The Frontstretch: Loyalty in NASCAR a Thing of the Past? by Mike Neff -- Thursday August 10, 2006

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Loyalty in NASCAR a Thing of the Past?

Full Throttle · Mike Neff · Thursday August 10, 2006

 

The sport of NASCAR used to be a place where a gentleman's agreement was all a driver had to have to race a car. There were no 20 page contracts and incentive clauses. No one worried about sharing licensing revenue or mandatory driver appearances. If an owner wanted you to drive his car, he asked you to drive his car. You agreed on a fee that you would be paid and you went out and raced the car. Then NASCAR became corporate. Everything about the sport became about the money. Sponsorship dollars went up so that teams could keep up with the ever increasing cost of technology. Every square inch of the car and the driver became a miniature billboard for someone to use for advertising. And drivers were forced to negotiate contracts with the car owners to make sure they were duly compensated. Somewhere around the time that this commercialization of the sport took place, the whole concept of loyalty went out the window.

Back in the handshake days, drivers drove because that was what they wanted to do. They had a passion to go fast and compete against other people trying to do that same thing. Making a living was not a high priority. Sure, they wanted to make a little money, but no one thought of becoming a millionaire driving a race car. In those days, loyalty was a given. Owners and drivers stuck together through thick and thin. It took a major falling out before a driver left a team or an owner took a driver out of the seat. The rift between David Pearson and the Wood Brothers comes to mind. They won a multitude of races together. However, they often had differences of opinion. Still, they stuck it out because they were good together and they were loyal to each other. It took a major miscommunication at Darlington to finally drive a wedge all of the way between the driver and the team before they parted ways.

In the modern NASCAR world, that loyalty is in short supply. There are a few instances: Jeff Gordon with Hendrick Motorsports, Tony Stewart and Joe Gibbs Racing, and Ryan Newman with Penske South come to mind. However, last year was a serious reminder that loyalty doesn't run nearly as deep as it used to. Jamie McMurray and Kurt Busch, after much wrangling, were allowed to opt out of their contracts and switch teams a year before their contracts expired. The fact that Busch was in the Chase for the Championship simply highlighted the fact that the modern driver is more interested in getting the best deal for themselves rather than continuing a very productive relationship.

Now this week we see that owners are not immune to throwing loyalty out of the window. After making the Chase in the first two years of its existence, Jeremy Mayfield was rewarded with losing his entire team to Kasey Kahne. After his team subsequently struggled this year, and fell out of the top 35 in owner's points last week, he was informed, by his business manager, that he would not be in his car this week at Watkins Glen. Mayfield was already rumored to be on the way out at Evernham Motorsports thanks to another rumor that Elliott Sadler was going to be put into the #19 ride. It is a shame that someone who has stayed the course with his team and organization would be treated so badly this year. Mayfield is a proven winner. He is one of seven drivers to make the Chase in the first two years of its existence. He is a proven pitch man. Remember "Hey Jeremy!"? Ray Evernham should be ashamed of the way this entire situation has been handled.

The other reminder that loyalty is in short supply is the news that Mark McFarland has been released from JR Motorsports. This is a first year Busch team. Granted, McFarland has one top 10 and quite a few mid to back-of-the-pack finishes, but this is the team's first year. There simply has to be more patience shown in developing a driver. McFarland has been a champion in other series. He is a competent driver. Everyone knows the woes of the Busch regulars this year trying to compete with the Buschwhackers. It is just a shame that the leash is so ridiculously short for a promising driver.

NASCAR fans are a loyal bunch. They will drive for hours and stand in terrible weather for a chance to meet their favorite driver. They will sell their car just because their driver switches to a team that runs a different manufacturer. They'll refuse to use certain products because they are not a NASCAR sponsor or they sponsor a competitor's race car. Its too bad that the owners and drivers in the sport that they love don't have the same loyalty towards each other.

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Lincoln Litchfield
08/10/2006 11:28 PM
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I do a bi-weekly radio show and believe NASCAR loyalty is still here. What wins on SUnday sells on Monday. But then maybe not the rest of the week.

Mike
08/10/2006 11:52 PM
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Among the fans it most certainly does. But will what wins on Sunday still be in the seat by next Sunday?

Frank
08/11/2006 05:23 AM
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I think that a lot of the no loyalty comes from the sponsor’s. The more money they put in the more say so they have in who drives and for how long.

Rob
08/11/2006 06:00 AM
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umm…how about Mark Martin….his loyalty is more than Gordon, Stewart and Newmark put together….you really missed the most loyal driver in yur article!

bob
08/11/2006 06:12 AM
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loyalty went away when the people who put everything they owned into a race car hoping to win enough to pay for food for the family and get the car ready for the next race. ask richard petty how many drivers have had contracts with him most aren’t the pretty boys but are the kind of drivers that you cant really say much bad about

Pete
08/11/2006 06:40 AM
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Well, I hate to bring this up. Remember when Everham first got started. There was a promising young man in the 19 car. I believe it was Casey Atwood. Next thing you know he is delegated to a third car that was not worth his time. Then he was let go and we have not heard anything of him since. So this is not the first time Everham has done this.

Mike
08/11/2006 06:58 AM
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I apologize Rob, Mark Martin is the purest example of loyalty in the sport. However, if he comes back for the Salute to You tour part III, I am going to be extremely disappointed. Tell Jack to give the #6 ride to Ricky Craven or Johnny Benson for a year or two until he finds a suitable replacement.

Again, I apologize for leaving Mark out of the article.

You are very correct Pete, but I gave Ray a pass on that because it was very early in his team ownership days. You are correct though, he basically destroyed Casey’s career by trying to move him up too quickly and then giving up on him before he had a legitimate chance.

Brent
08/11/2006 07:32 AM
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I think it all starts at the top, Nascar started it by dumping ESPN who brought them in the modern era with great tv coverage, now we have Fox who thinks it needed to make racing over, now its about Hollywood! I think Nascar has made the mistake of not being fateful to the fans, they have forgotten all of us old fans who have got them to where they are, Everham is being forced by corprate greed to do what he needs to win! You don’t even want to ask me what I think of the chase.

terry hunt
08/11/2006 08:17 AM
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the loyalty still resides with us fans,my own interest in the sport began as robert yates and davey allison started yate’s team in the 80’s.Now 20 yrs later i will have to buy all new decals and shirts to support the team i follow. while i realize some fans follow their driver around from team to team. i find stability in cheering for RYR and then the driver and sponsor who races for him.

Bill G
08/11/2006 08:43 AM
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Loyalty is only as good as last paycheck.Like all sports you have to go with money.This an owner problem and they made it!!!Football, baseball,basketball and now auto racing.You pay for what you get…

M. B. Voelker
08/11/2006 08:55 AM
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I think that Casey Atwood was given ample oppertunity to demonstrate that he lacks the dedication, perseverance, and work ethic necessary to succeed in professional sports.

As for loyalty in general …
Each person’s first loyalty belongs to his own family and his own future. So I won’t fault anyone who leaves one job for a better one. I thought that Mayfield showed a lot of loyalty in not leaving as soon as Evernham decided to pull Jeremy’s winning team out from under him and give it to Kasey instead.

And I don’t see that owners have ever had much loyalty to the drivers. Its only recently that an owner disgarding a driver like a pair of 6-month-old gym socks from the back of a locker has drawn much fan disapproval.

Last year, just as Jamie and Kurt were creating an uproar with their contracts Gibbs first promised that Leffler’s job was secure then fired him only a couple weeks later—and very few fans objected.

m smith
08/11/2006 09:07 AM
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Loyalty, Cant believe You included Jeff Gordon, and who brought him into this sport and what he did to him for his own sake. Also Martin is the most loyal in the sport as they come.

James
08/11/2006 09:52 AM
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With today’s announcement that Mayfield is officially out, it further serves to drive home the point of this article. Mayfield may have publicly criticised the team, and while it could have been handled more professionally, it shows that he cares. A guy of Mayfield’s caliber had to know that he’d get offers from other teams. He wanted to try to fix the situation at EMS first before trying to get out of his contract. To me, that shows loyalty. And I agree with folks that say he was given the shaft this year. In a perfect world, an owner would treat his drivers equally. I’m a Scott Riggs fan and I was kind of surprised that he wasn’t given the third wheel equipment – not because that’s what he deserves, but being the newest guy to the team. Not that I want my driver to finish 30th every week, but if Mayfield is not finishing well it’s not because he suddenly forgot how to drive. I hope Ray Evernham learns a lesson from doing this – he fired a good, popular driver.

J. Meyer
08/11/2006 04:25 PM
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I think you will and are beginning to see that the FANS, the very same ones that made NASCAR what it is today, will/are starting to sing a different tune also!
High gas prices, ticket prices, concession prices, etc. are stopping more and more fans from driving hours to attend races.
NASCAR cares nothing for the fans. The fans are beginning to reciprocate.
Try selling the Car Of Tomorrow on Monday! Long live the Revolution!

Rob
08/11/2006 04:50 PM
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Thanks for your comments about Mark Martin as ‘the purest form of loyalty’. I truly believe he deserves that tag.

Also, I hope that he does not come back and race CUP next year. He deserves to race trucks.

Matt
08/11/2006 11:17 PM
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I hope Jack Roush doesn’t continue to abuse Mark Martin’s loyalty to keep him yet another year. I can understand last year, especially with the dual-fiascos of Kurt Busch, but this time, if all else fails, find a driver who won’t wreck your stuff and can keep your pit crew and shop on their game (a Tony Raines, Ricky Craven, Johnny Benson, Mike Skinner, or Ron Hornaday would be a great one-year driver for this team, heck, all would even have a decent outside shot at a win on a few tracks!) As far as Jeremy goes, he basically got the same raw deal that Michael Waltrip got from DEI last year, they took away everything he had that was working (even if it wasn’t all working “right”) and threw basically an all-new team at him and expected results. Scott Riggs better watch out, I had a feeling when he was signed in the first place it was just to keep a seat warm for Erin.

Dolores
08/12/2006 08:48 PM
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I agree with you on the Loyalty thing, but I must disagree with you on Mayfield. Mayfield did just about the same thing at Penskie. He was not getting along with his team and Rusty and he let the media know about this. He was let go from Penskie for what I feel like was lack of respect and Loyalty towards Penskie and his team. I think by him complaining to the media about Evernham was the start of his downfall. Do you think if maybe Jeremy kept his mouth shut and bought his grievences to Evernham himself maybe they could have worked there difference out, he might still be there. Jeremy wanted out and he decided to talk badly about his boss in the hopes that he would be let go. Thats how I feel about what he did. I am not saying that Erernham was 100% right, but Jeremy was wrong also

 

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