Iopinion:/I The Future Is Now

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Okay, I’ll admit it. I was a skeptic. I never thought that NASCAR’s newest invention, the "Car of Tomorrow," would ever compete on the track.

I read coverage from Atlanta, Talladega and Daytona’s tests, I had seen the car in person while in Daytona for Preseason Thunder testing, and I have talked to person upon person about NASCAR’s newest creation.

And I wasn’t convinced.

But just as he has convinced millions of people throughout the country about the value of helping those in need, Kyle Petty convinced me that the new car will be a reality in the near future…and not just because NASCAR announced it would be competing on short tracks and road courses beginning in 2007.

As one of two drivers who took part in the Car of Tomorrow test at Daytona Thursday, Petty is a big proponent of the many positives the new design offers.

"Here is part of what we lose sight when we talk about the COT, the original design, development and implementation of the car is all about safety. There is a lot of safety innovation that goes into the car. It's not necessarily about changing the shape or the size or what the car looks like, it's about making a safer car. If you put it in that perspective, then it falls more in line with as a change to the sport more like soft walls were, roof flaps, fuel cells and inner liners were."

He understands there are many opponents of the new project and its many advantages. However, he feels they will be persuaded when the time comes.

"Let's be honest, I love fans to death, they are the greatest part of the sport. But they complained about the "Chase," they complained when we went from ESPN to Fox and NBC. They just don't like change, and I don't like change either, especially when it gets in my pocket, and this gets in my pocket to have to change this car. But for the sport to grow and flourish, it's going to have to change."

It’s not enough for Petty to talk about and promote the changes, his organization has been one of the most involved along with NASCAR in the project. Not only is Petty Enterprises one of seven organizations to have fully developed a COT model, they have also had a car present at four of the seven tests NASCAR has conducted (both Atlanta test as well as today’s Daytona test), most amongst any team in the sport.

While not pointing any fingers or naming names, Petty wondered why his new car was the only one to take the opportunity to test at Daytona.

"Let me say this and let me be real clear on it, to move the ball forward faster and develop the car in a timely manner so that we as competitors and NASCAR as a sanctioning body can put on a show that the guy that bought a seat in the grandstands deserves, look around, you need more than two teams here testing,"

"Somebody has to get off their rear end and help develop this car instead of sitting on their couch complaining about how the car looks or how the car drives or what they don’t like about it. Somebody at some point in time has got to jump in and help."

Other teams who have a COT design built but chose to not attend either of this month’s open Daytona testing sessions include Richard Childress Racing, Penske Racing, Roush Racing, Chip Ganassi Racing, Hendrick Motorsports, and Dale Earnhardt Inc.

Nonetheless, Petty remained unmoved by the absences of others and continued to run the combination test with Brett Bodine and the NASCAR designed COT at Daytona throughout Thursday's session, testing various aspects of the car including the rear wing.

"If the car does what it has the potential to do, then the show we put on at the race track and the entertainment value will go up, cause it will be better. And if we have better racing, we are going to have more seats and more fans and nobody will remember this conversation we are having, it'll just be a waste of paper and a waste of airtime."

As the veteran driver of the No. 45 Wells Fargo Dodge said, "The time schedule for safety is never too aggressive."

Teams who have been twiddling their thumbs about the project better learn what Petty taught me today.

The future is now.

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