Pony Cars or Phony Cars?

Dale Wilkerson                                                   July 2010

Once upon a time, there was this little boy that wanted to see the Pony Cars race. His father and grandfather had told him many stories of the glory days of the Pony Cars, and he hoped that one day he could see the Pony Cars race at a track like Daytona.
His grandfather told him of the NASCAR Grand American Series, where cars like the Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Camaro, Dodge Challenger, and Mercury Cougar battled for wins. James Hylton drove a Camaro to victory at Daytona in 1970. The little boy had caught a glimpse of a Pony Car in a commercial during the race and his grandfather also told him about the Trans-Am Series, another place where the Pony Cars stalked the speedways of America.
When this little boy heard that the Nationwide Series would be racing pony cars, he asked his father to take him to see these ponies running at full speed near the great beach.
The little boy took his seat and grabbed the binoculars that his grandfather let him borrow for the race. The first car he saw was driven by Brad, and it was a Dodge Challenger. “That car looks great, it looks a lot like the pictures that grandfather showed me,” the little boy said. The next car he saw was driven by Carl, and the stickers said it was a Mustang. “That car looks okay, but that Mustang in the parking lot looks a lot better,” the little boy said. But the next two cars left the little boy scratching his head.
He looked through his grandfathers binoculars and he could see the two cars coming toward him. He strained to make out the numbers and he spotted a number three on one and the number twenty on the second of the fast approaching cars. The little boy shouted, “Dad!!!! Junior is in his Grandma’s car and Joey is driving Aunt Edith’s car!” His father explained to him that Junior was in an Impala and the Joey had a Camry. The little boy was disappointed; he thought all the drivers would be in pony cars.
He asked his father why Joey wasn’t at least in a Supra. “Uncle Bobby had a Supra dad; it is in that picture from his wedding. I know it wasn’t a true Pony Car, but wouldn’t it make a better one than a Camry?” Before his dad could answer, the little boy asked another question. “Why is Junior not in a Camaro? That old-school paint job would look great on a Camaro wouldn’t it?” His dad struggled for answers and about the best thing he could come up with was: “Son some car companies do strange things when it comes to racing. I would have loved to have seem a Pontiac Trans-Am out there myself, but I guess I will just have to settle on pulling for those Dodges and enjoy a night of reminiscing over that paint job on Junior’s car. Son, you do remember that I told you that Dale Senior raced a Thunderbird with that same paint job don’t you? It was #15 but it looked just as good.”
That little boy wasn’t the only person left wanting more after the Nationwide Series rolled out the new cars last Friday. By all accounts, the Dodge Challenger stole the show as the best looking Pony Car on track. The similarities between the race car and the street car are incredible. The Challenger is the best looking NASCAR vehicle to hit the track in several years.
The Ford Mustang looked okay, but remove the stickers and it would be hard to tell it from a Fusion. Then there are the other two entries, Impala and Camry. Much like a Ford Fusion, I find it hard to get excited about a front wheel drive family sedan on steroids as a race car.
The old saying was what wins on race day, sells on Monday. Somewhere along the way, the manufacturers got lazy (do you remember how long the Thunderbird, Monte Carlo, and Grand Prix cars that were raced went without a facelift from Detroit during the 1990’s) and decided fans wanted to see the best selling cars on the racetracks. That is how Ford brought the Taurus to the track, and Toyota was selling a lot of Camry’s before entering NASCAR competition with them.
Maybe the manufacturers will wake up, and again use motorsports to add to the business. Well, three of them need to wake up. Dodge is already moving forward in this line of thought. If the other three see a challenge in the market due to a jump in the sale of Challengers, that should get their attention faster than Dale Junior’s souvenir rigs sold out of #3-Wrangler shirts.