NASCAR returns to its poorer rootsWritten by Dave Woolford | | email@example.com
NASCAR CEO and Chairman Brian France, trying to keep longtime racing loyalists from losing interest following constant changes and tinkering with the rules, often on the run, said at the beginning of last season that the NASCAR Sprint Cup series needed to return to its roots.
There was nothing of substance offered by France to reinforce his initiative. It was just stop-gap gabble until something, anything, could come along and resuscitate the series.
But a wretched economy has driven NASCAR further toward its roots at speeds that defy any type of restrictor plates. France’s whimsical spin has become legitimate.
Now he’s selling, “opportunity,” a chance for a number of new teams to enter his sport with the cost of admission a bargain.
NASCAR was created from a shade-tree existence in the post-war Depression era. It was identified by blue-collar hard work, dirty fingernails, baloney sandwiches and you run what you brung. It started to thrive once it came out of the hills and onto the hard roads, survived another economic crash in the late 70s and then sped off into a period of obsessive, compulsive success. Left in its dust were core fans, core race tracks and core convictions in the race to Wall Street’s coffers.
Now, the deflated economy has driven NASCAR closer to its roots than it wants to be, back to its senses with people all of a sudden having to make do with very limited resources and little likelihood for a speedy recovery. Just like the old days.
“We were on such a rocket ride there for a while,” team owner Rick Hendrick said recently. “People just kept paying more money and more money. It was like there was no tomorrow.
“But now we’ve seen tomorrow.”
And it ain’t pretty.
The return to yesteryear has been forced upon NASCAR like it has on so many other entities and individuals. NASCAR’s only recourse is to fall into line, and keep its costs down and its brand of racing as competitive and entertaining as possible.
The Big Three automakers and Toyota are laying off people by the thousands. NASCAR and auto racing in general is more dependant on corporate sponsorship than any other sport.
“Win on Sunday sell on Monday” used to be the auto manufacturer’s motto. Now its win on Sunday and maybe you can scrape together enough funds to race again the following Sunday.
The 36-race Sprint Cup schedule begins Feb.15 with the Daytona 500, the series’ Super Bowl. After that there could be a lot of teams in the soup.
The issues facing NASCAR and its Sprint Cup teams are as complex and scary as they’ve ever been. Forced to customize its series to be more compatible with the tumbling economy, NASCAR teams have had to lay off or fire almost 1,000 workers. NASCAR has discontinued testing at tracks that sanction NASCAR events, a cost-cutting move NASCAR announced at the end of last season. Some teams saved more than $100,000 per car just by eliminating testing at Daytona.
Promoters, in some cases, have reduced ticket prices and attempted to work with area hotels and motels to downsize their race weekend rip-off prices.
As ESPN.com has reported, “Teams have combined operations. Teresa Earnhardt and Chip Ganassi now are one Chevrolet team as Earnhardt Ganassi Racing.
“Petty Enterprises joined Gillett Evernham Motorsports to keep The King’s name in Cup as Richard Petty Motorsports.” Otherwise, the Petty influence that has been NASCAR’s linchpin from its inception would have probably gone away. The repercussion would have been incomprehensible.
“And Hall of Fame Racing has a new partnership with Yates Racing and driver in Bobby Labonte,” ESPN.com says.
As for the drivers, Jeff Gordon is flying commercial, his private plane in dry dock. Defending three-time champion Jimmie Johnson is saving money on shaving cream with his new five-o-clock-shadow look facade. Carl Edwards can now save money by filing his taxes jointly following his recent marriage.
There’s also talk of moving the Sprint Cup’s annual multi-extravagant awards gala from the New York City’s Waldorf Astoria to Bubba’s Home-Smoked Catfish Bar and Grille in Murky Creek, N.C.
NASCAR plans to go ahead with his drug-testing program, but everyone knows that a driver exposed to a substance that can lead to any kind of enhancement will immediately put it in his gas tank, not his body.
There will be the usual 43 cars in Feb. 15’s Daytona 500 field. But there could be far fewer cars at upcoming events as the race for sponsorship dollars outdistances everything else.
Why 43 cars? No one knows for sure. When NASCAR founder, the late Bill France Sr., was asked why he needed so many cars when he had so few legitimate contenders, he simply responded, “So the fast guys have someone to pass.”
Feb. 15’s Daytona 500 won’t reflect a lot of the rough roads that lie ahead for NASCAR and, let’s face it, there’s plenty of fuss, buzz, thrills and spills in the offing to rev up even the most suspicious and insolvent race car fans.
For instance, can Johnson win an unprecedented fourth consecutive championship? How will Tony Stewart fare as a new team owner and driver along with new teammate Ryan Newman? Who will challenge Johnson? Are the best bets Edwards, Kyle Busch and Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr.?
Will 50-year-old veteran Mark Martin, also now driving for Hendrick, finally land the title that has eluded him for nearly three decades? Can 18-year-old rookie Joey Logano satisfactorily replace Stewart in the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota? And can Sam Hornish of Defiance finally find at least Top-20 consistency with Penske Racing?
NASCAR has a new starting command. It goes something like this: “Gentlemen, start your engines! But first tighten your belts.”
E-mail columnist Dave Woolford at firstname.lastname@example.org.