British Touring Car Championship racing from the 1990s is some of the best motorsport you can watch. Not just because the action was tight and podium positions were ruthlessly fought for, or even because one of the greatest sports announcers of all time, Murray Walker, articulated the on-track action so well. But the fact that all the competing cars really looked like street-legal hardware you could pick up at a local dealership. Of course, underneath was a different story.
Regardless, BTCC cars looked and sounded so cool being slammed on gigantic, multi-spoke wheels with some minor aerodynamic modifications and very loud exhaust systems.
We didn’t really have anything like BTCC here in the USA. Actually, we did have something that was a lot like it, but for just two seasons: the North American Touring Car Championship (NATCC), also known as the North American Super Touring Championship.
This series ran during just 1996 and 1997, and truly was a North American championship: three of the eight venues were north of the border in Canada: Trois-Rivieres (in Quebec), Vancouver, and Toronto. It ran during select CART (what IndyCar was called at the time) race weekends, on both street and track circuits, and followed the international Super Touring ruleset.
Super Touring (ST) was defined by the FIA and followed by all of the major touring car series around the globe in the 1990s. The first to use its rulebook was BTCC, which in my opinion had the biggest hand in defining the class as a quintessential part of ’90s motorsports. The cars were based on four-door compacts, had a maximum displacement of two liters, and could have no more than six cylinders in their blocks. They were both front and rear-wheel drive, featured heavily modified engines to make the most of being naturally aspirated, and again, on the outside, largely resembled their street-going counterparts. Just, ya know, with racing electronics, lots of safety equipment packed inside, some major modification done to their body shells, racing brakes and suspension thrown in, sequential gearboxes mounted up, and so on. Antony Ingram did a brilliantly thorough deep-dive into ST for Evo a few years back.
Here in North America, the NATCC was a solid example of one of the top, golden rules of car design: All Cars Look Better as Racecars. Just look at them as they carened through Laguna Seca back in the day:
All kinds of cars you wouldn’t expect were outfitted to Super Touring spec to duke it out in this series. Most notably and, if I’m being honest, hilariously, the first-gen Dodge Stratus. Remember the ’90s Stratus? That’s right -the modest, small family sedan that was a fixture of ’90s suburbia and lives on in some very-of-the-era Edward Herman commercials was turned into a racecar, and my God did it actually look and sound badass. Wildly, the afore-hyperlinked video highlights the Stratus’ double-wishbone suspension, which we all know is a good basis for racecar stuff.
Some of the other platforms include the Honda Accord, BMW 320i, Ford Mondeo (imported from Europe for American track action!), and even Toyota Camry. The closest relative we had to the of-the-era Mondeo was the Ford Contour, which shared a lot of similar equipment and design but had a noticeably different body shell. Let’s also not forget about some hot ’90s Zoom Zoom action that made an appearance as well, the Mazda Xedos 6, which was never sold in the USA, either.
A fun resource I happened upon while digging up more info on these platforms is the FIA’s historic database, which I could honestly peruse for hours. Each car’s listing includes all of the ultra-fine details and descriptions to homologate these chassis for competition and will ensure hours of non-stop entertainment.
Which highlights some fun things to think about: if you’re driving around in a ’90s Stratus, Corolla, E26 318is or 320i, etc., you could impress your friends by saying your car is FIA homologated. Hopefully you keep company that’s just as stoked on motorsports history as you are, otherwise you might weird them out.
Getting back to the racing action itself, it’s a shame that it never really caught on here. From the start, the car counts were pretty thin, and by the near-end of the second and final season, the series’ field was depressingly small compared to its massive counterparts in Europe. Still, some fascinating action went down, and some big names were behind the wheel, such as Randy Pobst, Rod Millen, Jeff Andretti, and David Donahue. Luckily, a lot of the NATCC’s coverage lives on across various YouTube channels, including some great, year-in-review segments that are like mini-documentaries, such as this one:
I wonder what would’ve happened if this series lasted more than two seasons. Maybe touring car racing would be a bit more popular in the USA today? Regardless, don your favorite Dodge trucker hat, get hyped that Honda recently did a retro throwback to the Super Touring of Japan, Japanese Touring Car Championship, and peruse the short two-year schedule of NATCC on YouTube.