash-driven world of wheel-to-wheel racing. When I say “new,” I mean “new” to the United States. See, the Uniroyal Fun-Cup has, for the last ten years, been steadily gaining popularity in Europe. The Fun-Cup began in Belgium back in 1997 as a way for cash-deprived, would-be racers to get affordable, seat time in competitive wheel-to-wheel racing. Since its inception, the series has spread across Europe with events at more than thirty venues. The culmination of last year's Cup featured a grid of more than 170 cars competing in a 25-hour endurance race at the Spa circuit in Belgium. With more than 30,000 fans in attendance at Spa, the Fun-Cup seems to be developing a large and loyal following. Organizers hope that this year’s introduction of the Fun-Cup to North America will prove just as successful.

To keep costs down, the series has been built around a low-cost spec racer that, in turn-key form, lists for about $35,000. For comparison, consider that just a NASCAR Nextel Cup engine has a price tag north of $40 grand. (I wasn’t able to locate a cost breakdown for the new NASCAR Car Of Tomorrow.) To further reduce the price of tuition, Fun-Cup races average five or six hours long, allowing for multiple drivers for each race car. This allows participants to split the costs among team-drivers. It’s a sort of racecar pool where as many as five drivers may use the same car at the same race. Finally, as a nod to the greenies, the Fun-Cup car is powered by ethanol.

Ordinarily, I don’t get all goofy about spec racecars, but, this one is different. This one is a Beetle. The Fun-Cup spec car has a polymer body molded in the timeless shape of the classic Volkswagen Beetle. In fact, the windshield and wipers are actual VW Beetle pieces while the Fun-Cup car’s rear-mounted, water-cooled engine is a parts-bin item that would be at home under the hood of any late-model New Beetle. I suppose that this is no surprise. What other form could a low-buck racecar burning alternative fuels take.

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