The Frontstretch: U.S. Army Deserting Chevrolet And Defecting To ... Toyota? by Vito Pugliese -- Tuesday June 24, 2008

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U.S. Army Deserting Chevrolet And Defecting To ... Toyota?

The Voice of Vito · Vito Pugliese · Tuesday June 24, 2008


The rumors circulating in the garage area and beyond this week are that the Dale Earnhardt, Inc. No. 8 Chevrolet team will be looking for a new sponsor for 2009 and beyond. The car that has been co-driven by veteran Mark Martin and rookie Aric Almirola currently has a year-to-year sponsorship agreement with the U.S. Army, but it looks as though that is coming to an end at the conclusion of the 2008 season. And while the Army maintains it could be back to sponsor the team for ’09, it’s looking more and more like it will be headed to a Toyota Camry — likely one of the Bill Davis Racing entries, or possibly even a Michael Waltrip Racing ride. Caterpillar’s recent announcement that it will move its funding to the No. 31 Richard Childress Racing car makes a move even more likely, as the pool of non-Toyota teams this sponsor would be willing to align itself with has dwindled down to near zero.

At first, I was skeptical. How could the U.S. Army, of all organizations, leave Chevrolet to sponsor a Toyota team — and a semi-competitive one at that? But things changed once I received an email from a noted racing merchandise website, advertising blowout deals on all U.S. Army No. 8 paraphernalia. It reminded me of the time I got an email over Labor Day Weekend on my Blackberry from a former employer, inviting me to an impromptu meeting with the Vice President and Human Resources Director the following Wednesday.

Oh, how timely!

With regards to the driver situation at DEI, there appears to be changes afoot as well. The likely scenario reported this weekend has Almirola going full-time in the No. 8 for ’09, with Martin replacing Casey Mears in the Hendrick Motorsports No. 5 entry next season — continuing in a similar driver/mentor capacity as he had with Ginn Racing and DEI. However, the sponsorship situation Martin leaves behind is not so simple to reconcile; in truth, that joke about “Military Intelligence” being an oxymoron in The Hunt for Red October seems to not be such a stretch after all.

In military parlance, this at first glance appears to be a tactical error for their sponsorship effort. With the DEI No. 8 Chevrolet entry, there stands a car that is a weekly Top 10 threat, one that has contended for wins on a few occasions this year and is the flagship entry for one of the iconic Chevrolet teams (with an iconic nameplate, to boot). And let’s not forget that the Army and General Motors relationship has extended far beyond racing for generations. During WWII, General Motors factories were converted to crank out tanks, rifles, pistols, aircraft, and ships — among other armaments — to bear against imperialist Japanese and Nazi forces. Those factories, and the workers who ran them, helped produce over 1,300 airplanes and a quarter of all aircraft engines.

For the past two years, Mark Martin has served as an eloquent spokesman for the U.S. Army. But with the sponsor looking elsewhere, Martin is likely to bail to Hendrick Motorsports — ending the partnership at the end of this season.

With DEI’s current driver lineup, you have in Martin the ultimate spokesman for that relationship. It’s a fan favorite and respected veteran who, when he does hang it up, will have the “legend” tag applied to him in short order. Not only that, but his co-driver Almirola is an up-and-coming rookie with tremendous upside, one who’d make just as fine a representative for the Army as Martin has been. Not only is he a rising star in NASCAR’s top series, he is also of Hispanic descent, which further adds to his marketability in NASCAR’s diversity initiatives. About the only thing he is missing is Martin’s trademark buzz cut.

The U.S. Army has used motorsports as a recruitment tool for several years now, having sponsored Tony Schumacher’s ubiquitous “Sarge” in the NHRA Top Fuel ranks — but the Sprint Cup program has been perhaps their most high-profile effort since becoming a full-time sponsor in 2003 for the now-defunct MB2 Motorsports team. Since then, MB2 became Ginn Racing and was absorbed by DEI in the summer of 2007. That merger was the final piece of the puzzle for the Army: it was finally allied with a top-tier Cup program, the most successful nameplate in NASCAR, and with one of the greatest drivers the sport has ever known. The formula was any sponsor’s dream, particularly for the military. It wasn’t that long ago that recruitment levels were suffering with extended troop deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan dominating the headlines.

So, with that in mind, why would the Army want to leave for a team that hasn’t contended for a win since Ward Burton won at New Hampshire in 2002 — or one in Michael Waltrip Racing that was the laughingstock of the garage area just a year ago?

But when you stop to think about it, I guess their financial change of heart shouldn’t come as that great of a surprise, especially considering how the military has taken to awarding contracts to foreign interests of late. In February of this year, it was announced that the United States Air Force awarded a contract to EADS — the European consortium that holds AirBus — rather than Boeing for a new fleet of in-flight refueling tanker aircraft. The contract, worth an estimated $108 billion over 25 years, would provide 44,000 new jobs at a critical time in our nation that is witnessing soaring fuel and food costs — to say nothing of the fact that a foreign company building “our” planes just sounds flat wrong. The proposed replacement for the Colt M-16 rifle, the main battle implement used since the mid-1960s by the U.S. Army and Marines, is the Heckler and Koch XM8, a rifle developed by the German firearms manufacturer.

Even the fleet of U.S.-made Sikorsky Marine One helicopters that the President uses are in the process of being replaced by those of a foreign entity. The new aircraft are derived from a model built by AgustaWestland, a British-Italian manufacturer, and are used by five NATO countries and Japan.

With Toyota we have a company that, although it does build more American-made cars than most domestic manufacturers (check the transmission in your rig … it’s probably stamped, “Made In Mexico”), it is still a foreign company, and there is just something intrinsically wrong with a Japanese stock car carrying the colors of the United States military. And that says nothing of the fact that Toyota, at any moment, could deal a knockout blow to General Motors as the clear No. 1 auto manufacturer in the galaxy. Now, it is receiving one of the most honored sponsorships in motorsports at the expense of the Chevrolet team that carries the name of one of NASCAR’s most beloved figures.

I don’t mean to go all Jimmy Spencer or Jack Roush on everyone by comparing Toyota’s entry into NASCAR to Pearl Harbor, or its racing efforts to those of Japan when it goes to war. Racing is not warfare; it is sport, entertainment that serves as an avenue for advertising. And let’s face it: race cars don’t run on gas, they run on money. There could be no more “green” machine on our supposedly ever-warming planet than a race car.

But I am a traditionalist, and I still have certain views on things as the way they ought to be. You stand and take off your hat during the national anthem, 22” rims on a car look stupid, and if you have a barbed wire armband tattoo, you had better be in prison — or stuck in a time warp from 1997. I would also venture to say that there are probably a number of surviving veterans of World War II and beyond that are less than enthused about seeing the U.S. Army’s name emblazoned upon a Toyota. Particularly one that crashes, suffers mechanical failures, or sometimes has to load up and go home on Friday following qualifying.

But come this February, those vets may have no choice, experiencing a fear they never would have imagined would become reality: a U.S. military-sponsored Toyota Camry.

Contact Vito Pugliese

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06/24/2008 04:26 AM

The US Army on a Toyota…how STUPID is that?

06/24/2008 07:35 AM

Who cares who they sponsor. MWR cars are driven by all-american guys. I drive a Ford and my favorite team is MWR, its the drivers, and there are way to many trash talking drivers out there that I would not want to sponsor no matter how successful they are. David R. of Waltrip racing would be a great car for Army to sponsor, he is a class act.

06/24/2008 07:47 AM

nascrap, along with this this country, is going to hell in a hand bag!!

Ann McElhinney
06/24/2008 08:59 AM

Dee, I care who they sponsor. I have relatives and friends who are in Iraq fighting to keep the USA safe and secure. But nobody is here in America fighting to keep our jobs and business safe and secure. The Army sponsoring a japanese car could be the final straw for people old enough to remember what it is like to be an American and be able to buy American-made products and eat American-farmed food. MWR was one of the first to embrace Toyota and sell out the American automakers. The “Who cares” that starts your paragraph is what’s wrong with Americans today. They don’t care when foreign companies threaten their jobs and security. I hope I’m long dead before you find out just what fatal errors you are all making.

Jim Davidson
06/24/2008 09:02 AM

As a Vietnam vet and American patriot, I find it very disturbing to think that the U.S. Army would sponsor a Toyota! The fact that other great American companies (Caterpillar, U.P.S., NAPA, etc.) have done it is certainly pathetic enough!

06/24/2008 09:09 AM

And yet again, the Toyota hate comes out. I don’t understand how it can be 2008, with the world dominated by multinational corporations and a global economy, that people can be so bothered by what company backs motorsports teams. As a reader, and not specifically referring to this article but the general consensus amongst fans and certain columnists, it has the appearance that people have the mindset that Toyota came into NASCAR with cars carrying huge Japanese flags piloted by JGTC drivers who have a habit of pasting a picture of the U.S.S. Arizona inside their car.

Nevermind that the non-JGR/HOF Toyota cars are built by American teams, provided with engines by TRD USA based in Costa Mesa, CA, and about the only Japanese parts on the cars are assorted parts manufactured by Denso, a Toyota parts arm (which incidentally you can also find on cars fielded by Mr. Pearl Harbor himself, Jack Roush). Nevermind that you reference WWII without mentioning the most highly decorated (for its size and length of service) unit ever, the 442nd Infantry (whom, I might add, were treated like crap when they got home despite their service). And never mind that the Army is specifically aiming for a youth, diverse target audience (although to be honest, if they want that they should go directly over to JPM’s car and sponsor that).

It’s just offensive to me as an Asian-American that people still find a way to bash on a company like Toyota just because of where they are based, and brush over all the good things a company like Toyota has done for the U.S. economy. It just shows a complete lack of understanding for the world today in 2008 (and a complete stubbornness to let go of 1942). Oh, and tell me where GM would be without the Asian/Pacific market? Take GMAP out of the equation and you don’t have the #1 automaker in the world.

06/24/2008 09:43 AM

Not to nitpick on a tangent, but with or without GMAP, Toyota is still currently the #1 automaker in the world by sales volume and income. GM is #2.

Bill Daves Who?
06/24/2008 10:07 AM

Don’t believe every thing the media prints!

06/24/2008 10:47 AM

Vito, This article is riddled with so many Half truths, & innuendos. That it’s laughable. It make about as much sense as if I attacked you about your name, & asked you what right you had to be flag waving. The Tanker contract, was a much better deal for the tax payers, & will also provide high paying US jobs. This was the second time Boeing attempted to rip off the tax payers. As for the made in Mexico on the transmission. Check the component origin on your Chevrolet. Presonally, I question money being spent by our armed forces in this maner in the first place. I would rather see this money spent to provide state of the art equiptment for our troops. Something that was lacking for far too long in this current operation.

Vito Pugliese - FS Staff
06/24/2008 11:05 AM

Dawg –

Hah, how do you figure? Let’s take them one by one here:

- The tanker contract is being reviewed and very well may go to Boeing now, as it should. Boeing has built the backbone of America’s bomber force and tanker force since 1937. Thank them for contributing to the demise of Germany, Japan, and the USSR.

-The new Marine One helicopters – same difference. It is not an American design. Yes, Lockheed Martin is involved in the project, but again…why are we farming out work to foreign held subsidiaries?

-As for my transmission comment, many are in fact made in Mexico. I do not drive a Chevrolet however. In fact, I drive a Ford, who’s transmission is built by Tremec, and probably made in either Mexico or Tennesse.

hank lee
06/24/2008 02:48 PM

I didn’t know this was fox news’ article…guess I was wrong Bill O’Reilly

Vito Pugliese - FS Staff
06/24/2008 03:40 PM


06/24/2008 04:16 PM

There should be a reality show which follows someone (preferably a NASCAR fan) who tries to live life for a year using only products that are made by American-based companies with every single component made in America. Is there even a car that exists which fits that description? Plus, it would be interesting to see how that person would go, in today’s day and age, without TV, a computer, or a cell phone.

06/24/2008 04:19 PM

“United States Air Force awarded a contract to EADS — the European consortium that holds AirBus — rather than Boeing for a new fleet of in-flight refueling tanker aircraft. The contract, worth an estimated $108 billion over 25 years, would provide 44,000 new jobs”

You shouldn’t comment on things you don’t understand.

a) the contract was awarded to Northrop Grumman, an American defense contractor

b) EADS is a subcontractor to Northrop

c) The reason there was a competition to begin with was because Boeing tried to screw the taxpayers by leasing their outdated 767 fleet.

d) Boeing would not create 44,000 new jobs. They’d continue an old production line.

e) NG would create 48,000 jobs in the US.

f) Boeing cried foul but won’t tell you that their next generation —the Dreamliner— is substantially built overseas.

g) You will not find a modern US weapon system that is 100% built in the US. Most use off the shelf electronics which are not built in the US. Looked inside your PC lately? Not much US made.

06/24/2008 06:47 PM

Vito: You are absolutely correct about the history of Boeing. I had an uncle who flew B-17’s during the war. I also worked on B-52’s during Vietnam. You are also correct that the contract is being reviewed. This, however is politics, not financial prudence. During their first attempt to rip us off. It was proven that they had bribed key Air Force people. With sweetheart job offers. Sounds like they might be at it agin.

As for your transmission comment. I’ll give you that one. Guess by the time I got to that. My eyes were crossed, & I might of misunderstood your point.

As for the Helicopter part of your story. I know nothing about this so can’t comment.

When the US manufactures have all pulled out of NA$CAR. Leaving you with Toyota, Honda, & Audi. Who would you prefer To cary the Army sponsorship?

Vito Pugliese - FS Staff
06/24/2008 06:52 PM

dawg –

Thank you for your service to our country. My dad as well was a B-52 and KC-135 mechanic during Vietnam…although he fondly remembers his enemy was the Soviet Union, not the NVA or VC.

Kevin in SoCal
06/24/2008 08:05 PM

While some products can no longer be bought with American-made parts, we can still buy the things that are made here by American companies, like GM, Ford, and Dodge. Then again, if the auto unions would get off their butts and stop crying for more benefits, GM, Ford, and Dodge would be competitive again in the marketplace and could regain status against Toyota and Honda.

clydej walters sr
06/24/2008 09:54 PM

arnt toyotas made in the usa..not mexico or canada..

06/24/2008 10:32 PM

No Toyota’s are not MADE in the U.S.A they are assembled here. By the way I care, my husband is laid off from American Auto Maker he has over 15 years of seniority invested, doesn’t mean squat anymore.

Gerry Blachley
06/25/2008 10:07 AM

I have a flag in a rectangular display box, and an uncle was under it. I under stand teams have to get money or there is no racing, I knew Dal senior and Raced with him, I did not like him but cried when he died, and see him in pictures over my desk every day, perhaps it time forgive, not forget

06/25/2008 11:19 AM


Your Dad, & I may have been at the same place.

I was in the 3258th Strat wing. At Utapao Thailand in ’67 We built the eng. shop pretty much from scratch. Then I was with the test cell crew. We had our own little place just off the end of the runway, on the beach. where we ran all the engines for the KC-135’s, & B-52’s

Vito Pugliese FS-Staff
06/25/2008 06:22 PM

So you too are familliar with the TF-33 Turbofan!

My dad was in SAC’s 379th Bomb Wing – Wurtsmith AFB. He was actually in Thailand in 1968 at one point I believe – plane beneath him was hit by a SAM on the way over from what I remember him telling me.

paul sparks
06/25/2008 07:08 PM

Wouldn’t the ideal car for the US Army be the iconic #28? Just looks too logical for me.

Contact Vito Pugliese