Somewhere there is a racing historian who can tell you who came up with the idea of using numbers on race cars. I'm not that historian. I'm sure logic had a hand in the circumstances, and it has proven itself to work. There's also the tradition of having the driver's name written on the roof right above the window openings (sometimes on both sides of the car).
A few years ago, the American Speed Association (ASA) decided to put the driver's last name in big letters along the bottom edge of the body. You didn't need to have a set of binoculars or a photographic memory to know who was driving what car. It helped spectators and officials alike. Surprisingly, the idea hasn't been embraced by many tracks or sanctions. Of course, the driver's name still remains on the roof in most cases.
Back to the idea of numbers, the ASA is again using its innovation and changing the look of the American race car. In an effort to entice more sponsorship to benefit competitors, the series has decided to mandate number placement on the rear quarter-panels of the cars. The top number will remain and will be faced so that the spectators on the outside of the track can read it. Some sanctions require the drivers to number the cars so that they can be read on the inside of the racetrack. This is generally done when scorers are seated in the infield.
With few exceptions, the number of the car has seldom assisted in advertising potential. It has taken up the largest area of the car, an area where revenue could be gained.
Purists will argue that the cars will become rolling billboards. Essentially, they have been for a long time. It was just a little more subtle then. It all has to do with the idea of having the sport in existence for a long time to come. The placement of a primary sponsor on the full door panel will keep that sponsor's attention longer during the initial presentation.
The number placement is just one of the rule changes put forth by the sanction for 2004. Safety has been beefed up because of the sanction's move to longer tracks on the racing schedule. Custom-manufactured, multi-layer aluminum seats are required, and homebuilt seats are outlawed. Roof nets will be put on all cars above the driver.
There is always resistance to change. Safety rules are made for the improvement of the sport and the protection of the competitor. Superficial changes like moving the number don't harm the sport, but the sanction will likely face derision for their ideas.
Oh well, they laughed at some of the world's greatest minds. Someone had to think outside the box, and the ASA stands to gain on other entities simply because of its courage to change the look of the car. -Larry Jewett
The ASA will mandate number placement on the rear quarter-panels for 2004.