The Frontstretch: Matt McLaughlin Mouths Off: Official NASCAR Sponsors Taking Money Away From Teams by Matt McLaughlin -- Thursday November 13, 2008

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A news item earlier this week probably flew well beneath most fans’ radar screens, but it raised my blood pressure up a notch or two. It hearkens back to comments I made in last week’s column that touched on NASCAR’s current economic crisis. Some fans reading that have written to strongly support my opinion; but apparently, no one in Daytona Beach is getting the message.

In case you missed it, this week NASCAR offered up “news” in one of their turgid press releases to the effect that O’Reilly Auto Parts is now the Official Auto Parts Supplier of NASCAR. As such, the memo noted the deal allows for O’Reilly Auto Parts to be “an exclusive NASCAR partner, and utilize NASCAR marks and marketing programs in store and in related media.” (Of course, it also left open the possibility that that some other parts chain could become the Official Truck Parts Supplier, Official SUV Parts Supplier, or the Official Mini-Van Parts Supplier of NASCAR, since O’Reilly only got the “official auto parts” part of the deal. Such a contract seems typical of the ravenous greedhounds at NASCAR who are milking the life out of this sport.)

My purpose here is not to diss O’Reilly Auto Parts. I’ve never even been in one of their stores, and brothers and sisters, I buy a ton of auto parts. In fact, I might be in the YearOne Hall of Fame by now with the four Chevys my buddy and I are restoring for resale. I haven’t made a conscious decision to avoid doing business with them; it’s just that their nearest store is over 200 miles from my farm, and that’s a long way to go to get spark plugs. According to their website, O’Reilly claims to be the fastest growing parts chain in America, with 1,830 stores open and more on the way. Maybe an O’Reilly’s will open next door to me next week — although I doubt that. Neither of my neighbors seem inclined to move, and my area is zoned “Limited Redneck, Non-Running Cars, and Appliances Storage.” However, they could indeed open a store near here in hysterical Guthriesville (perhaps beside the Wawa that the Anti-Christ has slated for the intersection of Horseshoe Pike and Bondsville-Hopewell Road). I’d certainly take a stroll through the joint to see what they had, and if they had genuine countermen or the usual “couldn’t get any other job so this will do, though I hate it” high school degenerates.

“So what?,” many of you are thinking. NASCAR has more “Official This’s and That’s” than a junkyard mongrel has fleas. If there’s not an official Toilet Tissue of NASCAR yet, it’s only because no jerry roll corporation has waved a sufficiently large check in front of the powers that be’s piggish little faces.

Just this week, it was announced that O’Reilly has signed on as the Official Auto Parts Supplier of NASCAR. But why is the sanctioning body competing against its teams and tracks for sponsorship dollars?

The problem here, once again, is that in this troubled economy NASCAR is competing against the teams and tracks for sponsorship dollars. If O’Reilly Auto Parts wanted to become involved in NASCAR racing, they could have backed any number of worthy teams right now desperately searching for sponsorship to stay viable. This year, O’Reilly’s signed up to be title sponsor of a Cup race, two Nationwide races, and two Truck Series events. However, it remains to be seen if the company will continue to sponsor races after dumping all this cash into NASCAR corporate coffers for their “official” rights. And this is in an era where track owners are already facing declining attendance and increasing expenses.

It’s also weird to know that O’Reilly will be the Official Parts House of NASCAR when some of their main competitors are also knee-deep in the sport. NAPA signed a deal with the late Dale Earnhardt to sponsor the third team run out of his DEI shop. They went on to follow Michael Waltrip to a team of his own, for better or worse. CARQUEST is a co-sponsor of Rick Hendrick’s No. 5 team and, of course, is the “Official Auto Parts Supplier of Hendrick Motorsports,” a firm which has changed its “Official Oil” more often than I change printer ribbons. So, as a NASCAR fan, do you shop at O’Reilly’s because they’re the Official Parts House of NASCAR, or do you shop at NAPA because you like Mikey, or do you go to Carquest because Jeff Gordon wears their patch on his uniform? Or, do you go to Rich’s Auto Parts store on the corner, because there’s always a fresh pot of coffee up on Saturday mornings — and, he once opened his store at 10 PM on a Sunday after running into him at the diner, when the alternator on the truck you needed to get to work on Monday crapped the bed on the way home from Dover?

But in NASCAR’s world, O’Reilly, not Rich’s, will always win out. In one of those underhanded deals NASCAR is famous for, it appears even cars sponsored by other auto parts chains will have to run O’Reilly decals as part of the contingency program next year — just as the Alltel car and the AT&T car have to run Sprint decals on their cars this year.

What’s ironic about this is auto parts chains other than the anointed ones still carry parts that also include “Official NASCAR” signage. I change a ton of spark plugs, and every box of Autolites I use has NASCAR’s official logo on the package. It’s the same with WIX Filters, Mobil One oil, and numerous other products that I’m forgetting. So, when you a buy a set of NASCAR’s official spark plugs from a non-sanctioned parts house, are you liable to be bought up on charges of treason or even blasphemy? The sheer illogic of the whole situation seems lost on the hog boys at NASCAR, and will remain so as long as the trough they have their snouts in remains full — even while starving piglets around them try to muscle their way to their trough for a smaller portion simply to remain alive.

To be truthful, the whole myth of NASCAR fans being fanatically loyal to sponsors involved with the sport is as out of date as whitewalls and fake convertible roofs. To this day, I still drink Folgers coffee because they sponsored Tim Richmond. I wear Wrangler jeans because they sponsored Dale Earnhardt back in the day. I drink Coors Light because they backed Bill Elliott in his glory years. Some habits die hard. But I can’t think of a more recent sponsorship agreement that sways my personal buying decisions. I work hard for my money. When I spend it, I want a good product at a good price, and I don’t give a flying fig if I’ve seen their decals on a race car, much less on the list of NASCAR’s anointed ones. In fact, I’ll even avoid some products simply because their makers are in bed with NASCAR in what I see as adulterous circumstances. If a corporation backs the Labor Day weekend race at a track anywhere else than Darlington, they’ve lost my business for life. No Pepsi, Sharp, Sony TVs, or Pop Secret popcorn will be found on these premises; and occasionally at the grocery store, I’ll move all the Pop Secret back behind competitors’ brands just to hide it.

So, best of luck to the O’Reilly people with their new corporate relationship. But if you’re thinking that you’re going to sway the real car guys into your store by writing NASCAR big checks, don’t count on it.

Gentle readers, I have made my point. Allow me to swing off on a tangent as you have indulged me so many times before. I’m a real car guy. I can prove my bonafides with the scar tissue on my knuckles, grease under my fingernails, and boxes full of used car parts to vehicles I haven’t owned in two decades carefully piled in my garage … just in case. I’ve owned over 150 vehicles in my lifetime, and have spent more on tools this year than I did on clothing and furniture combined. In fact, I’ve spent more on car parts than I have on food every year for at least a decade. I’ll live on hot dogs and generic corn chips for months at a time just so long as I can drop a rebuilt big block under the hood of the latest project car. The “toy car” I keep in the garage is worth four times more than my daily driver that lives in the driveway. I’ll gladly scrape the ice off the windows of the daily driver, cursing the weather with a cigarette dangling from the corner of my mouth rather than letting the Trans Am spend a night under the stars. My Harley is parked in the living room all winter lest it catch a chill.

Let me tell you how real car guys pick a parts house. You go to the place where you’ve found a counter person, usually quite a few years older than the kids at Pep Boys, who knows what he’s doing. He gives you the right parts time after time, whether it’s for your late model truck or your 40-year-old Ford. If you tell him you need valve cover gaskets for a small block Chevy, he goes and gets them without a glance at the computer. The same happens when you tell him you need a battery for a Ford F-Series pickup. He’s the guy who sells you calipers, then remembers to ask you if you have enough brake fluid at home to complete the job because you seldom do, saving you the ride back. He’s the guy willing to hang out a half hour after work so you can get there with a ride from a buddy to get the parts you need, to get your car running so you can get to work the next day. Eventually, he remembers your first name and greets you as a friend. He’ll drop parts by your place on the ride home from work, have a beer with you and offer advice. When you need the hard to find stuff, he leaves the computer, scours paper catalogs that are dog-eared and, if necessary, takes down your number and calls you later to say he’s found what you need for your 40-year-old Plymouth. He’s got pictures of his cool old cars and his projects at his work station. He’ll call tech lines and tear through boxes with you to find the correct starter for that old El Camino you just bought with an engine of unknown vintage and displacement. He’s the guy who takes pride in being a counterman and, given a chance, wouldn’t switch to selling high end electronics just because it pays better.

Car guys find their counter guys and stick by them loyally. They also don’t hammer their guy to find him a foot actuated starter for a International KB1 panel truck and then run down to Pep Boys to get their oil because it’s 50 cents a quart cheaper; instead, they steer business to their counter guy and his shop. And if they run into the guy’s boss, they remind him that guy is the only reason they shop there. If they run into their counter guy at a bar, they buy him a brew.

The relationship between a real car guy and his counter guy is almost as sacred and cherished as a marriage … and there are a lot fewer divorces. And that’s from someone who’s followed my counter guys from store to store as they changed jobs just like I used to follow the Dead. So, maybe what O’Reilly’s needs to be doing with their marketing money is to increase the salaries of their best counter people to keep them around, rather than dumping it into the troughs of NASCAR — where all their cash is nothing more than just another drop in the bucket.

Contact Matt McLaughlin

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jaymatt
11/13/2008 01:51 AM
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So, now, Matt M. is a “real” car guy w/ a Harley in the living room. I guess that gives him the right to mouth off about O’Reilly’s, doesn’t it!

Talk about the epitomy of a self-appointed redneck—Wow! I’m impressed (not!)

Jim
11/13/2008 07:55 AM
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Matt,

Great commentary. I wish I could find a counter man like that here in Deep South Texas. I also remember the relationship that my dad had with the counter men at the NAPA store and the Chevy dealer back in Titusville, Florida. I was just a kid then but I still remember their names- Clint and Rolf. Dad could spend hours talking with them about stuff besides parts- I think sometimes that Clint and Rolf took the place of ‘father confessor’.

Sad to say, NASCAR has strayed far, far from it’s roots. The only reason I keep up with it is because it was such a big part of my life growing up.

Hopefully the ‘Brainless’ France era will not last too much longer and we can get some racing people in to replace the hogs at the trough.

Shayne Flaherty
11/13/2008 08:18 AM
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My brand loyalty was making the switch from Marlboro to Winston. Hey, free smokes meant a lot to me. I went to an O’Reilly’s, once, in Thomasville, NC. This was after I went to Advance Auto and Auto Zone first. I wasn’t impressed. Maybe GM steering wheel pullers are one of those “never heard of one of them” kind of tools. I wonder how much Brian France got for selling his soul?

Mike Neff
11/13/2008 08:57 AM
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I have a friend from a die-cast site who works for O’Reilly’s. He constantly harps on the fact that Auto Zone and Advanced carry inferior products. O’Reilly’s supposedly only carries the best parts, not the cheapest. Whether that is true or not is up for debate. Since they have just begun opening stores here in the Carolinas I have just begun to frequent them, although my auto mechanic skills pale in comparison to Matt’s. I have found that their counter personnel were extremely knowledgeable and quite helpful and felt they were much more qualified than the Advanced folks just down the street. If I need something, I’ll make the effort to hit O’Reilly’s, whether it is out of loyalty to my buddy or because of their service, not because they’re writing the check to NASCAR.

Douglas
11/13/2008 09:07 AM
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What a wonderful piece of writing!

A big thanks for putting it into writing!

The only time I see an O’Reilly’s is when I visit the wife’s family in Quincy, FL. such as right now! And had I known yesterday, what I know now, I would not have purchased a $4 fuse package there to try and cure a problem with one of their cars down here, gee, let me find the receipt, I will take them back and go find a NAPA store, see, I like Mikey, I also like the fact NAPA is loyal to the MWR team.

And, to this day, you will NEVER EVER see a box of TIDE in my house, I still hurt from when they dumped DW!

Memories are long my friend!

But, the basis of your article is quite clear, as long as Brian can continue to line his pockets with cash, the (struggling) teams can be damned!

Ed
11/13/2008 09:10 AM
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jaymatt, you OBVIOUSLY haven’t been reading Matt very long if you think he is “now” a car guy. He has been talking about writing about his cars for years. Good article, Matt. We have an O’Reilly’s in our town across from Advance, but I go to my childhood friend’s Bumper to Bumper, not because of the brand, but because he will take the time to give me the benefit of his years of experience. My second choice is NAPA. I have been burned too many times by Advance and its buddy Auto Zone. The few times I have been to O’Reilly’s they didn’t have what I needed and they offered no help or advice.

john
11/13/2008 09:15 AM
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I’m a parts guy for Carquest, Matt, so this column caught my attention for a couple of obvious reasons. ;)

I’d like to think I’m in that group of “good” parts guys, even though I’m only 28. I’m surrounded by pictures of my Super Stock and my various street car projects, I ENJOY customers asking me for obscure old auto parts, and I never ask for year/make/model when someone asks me for intake gaskets for a smallblock chevy. :) … Just last week I helped a guy find points, condenser, cap, rotor, intake, exhaust and valve cover gasket for a ’65 AMC Ambassador with a straight six!

My fellow counter-person Ken has been doing this somewhere around 25 years, and he still surprises me every now and then by bringing out some obscure dusty parts book to find something I didn’t know existed.

I can’t keep count of the number of times in a week I have a customer come in, I serve them, and they say “finally, someone who understands what I’m asking for—I went to <insert large chain store name here> and it was just some 17 year old punk who could only read a computer!”

My point is, it’s not so much the size of the company, it’s the hiring practices—A place like NAPA may only hire a “customer service rep”… Carquest hires auto parts clerks. One of our local NAPAs here is nicknamed McNAPA, because half the counter staff and the manager were hired from a McDonald’s staff layoff.

In regards to O’reilly’s sponsorship, I’m worried what this means for Mark Martin’s car next year. As soon as I heard my fav driver would be driving our car next season, I vowed to have one more go at watching the Cup series, and bought our big fancy team jacket.

But what if NASCAR pulls the same BS they did with Sprint’s competitors? Will Carquest and NAPA be forced out of the sport?

MP
11/13/2008 09:23 AM
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Couldn’t agree more with you Matt. Used to be I would seek out the N logo on products, any more, I tend to avoid them as I percieve it adds cost to the product with no value. As far as parts guys and parts suppliers, on the same page, doesn’t matter where they work. If they’re good (the good ones are hard to find!)I’ll always be a return customer, official supplier or not.

Bill B
11/13/2008 10:00 AM
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There are (or maybe were with the current ecomomy) so many sponsors involved in NASCAR at one level or another (i.e, official sponsor, primary sponsor, associate sponsor, track sponsor, race sponsor, tv sponsor, etc.) that you could go into any store blindfolded and end up with a brand that is sponsoring NASCAR in one form or another. It would be harder to go to a store and find products that have no association with NASCAR whatsoever.

midasmicah
11/13/2008 10:09 AM
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Amazing!!! With so many mid to small teams about ready to fold, we get one more “official product of na#car). It’s as if na$car is trying to run the smaller teams out of business. We as fans. have our favorite drivers. As na$car weeds them out as relevant, they lose more core fans. Not everyone roots for johnson, gordon, stewart, etc. Looks like F-1 or IROC to me. Thanks for the memories, na$car.

chris
11/13/2008 10:21 AM
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This is one of my biggest complaints about the way the sport is run. If any company signs on to be the official blahblahblah of Nascar, it should not come with an exclusivity deal. That is literally Nascar taking money out of the teams’ pockets.

I don’t see any reason why there can’t be verizon cars driving around in a Sprint Cup race.

The only ones I sort-of understand (and still disagree with) are Sunoco and Goodyear. But, really…wouldn’t having the sprint logo (stickers) on a Verizon car, or the Sunoco sticker on a Chevron car, or the Goodyear sticker on a Cooper Tires car (let alone that those cars would actually be using Goodyear tires) be enough?

Nascar, as a sanctioning body, is making money like they stole the printing press, and yet the teams that come to race are being folded/spindled/mutilated as sponsors leave.

Just think about how much healthier the sport would be if:
Geico were not being kicked out of the NW series.
Exxon was not locked out from sponsorship.
Verizon, T-Mobile, AT&T were not locked out of Cup.
Bank Of America was sponsoring cars instead of “official bank of Nascar”
Coors Light was sponsoring a car instead of “official beer of nascar”

Mark
11/13/2008 10:40 AM
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That’s a very interesting article Matt with just as many interesting Reader Comments. But, one thing to remember; both NA$CAR and the racing teams are businesses, and thus, both are competing (in a sense) against each other for the same thing: sponsor’s money. And both are just as crafty as to how they go about getting that money. What NA$CAR has failed to realize to this point, that by them sucking up as many “Official Sponsor” dollars as they do they are in essence killing the goose that lays the golden eggs. When the teams can’t find sponsor money (because NA$CAR swallowed it) and have to close, NA$CAR will have no product (races) to sell. Interesting catch 22 huh????

janice
11/13/2008 11:32 AM
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ok, i’ve been thinking too much today. just what, exactly, does na$car need with money? tracks pay fees for the races, teams pay fees for the annuual hard cards to be able to race at the tracks, drivers have to pay a fee for na$car license in order to participate. race sponsors pay the purse. in order to broadcast the mess of a race, tv has to pay a fee to the golden calf. to my knowledge, the only france owned track that’s had improvements recently is new surface at ‘dega and darlington. so what do the licensing fee’s go towards? brian’s salary, retirment? i mean, sure you have the inspectors and whatnot that have to be paid, and of course that rule book that is written in invisible ink, and open to interpretation. the teams have to buy the cars and parts, tires, sunoco gives the teams the fuel. and i’m quite sure that daytona usa charges an admittance fee. and i’m sure that besides being the official whatever of na$car, the products have to pay for advertising during the televised races. and i’m almost sure that the tracks and possibly citizens of areas pay the taxes on the property that the tracks are located. oh yeah, isn’t na$car part of the $700 billion bailout that the rules keep changing to everyday?

i’ve always said that the “official t/paper of na$car” is a thousand dollar bill.

Marshall
11/13/2008 01:23 PM
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Matt,

Might I say that I feel the same way about you as an auto racing journalist, having followed you from website to website as you have moved on, not always of your own choosing. You are, have been and always will be the best. You always hit the nail on the heads — opps a carpentry metaphor while praising a real car guy. Well, you get the point. Keep up the good work as always.

Bill
11/13/2008 01:58 PM
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No commentary about Camping World leaving KHI to become the Truck Series sponsor? Harvick announced they are now actively looking for replacement sponsorship on short notice. That is NASCAR stealing directly from the hand that feeds it.

Bill

john
11/13/2008 04:59 PM
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eeeh I dunno, the Truck series actually NEEDED a title sponsor tho. O’Reilly being the “official bla bla” of NASCAR isn’t quite the same thing.

Unfortunate for KHI and my favourite driver Ron Hornaday, though. :/

mike
11/13/2008 05:23 PM
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“Sad to say, NASCAR has strayed far, far from it’s roots. The only reason I keep up with it is because it was such a big part of my life growing up.”

ditto.

Marc
11/13/2008 07:06 PM
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Hey, heres an idea, you fans of Brian France, get O’Reilly’s “official Auto Parts of NASCAR” tatooed on your butts, then wait until AZ or NAPA takes over that position, then what do you do? Hey anybody want to see a picture of a crackhead? Look beside the fifth paragraph of this article.

Jeff Meyer
11/13/2008 10:07 PM
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We have an O’Reillys hear in Cedar Rapids. Buddy of mine picked up a starter for me for a Ford Explorer from there. Long story short, the gear on the starter that engages the flywheel was the wrong one. O’Reillys insisted that it was correct and all their stock was the same (cept for a manual tranny). Took the starter to the Ford dealership and they confirmed that the wrong gear was on the starter, and was even the wrong one had they mistakenly given one out for a manual tranny.
I then went to AZone and got a starter with the CORRECT gear. (which was where I told my buddy to go in the first place!)
Since all of OReillys starters for the Explorer had the wrong gear on them for an automatic, I tried to tell them so they could correct the problem from their supplier. They basically laughed at me. I have always been more than satisfied with AZone and they always replace any defective parts or parts with the lifetime warrenty, no questions asked!

It has gotten to the point with me, that any product that IS the official anything of NASCAR, I WILL NOT buy it just because of that!

Gerry
11/13/2008 11:18 PM
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Glad to know your a red neck, I am to, that is if you can be from Cal.

“I still drink Folgers coffee because they sponsored Tim Richmond. I wear Wrangler jeans because they sponsored Dale Earnhardt back in the day. I drink Coors Light because they backed Bill Elliott in his glory years.” me to , that should be I also that is, were you were talking about Brian! how could you, thats just terrible you have just destroyed his image of him self.

Good job

Kevin in SoCal
11/14/2008 12:57 PM
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If a corporation backs the Labor Day weekend race at a track anywhere else than Darlington, they’ve lost my business for life. No Pepsi, Sharp, Sony TVs, or Pop Secret popcorn will be found on these premises; and occasionally at the grocery store, I’ll move all the Pop Secret back behind competitors’ brands just to hide it.

Oh holy crap, that’s hilarious. Bordering on psychotic, and completely idiotic. Thanks for the laugh!
My Sharp TV and Sony Playstation laugh as well, but Coke and Orville Redenbacher rule in my house.

BrianH.
11/15/2008 03:30 PM
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Your printer has a ribbon?
I’ve been reading you since speedfx and disagree with you as often as I agree—but you sure got this one right.