The Frontstretch: Bailing On The Auto Bailout, Loving Las Vegas, And Other Post-Vacation Thoughts by Jeff Meyer -- Thursday March 12, 2009

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Bailing On The Auto Bailout, Loving Las Vegas, And Other Post-Vacation Thoughts

Voices From the Heartland · Jeff Meyer · Thursday March 12, 2009

 

For the last two weekends, I have been in Las Vegas. The first weekend, I was there with my girlfriend and a couple of friends to take in the wonders of Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The second weekend, I was there for bowling — but that is a horror story for another publication. The good news is, the sunburn that I started at LVMS (and finished poolside during a short trip to the Los Angeles area) is turning into a nice tan, _and _I managed to make it home with a couple of Ben Franklins still in my pocket! In short, life has been good.

This was my first time to visit Bruton Smith’s track in the Nevada desert and, I must say, it was a wonderful experience. The whole “Neon Garage” experience is well worth the money (for one day anyway) and offers the average fan many views and opportunities to get close to the action that they may not get to experience at other tracks. Of course, being Vegas, it also offers you the opportunity to meet other new and wonderful NASCAR fans as well — in a style that only Vegas can offer!

The track produces races that are as exciting as any of the other so called “best” on the circuit, and surprisingly, in my opinion, was 10 times better than the race this past weekend at Atlanta — a track that usually produces exciting finishes but kinda failed in that respect on Sunday. All in all, LVMS is definitely deserving of a second date. Simply take one from Fontana and give it to Vegas. It is close enough to NASCAR’s coveted “second largest market” and, being Vegas, the fan doesn’t have to worry about hotel prices being jacked to unreasonable rates.

All that being said, LVMS is still not immune from spouting the same propaganda made famous by NASCAR and their track in Fontana when it comes to explaining empty seats. Apparently, it is now considered a “sellout” just as long as a track “distributes” all of its tickets.

“I had my doubts a couple of months ago that we’d get so close to a full house, but now it looks realistic,” said LVMS president, Chris Powell, just before the race. “We’re aware of some fans who, probably because of the downturn in the economy, have purchased tickets and will not be able to travel to Las Vegas for this weekend’s racing activities, so that should explain any empty seats that are visible. Except for a couple of hundred singles that we have available, all of our tickets have been distributed.”

Jeff gave up his journalism side in Vegas to enjoy some of the area’s local attractions.

No further word was available as to the definition of “distributed.” I can assure you, though, that anyone who wanted to venture from their original seats to try and find a better vantage point at LVMS had no problems in obtaining their goal!

When you think about it, and if you possess enough self-control not to gamble away your money (a trait I am still working on), attending a race at Las Vegas is probably one of the cheapest on the circuit. Airfare to Vegas is usually always a good deal and, as I mentioned before, it is the one place on the planet that hotel rates are not jacked during a race weekend. As far as Las Vegas is concerned, unlike other cities, NASCAR’s presence there on any given weekend is no big deal. It’s just another “show” to be seen. Sorry to bust your bubble, Brian France!

On a different note, but yet still concerning LVMS owner Bruton Smith (and others), I want to throw in my two cents’ worth on some recent statements made in regards to our government’s responsibility to save the U.S. automakers.

“It’s an abomination,” Smith said recently on the issue. “This country owes them. They saved this country during World War II. What if we get in another major, major war? Who’s going to build things? We need to do whatever we can to save those companies.”

Now I realize that this is a touchy situation that can quickly become politically charged, but really, let’s take a moment to reflect on this. Yes, there is no doubt that the automakers did play a huge part during WWII but, does our country “owe” them for running themselves into the ground for the last 60 years? When it comes to a “major, major war,” this country will do just fine with or without the “Big 3” as we know them now.

You see, a country’s ability to win a war hinges, in part, on just that — its ABILITY to manufacture. We still have the facilities, the workers, and the resources to do that no matter what name is on the company door… or even if that company is still in business. Not to mention the facilities of the so called “foreign” automakers that build their cars much more efficiently here in our own country!

Now, imagine for a moment that we are involved in a major war where Japan is once again our enemy. Do you think that for one minute we are going to allow them to use their facilities here in the U.S. against us? Of course not! We are going to take over their U.S. operations, thank them for showing us how to do it efficiently, and then proceed to kick their ass. So to say that we “owe” Ford, GM or any other company for their contribution during WWII is ludicrous. Yes, there may be other legitimate reasons that a bailout is beneficial — but that debt has been paid. Where is the company’s responsibility to run their operation efficiently and not end up being a burden to the common taxpayer? It’s business. You run it right… or you don’t and you go down. Simple as that.

And while we are on the subject, Tony Stewart had a few comments to add. According to Stewart, he, too, thinks it is “our” fault because we haven’t been acting like “Americans” and are not buying the Big 3’s inferior products.

“The biggest thing is we’ve got to get people to not be afraid to spend money again,” said Stewart. “GM is doing their part. The Chevy brand is building cars that are affordable and economic and efficient. From a manufacturer’s side, that’s all you can ask for. I think they’ve really responded and done a good job in that respect. We have to take an active role ourselves. I’m not saying as drivers or NASCAR. I’m saying our country together. We’ve got to get off our wallets and go back being Americans again and living life the way we used to.”

Well, I’m no economist, but common sense tells me that “being Americans again and living life the way we used to” also includes RUNNING a business the way we used to. That entails NOT expecting someone to save your business if you post millions and millions is losses every QUARTER for years on end.

Now, here is a novel idea…why not let the oil companies, with their billions of PROFIT every quarter, bail out the businesses that make cars that use THEIR product! Don’t call me “un-American” because I spend my money wisely and buy the best product on the market. It’s all part of a uniquely American concept called “capitalism.” Supply and demand, baby. Build a product that I WANT to buy, and you’ve got no problem in the first place.

Now, on to another hot topic in recent days with the media… “start and park” and its effect on NASCAR as we know it.

First of all, as a fan, I have to say, “Who cares?!” It’s simply not the big issue that some in the media have recently blown it up to be. I know that that position is in direct opposition to some of my colleagues here on this site… but give me a break! With all the other major problems that plague NASCAR nowadays, “start and park” should be the least of its worries. Especially when it is NASCAR itself that has helped create the phenomenon and, if reports are true, even actively encourages it.

The problem here is simple corporate greed. NASCAR implemented the insane Top 35 rule to simply insure that certain corporate sponsors are seen every Sunday. NASCAR also encourages the “start and parks” so that they get their “bonus” from the networks!

So, who cares if some little guy has found a way to ride on the coattails and make a little money? That is nothing compared to the myriad of scams that NASCAR has going in order to line its pockets every week! It certainly is not “threatening racing as we know it.”

How about this: if you want to save the “integrity” of racing, do away with the top 35 rule and replace it with say, a top 15 rule to placate the “super sponsors,” while make everyone else “time in” for a race! In that way, you still have some of the “greed” that will never go away, and at the same time, you get a start on the road to restoring a bit of integrity, too.

But using the argument that a “start and park” team can focus simply on qualifying and possibly prohibiting a better known and well-funded team from racing is BS! If you are well-funded and have a talented driver, you should have no problem beating a “start and park” operation during qualifying. It’s not like a “start and park” as a superior “super engine.” Those things are so closely monitored by NASCAR that it is a very weak argument at this point. But if I had my way, EVERYONE — no matter what your name is or who your sponsor is — would have to time in!

Imagine that… a race with the 43 fastest cars on Sunday, not the 35 best sponsors! What a concept!

Stay off the wall (and out of the casinos!),

Jeff Meyer

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Lunar Tunes
03/12/2009 03:07 AM
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Tony Stewart can buy all the Chevrolets he wants.

Tony Stewart does not even buy his own groceries, he is so rich.

Money is nothing to Tony. He now has more than he can spend.

Wish I was in his shoes.

Live in the real world again, Tony. You’re lucky and rich enough that gas and or groceries mean nothing to you. I defy Tony to tell me what the price is for a gallon of gas off the top of his head at the station nearest his house!

mdkarr
03/12/2009 05:47 AM
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Right on Jeff, although I think Hanson would have a few problems with overuse of the exclamation point! Just kidding.

Michael
03/12/2009 09:59 AM
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Jeff , you seem bewildered by Tony Stewarts’ idea of saving the US automakers . It isn’t difficult to understand . Let me help you .
1. The US auto makers are where they are , in large part because of paying out huge retirement benefits to their workers . I can’t imagine how anyone could have a problem with the automakers rewarding employees for their many years of service through retirement pay and medical benefits . It really doesn’t matter if you agree with benefits for the retirees or not , it was in the contracts , the automakers are legally liable for paying those benefits . Car makers from other countries don’t pay their retirees one cent , thereby drastically lowering their overhead . Is that the business model that the US car makers should have used ? No , not really . And since health care costs go up radically every year , GM , Ford , and Chrysler just keep getting buried even further . So it really isn’t about GM not knowing how to run a business .

So , since the US car makers are in a mess not entirely of ther own making , they could use some help to stay afloat . Tony says we should , if we’re going to buy a car , buy one from GM ( or Ford or Chrysler ) so they increase their intake of money . That is the way to save the American car maker . Its not too difficult to understand . The same goes for shopping at a local owner company instead of Wal-Mart .

We owe Ford , GM , Chrysler , and every other company that has helped us win ANY war . Period . I don’t agree with Bruton on too many things , but hes right about that one .

Kevin in SoCal
03/12/2009 12:59 PM
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Michael said: “I can’t imagine how anyone could have a problem with the automakers rewarding employees for their many years of service through retirement pay and medical benefits.”

Yeah, I have a problem with it. You show up every day, you get a paycheck every week. That’s your reward for working for a company. When you arent working for the company any more, why should the company continue to pay for you? That’s ridiculous. That’s entitlement thinking and I dont think its right.

Kevin in the FLA
03/12/2009 12:59 PM
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US Carmakers are in a problem that is “not of their own making”?

I beg to differ. It is all of their making. If they had stood up to the union’s demands and not offered a ridiculously generous retirement package to everyone who works for them, they could now afford to build a competitive car and wouldn’t have to crawl to the government for money that has so many idiotic “green” strings attached.

Here’s what you get when government builds a car, the GM Precept. It has two electric motors, one diesel, gets 80 mpg, but would have to sell for over $100,000 to be profitable. Meanwhile, you’d have to drive it over 800,000 miles to realize a cost savings.

I’ve rambled. Apologies. Suffice it to say, Jeff’s right. Give me a car that is competively priced that will hold up like a Toyota and I’ll buy it. Otherwise, declare bankruptcy, reorganize and lose you biggest liability, the unions, so that you can.

Michael
03/12/2009 03:09 PM
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Retirement benefits are entitlement ? Thats a new one . Not a very good one but a new one . The military gives the very same benefits to former service personel . And you think thats entitlement . There are many , many , many companies and organizations in the US and the world that give retirement benefits .
No , i have no problem with someone being rewarded for many years of loyalty on the job . No , i certainly don’t think its wrong . I think its wrong for companies to beat their employees out of their retirement benefits .

As almost any automotive expert will tell you , the current collection of American built cars and trucks is the equal of any in the world .

Now concerning the “ crawling “ of the automakers to Washington , many , many , many companies and groups have made that trip before . You might have heard of AMTRACK for instance . They do it yearly to survive . I also have no problem whatsoever with bailing out the car companies if needed . The downside to letting them just fail is the fact that they take so many hundreds of other suppliers and dealers down with them , not to mention the hundreds of thousands or even millions of employees of those other companies . And how would GM going bankrupt and being able to rid itself of the unions be any help to the hundreds of thousands of workers who depend on their retirement income . You need to get out of Fontana more often . Theres a whole big world out there that you seem to be unaware of .

Joe W.
03/12/2009 04:40 PM
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I have to ring in on this one. I am very tired of hearing how the American car companies make an inferior product. When is the last time you import buyers drove one? I read a story talking about the “lousy” American cars of the 90s and I have not had that experience. I owned several cars in the 90s, all American and none gave me trouble. I had several not because they were bad but I was trading as my income went up in that decade. It has gone back down in this one, but I am not here to talk politics. I owned Fords, Chevys and Dodges in that time and none of them was a problem. My personal favorite was my 99 Mustang GT that I would still have if some idiot had not hit me in the drivers door and all down the side of the car. I was not injured in the accident. That car was awsome. I bought it in 99 and when I traded it in 2006, after getting the body damage fixed, it still had the original battery! I do not know what experience some have had with thier cars but mine have always been good. I think as a whole a lot of people have bought the propaganda of the imports That is my two cents worth. By the way I still have a Chevy and two Fords for my wife, my son and myself and we are happy with them all. They are in the 2000s.

Kevin in SoCal
03/12/2009 04:54 PM
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Michael, please explain why you think a company should continue to pay money to a person who has retired and is no longer working for the company? The company owes you nothing more than a paycheck each week for the work you did for them during the week. These retirement benefits and bonuses that people think they are entitled to ends up costing me more when I buy their product. Retirement should be a personal responsibility. You have to save up your own money, plus what was paid into social security by you and your employer when you worked for them. I dont understand why people think their former employer still owes them something more for previous work.

Michael
03/12/2009 06:04 PM
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Kevin , you must work for a pretty crappy company if this is all news to you .
Companies give retirement benefits to employees for several reasons . The US military does it to thank the soldiers for their service . Many companies around the world give their employees retirement money and benefits for the same reason . They want to thank their employees for many years of service and loyalty .
And of course many do it because they are forced to by union contracts .
The employees don’t think the employer owes them after they stop working . The employers frequently offer these benefits on their own .

And paying retirement benefits is a way to get people to work for you . Given the choice of a job with retirement pay , or an identical one without , which one would anyone choose ?
And lastly , as we all know , hourly workers aren’t getting rich , and Social Security could certainly never pay the bills in retirement . And Wall Street has just shown us that we can’t insure that our savings will still be there when needed .
The phoneb companies , auto makers , computer makers ,Federal , State and local governments , manufacturing companies , they all believe in giving retirement .

Adam
03/12/2009 07:07 PM
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So Kevin I’m just guessing that you don’t work for a company that gives out any retirement benefits or anything of those sorts? But by your comments I would assume if you did, you would just tell that company to keep that money or those benefits. You just want your weekly paycheck? I couldn’t agree with Michael more and if that is your opinion, that you are not entitled to those types of benefits or money. Thats fine. But I sure feel I am as a worker.

Kevin in SoCal
03/12/2009 10:09 PM
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You guys are misunderstanding me. I’m perfectly fine with a company paying you wages, benefits, a retirement account, etc, while you are working for them. What I have a problem with is thinking that the company should continue to pay you money while you are retired or no longer working for that company. Does that make more sense?

Kevin in the FLA
03/12/2009 10:43 PM
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Michael, Adam, as a matter of fact, I work for a Fortune 500 company whose products are incorporated into many of the products that are in your home.

The vast majority of people who work for a private company are covered by a retirement plan that requires an employee contribution. Often the company gives a match up to a certain percentage of the employees contribution. A small minority of companies offer a defined benefit retirement plan. Why? Because defined benefit plans aren’t flexible and cost the company a ton of money no matter what the economy.

That whole “…thank their employees for many years of service and loyalty,” is a quaint thought, but fast-foward to the 21st century reality, retirement plans are compensation meant to attract and retain employees. The vast majority of private company employees are covered under a 401k plan which is a way a company can offer a retirement plan to employees without having to contribute anything unless the employer chooses to do so. Very flexible for the company. The automakers offer a defined plan because they’ve negotiated their union contracts poorly and now they are paying the price.

The Government does a defined benefits plan because, hey, it’s not their money anyway.

When it comes right down to it, I don’t want the government or my company to be responsible for my retirement funds. I don’t trust either to be as committed to my future as I am, and one of them might not be around when it’s time to collect anyway.

Michael, Adam, you need to quit relying on others to plan your future. Otherwise you better send your children to the best schools possible because they just may end up being your retirement plan.

Kevin in the FLA
03/12/2009 10:47 PM
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OH, that Kevin… never mind.

Really though, learn about retirement benefits before you call people out on them.

Adam
03/13/2009 11:26 AM
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Well Kevin in SoCal you last comment does make more sense. And to both Kevin’s I agree that it up to the individual to plan for there retirement. I guess I just don’t see what the problem is if a)a company decides freely to offer a pension or whatever after you retire or b) if it something written into a contract with a union. Unfortually, some people aren’t that lucky, some our. But I guess I just don’t think it’s entitlement to ask for it and get it. Again, I may be misunderstanding the whole conversation and I appolgize if I was sounding “know it all ish”. I enjoy these back in forth on all different subject in regards to NASCAR.

 

Contact Jeff Meyer

Recent articles from Jeff Meyer:

Voices From The Cheap Seats: The Tale Of Two Tires
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