Kligerman: A sound opinion about the noise appeal of race cars
It may seem odd to put NASCAR and Porsche in the same sentence.
But these two iconic brands have fans who are more intrinsically connected than you could imagine.
Not in the sense that Porsches ever have turned a lap in the Daytona 500. Nor in the sense that NASCAR fans own Porsches.
I would go out on a limb to say there is probably an almost immeasurably small amount of self-described NASCAR fans who own a Porsche.
The link between NASCAR and Porsche is far more cerebral.
And there’s an important lesson to be learned about the latest controversy gripping NASCAR this week: Noise reduction.
The longtime NASCAR fan often laments the days of old, remarking how much better things were “back in the day.”
The Porsche fan and owner is no different. Old Porsches have skyrocketed in value as a freakish cult infatuation with any Porsche whose engine is “air-cooled” has driven demand well past comprehension.
And just like the move from air-cooled to water-cooled in 1998, every single change (even when it’s what Porsche engineers have decided is better) draws a litany of angrily-written-in-perfect-grammar posts and comments flooding the internet.
Most recently in 2015, Porsche announced it was replacing the venerable, beloved flat, six-cylinder engine in the Boxster and Cayman, the younger brother to the iconic 911.
They now would have a turbocharged 4-cylinder and be known as the 718. Removing the legendary, high-strung, wailing flat 6 was utter and complete blasphemy for the purists and the Porsche-piles.
Gone would be the sound synonymous with Porsche – a classic, crisp growl that would reach a crescendo at the top of the rev range in a symphony of engineering excellence.
Replacing it would be a much more reserved, timid growl and burbly overture. To understand the resulting irreverence, look no further than the hundreds of YouTube videos simply comparing the sounds of the old car vs. the new.
The new 718 Cayman and Boxster are faster with better looks, better handling, better interior and better fuel efficiency. As many reviews have stated, it is a better car in almost every way… except the sound.
I can speak from experience that Porsche dealers have entered an unenviable position in trying to sell you on every one of those attributes of the new 718. The problem is, even they know the reality.
It just doesn’t sound the same.
Why did Porsche do this? To see how many angry forum posts could be generated?
No (as funny as that might seem). It’s a sign of the times.
Fuel-mileage regulations have forced automakers continually to chase ever-increasing mpg standards. They must become innovative with their designs, and much of this has led to go the downsizing, turbocharged route.
Sound is important. It is one of a few senses that remind us we are living, breathing mammals in a vibrant world. Those who do not have it lament its loss and have described the frustration, loneliness, and isolation of being deaf.
That’s why outrage greeted the news this week that NASCAR was considering a reduction in the ear-splitting level of noise. It was met with the utter disgust of being told your home owners’ association won’t let you have your dog anymore.
Let’s be honest. NASCAR fans have put up with a lot of change over recent years. From formats, overtime procedures, car design and how a champion is decided.
Through it all, some things have remained the same -- like the almost 60-year-old design of the Porsche 911.
For the better part of the same timeframe, NASCAR vehicles have been front engine, rear-wheel-drive, naturally aspirated V8s. That’s allowed the sound to almost be a constant.
And this is why I wonder “Why change now?” with the current state within the sport.
Unlike Porsche we don’t have government regulatory bodies telling us what to do. We don’t have to change anything. The only people we need to satisfy are the fans – who have been coming to hear the same sound for 60-plus years.
I saw one fan comment “It’s a sound that can literally be felt in the chest when you’re in the stands.” Why would you take this away?
But on the flip side, I can see the reasoning.
As I have entered the world of broadcasting (and have spent more of my life at racetracks than not), I have commented many times that it would be nice if the cars were quieter. The thing is, I am being selfish. Sure it would be easier to do my TV job, and even when I am racing, it would be less headache-inducing.
But I also am being paid to be at race tracks. It’s not about me or the executives trying to entertain VIPs. The sound is for the very people that make our jobs possible — the fans.
Therefore, NASCAR should take cues from the unfortunate situation in which Porsche finds itself. Be careful about altering the sound and remember the futility of the Porsche salesman who can name all the improved attributes of the 718.
We have provided many better changes. Let’s not allow anyone to say, “But it just doesn’t sound the same.”