Matt McLaughlin · Tuesday June 19, 2007
If history teaches nothing else, it teaches us NASCAR management hates losing battles. And lately, NASCAR has been losing some high profile battles that have caused it to lose some serious face.
Just this year, the citizens of Staten Island and Washington State caused NASCAR's sister company, the ISC, to eliminate proposed new tracks in those areas when the public let it be known loud and clear they didn't want their tax money being spent to build a racing facility. In fact, if it was all the same with the France family, they sent a message loud and clear that they’d prefer not to have a track in their area at all.
Not too long before that, Texas Motor Speedway and SMI, oh, excuse me, Ferdinand Ferko, took NASCAR and Bill France hisself to task, claiming Bruton Smith was never awarded the race date he was promised for building his palace of speed outside of Fort Worth. Smith purchased half of the North Wilkesboro facility to sack one date for his track, and he claimed he was owed another one as a result of promises never fulfilled. Of course, Bill France disagreed…strongly. But as the case wound towards court, opening a case which threatened to open up NASCAR and the ISC's accounting books (likely written on opposite sides of the same sheet of paper) France backed down. As a result, Texas got their second date, at the expense of an ISC track, no less, one that NASCAR no longer pays an official visit. The less said about the rape of Rockingham… the better.
Now, Kentucky Speedway is headed towards a court date next March with NASCAR. They aren't demanding just a race date. They want the France family to divest themselves of either NASCAR or the ISC to eliminate an apparent conflict of interest in how the sport is run and how race dates are awarded.
This April, even a mere driver took the organization to task. Tony Stewart alleged on his radio program NASCAR was throwing unnecessary caution flags to orchestrate, rather than officiate, races. Old Tony got drug behind the woodshed and paddled as a result, a reminder from the powers that be that the reason he is popular is because of NASCAR; NASCAR isn't popular because of him. (A rather odd contention. I don't see as many Tony Stewart T-shirts as I do Dale Earnhardt Jr. T-shirts, but I see way more folks wearing No. 20 livery than sporting tributes to Brian France in their wardrobes). Anyway, that’s besides the point of what has now become the biggest lawsuit to affect the sport to date, a case that continues to generate news even after an initial decision was made.
Recently, NASCAR lost a battle against an entity as big or bigger than itself. AT&T fought for the right to rebrand the 31 car from Cingular to AT&T logos, a move NASCAR resisted due to agreements signed with sponsor Nextel. A judge ignored NASCAR’s requests, however, and awarded AT&T the right to do what it pleased. Ironically, the No. 31 car first appeared at that All-Star Challenge sponsored by that other cell phone company, seemingly intent on maximizing traffic tragedies caused by inattentive morons chatting on their cell phones when they should be watching where they're going. Well, that's a fight NASCAR decided they could not and would not lose. They filed a countersuit made public over the weekend asking for "at least" one hundred million dollars in damages.
Excuse me? Is that $100,000,000 dollars? Do cell phone companies even make a hundred million dollars a year? If so, I guess that's why I am suddenly afraid to ride my motorcycle on the street lest I get run over by moron yuppie scum mom in her Lexus SUV calling to check in our her spoiled child's progress in competitive Gymbroree?
It's unclear whether NASCAR has the only dog in this fight for the bad guys. A representative of Nextel declined to comment on whether they were a party to the lawsuit or even supported it after an inquiry made for this article. (That's documented fact, so please spare me the threats of retribution, you cellular bullies). And what is the basis of NASCAR's assumptive request for such a huge punitive reward? Well, taken from the text of the suit which is in the public domain, “Cingular's refusal to follow NASCAR rules and accept NASCAR's denial of this paint scheme, and the filing of this lawsuit, has undermined NASCAR's authority as the sanctioning body of stock car auto racing.”
Umm, guys. Maybe you're showing a little ego here. Stock car auto racing is not the sole possession of NASCAR. Other oval track stock car racing series, albeit much smaller than NASCAR, also conduct stock car races coast to coast on a weekly basis. Perhaps what the suit should have read is that “AT&T has undermined NASCAR's authority as the sanctioning body of NASCAR racing.” The suit goes on to ask that NASCAR be given the right to throw out and exclude any other company in the wireless communication game from their events. Of course, this includes Alltel, the sponsor of Ryan Newman's No. 12 team which was grandfathered into the sport under the same grandfather clause that NASCAR now says that AT&T violated.
NASCAR says they need the right to exclude who they want because the current title sponsor's involvement benefits everyone. Drivers and teams earn points and championship money through the largesse of the N phone company. Fans benefit from their involvement as well. Well, on behalf of one plain old country, longtime stock car racing fan, NASCAR has my permission to stop fighting on my account. Quite personally, if any presidential candidate were to include a plank in their platform saying that if any right-minded individual who had their ability to do their job, take a trip on publicly funded roadways, or enjoy a movie at the theater became infringed upon by an idiot using a Nextel walkie-squwackie, that same right-minded individual had the right to crown the offender upside the head with a ball-bat, they'd have my vote and half my net worth as a campaign contribution.
As usual, NASCAR officials aren't thinking through the longterm implications of their actions. Down the road, perhaps the cell phone companies have to cut back on marketing to pay huge lawsuits from former users who did indeed die of brain tumors caused by wireless devices and a new title sponsor has to be found. If Coors Light were to step up to the plate to be title sponsor of the "Coors Light Cup" would Budweiser and Miller then be tossed from gangplank after years of high visibility, high dollar support of race teams to the benefit of the teams and the fans? NASCAR seems to have as many "official fill in the blank of NASCAR" sponsorships as the beach has grains of sand. If emboldened by their success in a lawsuit against AT&T by a friendly judge, could the Daytona Beach mafia take a few minutes off of their drunken high speed commutes home to exclude other existing or potential sponsors? It’s very possible; for starters, they sure don't seem real happy with the folks at Pennzoil who sponsor the No. 29 car but have Shell logos included in the paint scheme. (Like cell phone companies, I can't generate much sympathy for any oil companies while I pay $3.15 a gallon for gas.)
The whole lawsuit comes down to this: NASCAR has always said the drivers and teams are private contractors. That's why there's no pension fund for drivers, NASCAR paid health insurance, etc. But those same drivers and teams are dipping into a rapidly dwindling pond of potential sponsors looking for money to run their organizations as NASCAR is sucking up official sponsors. Hey, it's a free market economy. Let NASCAR grab the sponsorship they can, and let the teams and drivers grab what they can, but don't let either dictate who the other can deal with.
AT&T must not be too worried. Inquiries for comment for this article to their "contact us" link on their site went unanswered. And the day after NASCAR announced their bombastic lawsuit that even pushed the lost 54 million dollar dry cleaners pants off the front pages, AT&T went ahead and renewed a lengthy contract extension with RCR and Jeff Burton. After all, AT&T knows something about being an all-conquering monopoly that can do no wrong. If they didn't, we'd all still be communicating by smoke signals and pony express. But finally, the feds decided the salad days were over and there had to be competition for sake of consumer choice; that same messy process gave birth to cell phone companies.
Personally, I've got no problem with the humbled and down-sized land line company that is AT&T. I still use their long distance service because it works. I hope AT&T logos remain on Jeff Burton's car. I like Jeff Burton. He's a good guy. But I hope the N people pack it up and go home. I don't like Brian France. He's not a good guy.
Hey, maybe NASCAR decided to make a run at AT&T for one hundred million dollars because they know the Kentucky track's suit is going to cost them more than that when it's decided against them. NASCAR doesn't like to lose battles. But it used to always win because it knew when to pick its fights. Now, it might not just be the battle they lose, it might be the war. And I can give you about one hundred million reasons why.
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