Argentina's TC Pickup Racing: Better than NASCAR?
Pickup truck racing is nothing new in North America, where it has been operating under the NASCAR banner since 1995. That being said, the Gander Outdoors/Craftsman Truck/Camping World action (yes, it's had that many title sponsors over the past 25 years) offers a very specific formula: full-size bodies running over tube frames, primarily on ovals. Although the trucks occasionally compete on a road course, it's very much the epitome of NASCAR's 'drive fast, turn left philosophy.'
There are other countries, however, where pickup racing is handled a little differently. While most enthusiasts are familiar with the utes that thunder down under in Australia's various V8 racing events, few know about a similar southern hemisphere series nestled at the very tip of the South American continent. This relatively new super truck set is administered by Turismo Carretera, one of the oldest governing bodies in all of motorsports, and it features a global panoply of pickups duking it out on some of the twistiest tracks available.
Settle It At The Track
The genesis of the series can be found in the bitter rivalry between Ford (with its T6 Ranger) and Chevrolet (the S-10, which shares its platform with the Colorado) in Argentina's heated pickup truck market.
In 2017, Turismo Carretera, which has been overseeing road racing in the country for more than 80 years, saw an opportunity to exploit the fierce brand loyalty that has driven record sales of both trucks in that market.
Dubbed 'TC Pick Up,' the series was unveiled late that year with a fairly simple formula: like NASCAR, the trucks involved would be tube-frame specials, but key differences included a focus exclusively on mid-size, four-door models (as opposed to the full-size, single-cab jobs in the U.S.). Each truck would also be motivated by a straight-six, 24-valve engine, DOHC units that were all built by the same speed shop, TopLine, to ensure as even a playing field as possible.
Short, But Exciting Inaugural Season
Racing began in September the following year. Initially, Ford, Toyota, Nissan and Volkswagen all signed on to participate, with the latter three manufacturers running versions of the Hilux, Frontier and the Amarok, respectively.
Conspicuous by its absence was Chevrolet, which was hamstrung by other racing obligations and couldn't officially make the S-10 available for TC Pick Up.
The field would broaden in 2019, when privateers pushed a Chevy onto the starting grid for the first time, alongside official entries newcomers Fiat (the Toro). General Motors quickly got its lawyers involved, and the driver of the would-be Chevrolet was briefly force to rename his truck 'La Chiva 50' before coming to an agreement with the brand on using the S-10 badge.
Fun And Frenzied
What is the TC Pick-Up series like? The initial 2018 season was limited to three races, largely in a support capacity for other Turismo Carretera events.
There were seven entries overall, with local star Gastón Mazzacane taking the abbreviated championship from behind the wheel of a Volkswagen. Mazzacane's victory was unsurprising given the fact that he had previously spent two years of his long career racing in Formula 1 for Minardi and Prost, along with a stint in Champ car before spreading his wings in Formula Truck's big rig racing in Brazil.
For 2019, the series broadened beyond the Autodromo Roberto Mouras to include the Centenario circuit in Neuquén, as well as Rio Cuarto. The number of events also expanded to 10, starting in March and ending mid-December. This time Ford is dominating, with four victories for points leader Juan Pablo Gianini versus two for Nissan's Valentin Aguirre as they head into the final race of the year. The number of participants has exploded, too, with a whopping 34 drivers having so far taken to the grid.
Would It Work Here?
Could the TC Pick-Up formula work in the United States? There's no denying how entertaining the Turismo Carretera competition has been, with the smaller trucks a good fit for the undulating curves of the tight road courses they've been running.
The trucks also look much closer to stock than anything NASCAR has fielded in decades, which no doubt has helped the series swell its ranks of fans and competitors alike by tapping in to the mid-size pickup lovefest that is the Argentinean market.
Looking back, the closest analog to TC Pick Up was the SCCA Racetruck Challenge, which ran from 1987 to 1991 and featured a number of compact trucks vying for Sunday supremacy. That being said, the American public has proven itself to be largely indifferent to road racing, with even IndyCar struggling to remain relevant.
It's possible that outside of the open wheel context—and absent the import brands that have largely dominated sports car racing—it could have a chance. Given the expanding field of entry-level pickups currently available, and with newcomers slated from the likes of Hyundai, the idea could very well take hold in a nation whose interest in traditional NASCAR has plummeted.
Want to learn more about another unusual racing series? Check out IMSA's nearly-forgotten Renault Cup.