The Frontstretch: Matt McLaughlin Mouths Off : Curiouser and Curiouser -- The Story Of RPM And Yates by Matt McLaughlin -- Thursday October 1, 2009

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The press announcement initially seemed pretty cut and dry, if a bit surprising. Richard Petty Motorsports and Yates Racing intended to merge for the 2010 Cup season, and both teams would be running Fords. Well, all right then. How about that?

Pretty quickly, it became apparent there everything was not so cut and dry. While Richard Petty himself (and he is a figurehead for a team actually owned by moneyman George Gillett, who acquired the smoking wreckage of Petty Enterprises last year) seemed pretty confident everything would be worked out in a “couple weeks,” others were caught completely off guard by the announcement. Among them were the teams’ drivers, crew chiefs, chief engine builders, and the guys on the crew. Nobody could say which drivers were staying, which cars they’d be driving, who the sponsors would be, and which team employees were staying and which were going. That’s a pretty sorry state of affairs. It got even uglier when a team principal, Mark McArdle, demanded answers and got fired on the spot.

So it quickly became apparent that this wasn’t a merger of equals. The entity known as RPM Motorsports, again pushing Richard Petty out of the back of their transporter to talk to the press since the rest of them were clueless, is gobbling up Yates Racing. On a practical basis, that makes sense. Doug Yates, both by his own skills as an engine builder and with his strategic alliance with the powerhouse Ford team of Roush Fenway Racing, would be providing power and advice on chassis and aerodynamic issues as RPM transitioned from Dodge to the Blue Oval. So where are those chassis going to be coming from? Is Roush going to build them the way Rick Hendrick builds cars for Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman? Will RPM continue to build their own chassis in house? Will former Yates teammates keep building the chassis? Will they all gather together after ARCA races and piece the best bits left after big wrecks into their new cars? Heck, maybe I’m supposed to build them in my two car garage over the winter. I guess I ought to go get a few rolls of MIG wire.

The merger between Richard Petty Motorsports and Yates Racing seemed pretty cut and dry, but a few weeks after the announcement there are still more questions than answers.

All three of RPM’s drivers have their contracts expire at the end of 2010 and, given the level of uncertainty surrounding this organization and its plans for next year, I’d be worried. For Elliott Sadler, it’s only been a year since a legal battle kept him in his seat when the team decided to release him. If I were Kasey Kahne, who remains a somewhat hot commodity having made the Chase, I’d be wondering who was running this hot dog stand and seriously considering heading out for tacos.

Paul Menard, the sole Yates driver likely to be offered a ride, apparently isn’t happy with the uncertainty and he’s looking around. Menard is unique in that his dad writes the sponsorship checks that follow him, so he’s a valuable commodity even if he can’t quite seem to get the hang of this racing deal at the Cup level.

The uncertainty doesn’t only extend to the drivers. Current sponsors and potential sponsors surely would like a little more clarity. No matter how well-funded the teams might be, they could always use more backers. But without a driver lineup, any idea who is doing what and when, if former champion Bobby Labonte is coming back to a Yates/RPM car for 2010, and a ton of other unanswered questions, they’re not exactly whipping out their checkbooks right now. “See, here’s our business prospective. We’re pretty sure we’ll be running Fords, all of them with great big numbers painted on the side, driven by a group of drivers to be named at a later date. All aboard!”

The one guy who ought to have all the answers is George Gillett who, by and large, bought the team Ray Evernham started to spearhead Dodge’s return to the Cup series back before Chrysler was merged with Fiat. Gillett went on to acquire Petty Engineering. Now he’s apparently buying out Doug Yates, but he’s not talking much about it. In fact, I don’t think I’d know the man if he ran into the back of me at a stoplight and cost his insurance company a huge settlement. He apparently just sold some hockey team for beaucoup bucks. Sorry, but I’ll leave hockey to those fans who can endure the sheer idiocy of the game.

What concerns me is Gillett is apparently a successful businessman, so why is he letting all this uncertainty and intrigue surround his team. As a successful businessman, surely he knows the unknown and rumor can ruin any enterprise, right? Or maybe he doesn’t. Gillett strikes me as another guy in the business of racing, not the racing business. It’s a subtle but important difference. Guys in the racing business know it’s important to be seen and heard in the garage area so everyone, especially your employees, know what’s going on. Other successful men in business have come and gone in NASCAR despite some success in other forms of racing. Remember Cal Wells and Tim Beverly? Chip Ganassi, winner of several open wheel crowns, got lucky in that he teamed up with Felix Sabates while Sterling Marlin still had a few good years left in him…and even that hasn’t paid off with a Cup title yet.

I guess what bothers me is this “merger” involves two of the once most successful organizations in NASCAR. Petty Engineering combined to win 10 titles (three with Lee and seven with Richard) and 268 races. They’ve been a part of the sport since the first race. They’ve competed in over a quarter million miles of stock car racing and, even with the glory days long since gone in the rear-view mirror, the organization averaged a 15th place finish in 2817 starts. The team Robert Yates bought from Harry Ranier has seemed star-crossed. Despite 56 wins and the 1999 title, they’ve been through some rough times. Davey Allison lost the 1992 title in the final race of the season, then lost his life in a helicopter wreck the next year. Ernie Irvan was battling Dale Earnhardt for a title in 1994 when he suffered critical injuries in a Michigan practice crash that left him with a one-in-ten chance of surviving the day. Still, for long-term fans, the number 28 black Havoline car with the big star on the hood is a fond part of our memories. The fact both organizations were sacked by a businessperson is troubling.

But what bothers me the most is the fate of the employees of Yates Racing and RPM. These are the men and women whose faces you have never seen. They don’t make millions of dollars a year, they don’t have a fallback position in other businesses, and they don’t have endorsement deals. Yet they get out of bed each morning and go to work for long hours each day. Some of them spend weeks and months each year away from the people they love chasing that brass ring. They have kids in braces, kids in college, and daughters planning their weddings. They have car payments, mortgages, and taxes to pay…yet they are all facing uncertain futures late in the season when it’s tough to find employment for next year if they lose their jobs. By their sweat, blood, exhaustion and perseverance they have made their drivers millionaires, whether they answer the phones or screw together race winning engines burning that midnight oil. These are the folks I am truly concerned about because I’ve sweated the bills and burned the midnight oil myself a few times.

Corporate mergers and acquisitions always cost some folks their jobs, but the only thing worse than the doubt is not knowing the final outcome. So Mr. Gillett, step up to the plate and sort this mess out for everyone involved.

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Rick
10/01/2009 07:52 AM
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Hey Matt. How about the latest twist – Gillett getting in bed with the Saudi Royal Family. The plot thickens….

Ritchie
10/01/2009 08:11 AM
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Why so bitter Matt?
I cant wait to see Team Petty run Fords new FR9. Hope to see one this year.

MilChad
10/01/2009 08:28 AM
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You know things are messed up when the drivers (Sorenson and Allmendinger) are driving without a paycheck. Here’s the inside scoop. Look to see Khane in the 9 car for one more year and then drive the 24 car in 2011 with Gordon retiring. You heard it here first folks.

The Turnip
10/01/2009 08:29 AM
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MMMM, nice reading, nice summations!

Who knows what’s behind door #3!

janice
10/01/2009 08:46 AM
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rick,

thought it was intersting the day after that was in racing news about saudi prince, it’s being recanted. one long soap opera.

Bdeholl
10/01/2009 10:21 AM
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Time for NA$CAR to pull back from the big money and let the guys who built it return it to it’s roots…

Jim
10/01/2009 10:31 AM
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That “some hockey team” that you refer to is the Montreal Canadiens.

The Canadiens and Petty Motorsports are wholly comparable…iconic histories with a pathetic recent past.

Since Matt can’t be bothered to actually do any research, I can tell you that the Canadiens recent history is one marked by constant turmoil in the front office and poor results in the standings…sound familiar?

Don’t expect Gilett to step up to the plate and sort anything out…he’s looking for a sale to the highest bidder, that’s all.

Carl D.
10/01/2009 10:37 AM
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The only good that possibly come from all of this is that next year, Doug Yates likely won’t be putting cars on the racetrack that say Yates Racing but are in fact an embarrassment to the Yates legacy.

As much as love and respect the King, he’s sold his soul to Gillette and is basically just a tool. I think Petty is as clueless as everyone else at RPM.

They’re treading water at RPM, and if they’re counting on Yates to be the life raft that keeps them from going under, Mark McArdle may be luckier than he knows.

bill
10/01/2009 12:13 PM
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I guess my Dale Jarrett #88 UPS Ford RYR racing banner in my garage is truely a blast from the past.
What a sham or shame

cecil inman
10/01/2009 12:44 PM
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I think Nascar is the problem with Nascar. They are money hungry. I know for a fact that a race team can work hard gor a sponser just to have Nascar under cut them for money out of the sponser also. It is the perfect time for a new real stock car league to start. Perfect timeing, because there is no real drivers any more. Fans can’t even rute for their brand of car any more, they are all the same. ONE QUESTION for every one, How many sponser’s have left teams to becoms the official what ever of Nascar?

Jim
10/01/2009 01:12 PM
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there’s no way I would drive for that team.

If I’m Kasey, I’m trying to get out of my contract NOW.

Kevin from PA
10/01/2009 06:11 PM
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Another merger – another team disappears. NASCAR might as well implement a franchise system as it appears that there will only be a few owners left anyway in a few years – or at least until the owners can no longer make a profit.

mkrcr
10/01/2009 09:25 PM
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I’d like to see Kasey go to SHR. At least then he’d be in the “family”.
Franchising is exactly what NA$CAR wants. Look at all of the small teams forced out or bought up. It’s a purge that’s been evident for a while. Sometimes I like to think of the Start and Park teams just getting their “screw you” to NA$CAR.

Alice
10/02/2009 12:23 AM
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There ought to be a law against people like George Gillett…everything he puts his hands on is turned into shambles while he profits one way or another. You are so right…his sole interest is to make money off deals, no matter what he does to employees.

In NASCAR the best way to get sponsors is from performance…aparently George dosen’t understand that. Ford is currently at the lowest performance level we’ve seen in decades. And “if” the new engine is all it’s said to be, why ZERO hurry to test it?? Ford sorely NEEDS more performance, and you have McMurray and Ragan with NOTHING to lose by testing it…so what gives?? NO ONE who has had deals with Jack Roush has ever gotten ahead, look back thru history…you honestly believe he shares information or his best parts like Rick Hendrick does? No Way!!

Given all that, it’s impossible to imagine merging with Yates gains ANY performance improvements. It only helps George with $$$…the dollars Ford has committed to Yates and the dollars Menard has committed. Plain and simple. Gain a few dollars and lose an average of 10 possitions in points per car.