The Frontstretch: Did You Notice? ... How To Make A Profit In NASCAR Without Racing Two Laps, And Gant's Record In Peril by Thomas Bowles -- Wednesday June 17, 2009

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Did You Notice? … The start and park charade hitting a crescendo this weekend? No less than 23 drivers in NASCAR’s top three divisions pulled it in early, including a record 11 in the financially troubled Camping World Truck Series. But while the topic of field-filling has been hotly debated, for weeks those arguments have centered around a great unknown: do these teams mailing it in make money at the end of the weekend?

After a conversation today with an owner in one of NASCAR’s top three divisions, I can tell you with certainty that answer is yes.

Now, as I mentioned in my Sports Illustrated article on Thursday, even the lowest-tier team in the Cup Series claims it needs about $100,000 per race to go the full distance. That’s primarily because of the engine cost, which I had been told from marketing reps of various organizations along with other owners makes up 30 to 40 percent of their overall expenses. But after talking with this owner in particular – someone who’s responsible for that balance sheet on a daily basis and has price shopped among the top teams for an engine deal – I can tell you that percentage can even run higher for teams that go the distance. A start and park team’s engine cost was directly quoted at $60,000, and expenses for renting more competitive motors for just one race go even higher.

If you look at that cost, you sit and wonder how in the world start and park teams make money. It’s simple: they don’t rent an engine every week. Instead, they use one motor for every five or six races, running just 20 or 30 laps each week in order to keep it “fresh” and conserve cost.

And with the engines out of the equation, you’re suddenly in position to make serious cash. This balance sheet was quoted to me in terms of overall expenses for a bare bones Nationwide Series weekend, assuming you have a car chassis purchased and ready to go:

Now you see it, now you don’t: Phil Parsons’ car spends more time in the templates than it does on the track every weekend…and turns a hefty profit doing it.

Tire Bill: $10,500
Crew Payments: $3,000-$4,000 (includes hotel expenses)
Engine Rental Cost: $15,000
Miscellaneous Expenses (Entry Fees, Food, Parts And Pieces, Hauler Gas, Etc.): $3,000

Adding all those costs up would put you in a tough spot to make money, as 43rd place Stanton Barrett made only $17,583 for one lap’s worth of work. But check this out: if you’re starting and parking, you can scrimp and save on half of these costs. Instead of bringing a full pit crew to the track, you can only throw a handful of guys in the hauler to help service the car over a race weekend – several of whom may volunteer or take next to no money for the experience. You’re also not going to pay for a full seven sets of tires from Goodyear — after all, why would you need them? You’re only going to end up running a handful of laps anyway. Ditto the engine cost: if you’re leasing an engine and spreading that cost out over five or six races, that $15,000 you’re paying suddenly gets a whole lot less expensive.

With that in mind, let’s calculate the new cost of doing business for the start and park crowd:
Tires: $4,000
Crew Costs: $2,000
Engine Rental: $2,500 (remember, it’s over six races)
Miscellaneous Expenses: $2,500

All of that adds up to about $11,000 in total cost for the weekend – giving you an overall profit of $6,500 if you were Barrett’s entry. Not bad for a day’s work, huh? And if you’re a guy like Todd Braun – whose Nationwide Series No. 10 car finished in the Top 30 in owner points last year – you get a $6,400 bonus each race the car cracks the starting lineup. It’s yet another incentive to bring the car to the track; but without any sponsorship support, it’s impossible for the team to have enough money to compete.

Looking at the numbers, it’s the engine costs that keep teams from being able to take that step. It’s the area where the big teams like Roush, Hendrick, Gibbs, Penske, and Childress can extend their monopoly, asking for tens of thousands of dollars in order for teams to get the horsepower they need. It makes it unaffordable for cars to go the full distance … so they don’t. And the profit margin makes it really attractive for a team in the red every week – spending so much money to rent an engine and then up to another $15,000 to get it rebuilt after a full race’s worth of work – to give up and simply do the same. If they try and get by on a junk engine every week, the speeds leave them so uncompetitive it’s just not worth it financially to run their equipment into the ground.

“The other teams have it all – the technology, the horsepower, the engineers,” says Mr. Anonymous. “So, for these small teams it’s impossible to compete unless they buy from them. And even then, you can’t buy a race motor. Each organization has an “A” Motor, a “B” Motor, and a “C” Motor, etc. that cost different prices. They’ll say to the public they make all the same motors … but it’s not true.”

So, as the rich get richer and poor get poorer, the poor have given up on running 30th and simply decided to turn racing from competition to simple business venture. Of course, that’s not always the case: some start and parkers run a second car to help buy better equipment for their “A” vehicle. But an increasingly alarming number just simply put the money in the bank, get ready to steal fans’ money the next week and smile at a job well done.

Over in the Cup Series, these profit numbers can jump up to $20,000 to $30,000 per race due to an increased purse. If you add those numbers up over 36 events, and, well … let’s just say I wish I could have a salary relatively close to that amount.
What do we do to fix this situation? My owner had a matter-of-fact answer: restrict the purse to the top 30 finishers as some sort of elimination event. That would force teams to race for the money … but that’s easier said than done. What about some team with a mechanical failure beyond their control? It’s not fair they walk away from the weekend with nothing. I think instead, what you’ve got to do here is find some way to cut engine costs and horsepower so these other, smaller organizations can justify running the full distance and a have a shot at higher than 40th, along with a financial equation that doesn’t leave them tens of thousands of dollars in the red.

Otherwise, the start and park craze – especially since NASCAR is unwilling to stop it – will continue to grow at an alarming rate. And we can’t afford for that to happen.

Did You Notice? … One other thing … if NASCAR kicked out all the start and parkers, making short fields in each of its top three series, that extra purse money gets redistributed amongst the teams that do want to race. For example, on the Truck side 11 start and parkers collected over $120,000 in prize money. Without them there, the 25 teams who did come to race would end up with another $4,800 apiece. That’s money sorely needed in a series struggling with fan attendance and overall sponsorship support; yet everyone is refusing to acknowledge this problem. In fact …

Did You Notice? … There were stories on various television outlets that start and parkers need to be at the track each weekend so they don’t “lose touch” with what’s going on in the garage each week. Oh really? Why don’t you say that to Furniture Row Racing and the Wood Brothers over in the Cup Series, two of the most pleasant success stories this year as limited-schedule, single-car programs. Both the No. 78 and No. 21 chose to take their money and use it wisely, picking and choosing the races they go to run the full distance rather than trying to start and park in the other events or stretching their money over 36 races.

Since they’ve made those decisions, both teams have been rewarded with top 20 finishes and an increased amount of media attention. And – can you believe it – suddenly companies are interested in sponsoring at least the No. 78 for a full season in 2010! On-track success leading to off-track interest, who’d have thunk it? I’d say start and park teams have the same opportunity; but what sponsor is going to even take a look at you if you’re running 40th and parking the car before the first pit stop?

You’d hope FRR and the Wood Brothers can pave the way for others to follow their lead. All we can do is publicize their success and hope for the best … keep your fingers crossed.

Did You Notice? … I’ve already spent 1,500 words on S & Pers, but there’s one thing from the race Sunday I want to bring up. It’s rare these days, especially with the progression of technology and engineering, that the veteran experience of a driver alone will win you races. And that’s why through the boredom of Sunday’s race, seeing Mark Martin win on fumes was so refreshing.

You saw a driver who’d been around for three decades lay back and save fuel the way he was supposed to save it, while Greg Biffle and Jimmie Johnson in front of him got too caught up in racing themselves. Martin understood it was going to be a fuel mileage race, which happens in this business, and forced himself to subscribe to the old adage of, “To finish first, you must first finish.” It’s so difficult for racers – programmed to give 110 percent over the final laps – to dial it back that extra step to survive a race like that, especially with a battle for the lead right in front of him. But Martin kept his composure and his aggression in check, leading to his series-high third win of the season.

That puts the 50-year-old veteran within reach of some uncharted territory. Only one driver over the age of 50 has won more races than Martin in a season; Harry Gant won five, including four in a row, in 1991 en route to a fourth-place finish in the final standings (also a record for the 50+ crowd). Gant also holds the record with eight victories over the age of 50, the last of which occurring when he was 52.

Assuming Martin stays in a Hendrick Chevy through 2010 (and the way he’s sounding lately, that could be extended another year or two), he seems like a virtual lock to shatter those marks. And the way his teammates are praising both him and crew chief Alan Gustafson, Martin appears a lock to not only make the Chase but contend for the championship by running up front with the type of consistency we haven’t seen from him since 1998 — when he was just 39.

Who would have believed back then he’d be running for the championship, full-time, in a Hendrick car right now? Certainly not me, that’s for sure …

Contact Tom Bowles

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M.B. Voelker
06/17/2009 07:58 AM
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Start and park is not really a big deal. When the economy improves either those teams will increase their funding and start running full races or they will be replaced by teams that will run the full races.

There’s no point to continually hammering on something that will fix itself in the natural cycles of existence.

Kryle the Kryer
06/17/2009 10:03 AM
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Doesn’t NA$CAR get a bonus from the TV people when there are full fields? Considering how hungry NA$CAR is for any money, start and parkers work to their benefit. They obviously don’t care about the prize money distribution amongst the teams. I also read another story somewhere that NA$CRAP actually calls teams that don’t plan on racing to try to get them to the track when they don’t have a full field. Greedy bastards. You suck NA$CAR. The money tree has been picked clean, and now they seem desperate. You shouldn’t have messed with it like your old man told you Brainle$$ France. Now you are going down as the man responsible for turning the Nation’s fastest growing sport into the Nation’s fastest declining sport. Congratulations, you Drunk

Michael
06/17/2009 10:30 AM
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Tom , you can’t possibly be as clueless as your writings would suggest . So come on , stop pretending to be so dumb about the workings of Nascar and the world in general .
You did leave out a couple of important facts in your Nobel quality hard hitting expose . For one thing , you seem to forget that the smaller teams , just like the super teams , also have to have shops and equipment to build and maintain their cars . Not to mention insurance on the shop , insurance on the transporter , pit equipment up dates and repairs , Nascar license for driver , car owner , and crew members , entry fee for car , motel or motorhome costs , food . . The list just goes on and on . I’m surprised that the clerk at the Bag and Buy ( whoops , i’m sorry , i mean Mr Anonymous the big team owner – wink wink ) didn’t mention all of these to you . So your calculations for a weekends racing costs are to put it mildly a little off .
Bottom line Tom , your constant drum beat over a non-issue is rapidly destroying any credibility you ever had . Its obvious that you don’t have much knowledge of the inner workings of the sport , so go with your strong points and write about the musical acts in the pre race shows , things like that .

Managing Editor
06/17/2009 11:29 AM
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Hey Marshall,

You’re entitled to your opinion, but you seem to have negative comments towards me every single week so I figured I’d finally respond to one.

“Not to mention insurance on the shop , insurance on the transporter , pit equipment up dates and repairs , Nascar license for driver , car owner , and crew members , entry fee for car , motel or motorhome costs , food.”

Notice there’s a category called Miscellaneous Expenses on the list above. Those costs were discussed and incorporated into the overall expenses for the week. Of course things like insurance and shop fees cost extra money … but they’re monthly fees, so the amount you’re paying “per race” is far less. Your NASCAR license is a one-time fee, and the entry fee is incorporated into Miscellaneous Expenses.

As for pit equipment updates and repairs … who needs pit equipment? These guys aren’t making a green flag stop, so they bring the same old, moldy pit box every week. And as for paying crew at the shop … especially in this economy, there are plenty of people ready and willing to work for free just to get the experience in hopes they can get experience to learn skills and move to a team one day that has the financial funding to pay them.

Answer me this, Marshall … if this isn’t such a problem, then why are middle-tier owners consistently telling me they’re worried about their personal futures? I happen to talk to some of them from time to time … do you? If the answer’s no, well, then I guess you’re the one with less credibility.

Thanks for coming back to read me every week, though!

marshall
06/17/2009 12:13 PM
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In fact there seem to be a number of people who respond in a negative fashion to your columns . Not hard to see why .
Misc. expenses of $2500 per race ? Sadly i suspect you would be surprised to find out that the diesel fuel required to drive the transporter ( and possibly a motor home ) from , lets say Charlotte to , lets say Phoenix or Infinion , or Las Vegas and back would just about eat up your $2500 all by itself . Now why should anyone have any faith in your assertions when you obviously didn’t put much thought or reserch into the numbers .
But that aside , there is no mid level team owner who feels that their future in Cup racing is being imperiled by the small teams that you have such hatred for . We did get a big laugh from your brilliant notion that the teams would make more money if the teams who go out early don’t get paid at all . My son’s third grade class came to the same solution . I do wish you would favor us with a specific plan to stop these thieving bastards from stealing all of the prize money from the hard working teams and from breaking the hearts of all of us purists who just can’t believe these things go on in a sport as pure as Nascar . Do you plan to police the garage area , have a special tear down after every race for each car that dropped out early ? Force team owners to sign a declaration under penalty of law that they couldn’t repair their car ? And while we’re on that subject , how many laps constitute a start and park ? If no car drops out until the half way point , and then five cars go to the garage , did they start and park ? If a car crashes hard and withdraws from the race at any lap , are they truly unable to repair the car or are they just calling it a day to save crew effort and make some money ? And what crteria would be used to decide these cases .
I know what you’re thinking Tom , thats ridiculous . Yeh , maybe . Just as ridiculous as you bombarding readers with mis-information and mis- placed hatred for teams who are trying to race and make a buck doing it . By the way , see if you can get a photo for us of one of those “ moldy “ tool boxes .
And lastly , i am a racer . I know what the small teams go through every week to be able to do what they want to do more than anything else on Earth . RACE !
We can use your mis-guided approach and get rid of the bottom 10 or 15 cars in the field so other teams can make more money ( boy , you really don’t understand how racing works if you believe that nonsense ) or we can just do what we’ve done from day one in Nascar . Sit back and enjoy the racing without trying to prove that the lesser teams don’t have a right to be there . Because they do . And i for one am happy to see every one of them every week .

marshall
06/17/2009 12:16 PM
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Oh , i wouldn’t miss your column each week . Hard to beat the entertainment value .

Managing Editor
06/17/2009 12:30 PM
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Marshall,

Let me start by saying it’s my last comment on the subject, because I don’t like to get in personal back-and-forths with fans on the comment pages.

It’s obvious you don’t think start-and-parking is a problem, and that’s fine. Next time you’re at a truck race, paid $50 for a ticket, and half the field parks it after Lap 20 — let me know if you got your money’s worth. They certainly did — but was that what you came to see? And when the economy returns, how are these guys going to gain sponsors when they don’t have the results to show for it? Because they’re being priced out of the business, we’ll continue to watch the recovering companies align themselves with the big name teams that already have all the money and resources to begin with.

As for your comment about the car owners, I had to laugh because unless you’re a crew member coming on and commenting here, I actually talk to these guys so I’m pretty confident about whom I speak. The reason these people show up as anonymous is because they get handouts from Roush, Hendrick, Gibbs, etc. Do you think those handouts would continue for one second if they openly bashed them? So, of course they’re going to request anonymity — but they also know the trend and direction the sport is going. And they’re scared.

You stand by your beliefs, I stand by mine. But hey … at least I make you laugh!

marshall
06/17/2009 12:45 PM
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The number of trucks running at the finish wouldn’t alter any fans enjoyment of a race , unless of course their favorite didn’t finish .

Yes i am , and yes you do .

Rick
06/17/2009 03:35 PM
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Just for the sake of it, I’m pretty sure there were several cars called back to pit road before the start of the Nationwide race because they had no crew chief or crew in their pits.

KenKars
06/17/2009 04:37 PM
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Rick

Yes, you are right about the Nationwide race. I believe the announcers mentioned that it was 3 cars that had no crew chief in their pit !

Ron Wishon
06/17/2009 06:06 PM
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NASCAR will find a way to stop the ‘start & park’ drivers. Just look at what the thugs at NASCAR did to Carl Long.

dawg
06/17/2009 10:02 PM
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NA$CAR, & the media can sugar coat this any way they want to. The bottom line. The S & P teams are picking the pockets of the teams who come to race, rather than just get paid. People say that the teams who come to race, but get out qualified by the S & P teams are such crummy teams that they don’t deserve to be in the show anyway. There may be some merit to this argument, but remember. The S & P teams NEVER have to even think about race set ups. Not only do they add nothing to the show, they detract from it. My hat is off to the Wood Bros. When they come, they come to race. If you can’t afford to run the race. Stay the hell home!

 

Contact Tom Bowles

Recent articles from Tom Bowles:

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If you want to know more about Tom Bowles or to view all of his articles here at the Frontstretch, check out his archive and bio page.

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