The Frontstretch: Manufacturer Involvement In NASCAR Hanging On By A Thread by Vito Pugliese -- Thursday November 13, 2008

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Manufacturer Involvement In NASCAR Hanging On By A Thread

What's Vexing Vito · Vito Pugliese · Thursday November 13, 2008


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Should Brian France ever relinquish his title of Grand Poobah of NASCAR, he would probably have a successful career as a modern day politician.

He has managed the delicate task of alienating both the base – the core NASCAR fan who had been tuning in since Brett Bodine was behind the wheel of Kenny Bernstein’s Buick and not the pace car – as well as putting off and confusing potential new fans and supporters, the casual fan who flips back and forth between whatever NFL games are on to watch the last few laps of a stock car race. Having already successfully moved past an incident (allegedly) involving drinking and driving, France has been politicking heavily the last few months, reminding everyone why the Chase was such a brilliant concept and why it is such a good idea.

Mainly because it was his.

Meanwhile, a quick look at the current point standings will show that under the traditional system, Jimmie Johnson would hold a tenuous 56-point lead over Carl Edwards this Sunday, not the nearly insurmountable 141-point God-I-hope-it-cranks-over advantage he holds now. This has been part of France’s stump speech over the last 10 weeks; however, he now has some damage control to do over something much more serious and important than cars going around in a circle in Florida: Cars going forward down an assembly line in Michigan. Or Mexico.

Or wherever they’re making them these days.

Could support from the Blue Oval soon be a thing of NASCAR’s past?

As the Big Three automakers are coming to the nation’s capitol, hat in hand, asking for desperately needed operating cash, the very real possibility looms that these titans of industry may not be able to help sustain the sport it has a symbiotic relationship with since its post-war inception in 1948. Brian France, however, is confident that NASCAR will be just fine without them should the unthinkable happen.

Well, I know NASCAR has always held the stance with its drivers that, “We can live without you, but can you live without NASCAR?” but this is not one of those times. While there may be some similarities — wars taking place over 10,000 miles away, on the other side of the globe, political turmoil, a bevy of new high horsepower cars coming to market amid spiking energy costs, and guys with stupid haircuts — these are not the early 1970s.

Back then, manufacturers yanked most of their support from virtually every racing series, and NASCAR was no exception. The sport was able to muddle through the dark malaise that was that miserable decade, but it wasn’t until the manufacturers jumped back in with both feet in the early 1980s that NASCAR made the next transition to a viable national sport. 25 years and a mountain of explosive growth later, keep in mind that in this less than vibrant economy, putting on the year-long spectacle that is NASCAR nowadays doesn’t come cheap. Who sponsors many of these races? Ford Motor Company is sponsoring Ford Championship Weekend a few days from now in Homestead. Ever watched the Chevy Rock ‘N’ Roll 400? Heard of the Dodge Challenger 500? And guess who helps foot the bill for wind tunnel time and develops these new engines for the teams to use?

NASCAR has always prided itself on the fact its fans are the most brand loyal bunch in all the land, purchasing from those who support their sport. Nobody supports NASCAR more than the Big Three, and no other sport is driven as much by brand identity. Throughout the past six decades, manufacturer rivalries have been every bit as much a part of the sport as was the jockeying for position by its drivers. No, it isn’t quite like what it used to be — now all of the cars look the same except for some headlight stickers and corporate emblem decals — but somebody still has to make that Blue Oval or Dodge Ram actually mean something that fans can identify with.

Would Dale Earnhardt have risen to the level of popularity he did driving a Nissan? And Richard Petty became The King while driving a Plymouth, not a Peugeot.

France (Brian, not the country) has offered his assistance to the automakers, but hasn’t actually spelled out any specifics, and was equally vague about how teams would be assisted with his promised help. That’s not enough, as the situation facing the Detroit automakers and their employees is a dire one, and is no less perilous than that faced by you, me, and millions of other Americans today.

With any luck, this situation will find a way to work itself out for the best; otherwise, manufacturer involvement or even NASCAR as we know it may become little more than another causality of the worldwide economic meltdown of 2008.

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Today on the Frontstretch:
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Vexing Vito: Three Drivers In Need of a Role Reversal
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Fantasy Insider: Team Revelations For NASCAR’s Short Tracks



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M.B. Voelker
11/13/2008 08:49 AM

Seems to me that Nascar lost the manufacturers once before. And that back in that “Golden Age” of the perfect racing “old-school” fans claim once existed that only a handful of cars had factory sponsorship.

Leaving aside the possibility that other auto manufacturers (Honda? Mazda? Hyundai? Whoever springs up from the ashes of the fallen “Big 3” having bought the abandoned factories cheap and re-tooled them for leaner, more efficient operation), …

Isn’t a series made up largely of struggling “independent” driver-owners who keep their cars running on duct tape and determination while sleeping in their trucks after towing the race cars personally on open trailers what so many Nascar “fans” idealize as the perfect past?

Vito Pugliese - FS Staff
11/13/2008 09:01 AM

“Retooled them”:

i.e., disbanding the UAW and their unreasonable labor practices.

11/13/2008 09:17 AM

MB , the word clueless was designed for you .
Do yourself a favor and make an effort to learn a little about NASCARS past , manufacturers involvement over the years , and what “ old school “ fans really think .
There has been direct factory involvement in NASCAR from the very first race . Special Hudson engines and engine parts available to anyone that wanted to race . Same for Mopar , Ford , and GM . Manufacturers have always been heavily involved , even when they were officially not involved .
I can’t help but wonder about the meaning of the quotes around the word fan . Anyone who enjoyed racing in the past isn’t really a fan ? If you cheer for the underdog , you don’t rank with the Voelkers of the world ? Should fans just shut up and bow to the omnipotence of MB as the NASCAR expert ? Or will you allow “ fans “ who were actually at the NASCAR races of old ( unlike you i suspect ) to express their love of the sport the way it used to be .
I don’t think the careers of Dale Earnhardt or Richard Petty had very much to do with what make of car they drove . They both competed in almost every brand of car available in NASCAR over the years . And if foreign cars had been used in NASCAR , they both would probably have raced them a time or two through the years .

Kevin in SoCal
11/13/2008 12:38 PM

(“Retooled them”:

i.e., disbanding the UAW and their unreasonable labor practices.)

Damn straight Vito! Non-union Toyota and Honda appear to be doing fine building quality cars the general public wants, while the union-labor of GM, Ford, and Chrysler have given domestic autos a bad reputation. It saddens me to have to say it.

11/13/2008 01:59 PM

If you don’t mind , heres a little history lesson for the Labor Union Haters . I’ve never belonged to a union , but i certainly have wished i did from time to time . Unions were and are the only thing standing between a greedy company owner/ board of directors and the working man . Without unions , the worker gets paid pretty much whatever the company wants to pay him . He works as many hours as the company tells him to . He works in whatever un-safe conditions the boss says . He can be fired for any reason at any time . Before unions , the lives of many workers in the US were beyond belief . We all know the stories of the coal miners , and the little kids in sweat shops .
The current laws and regulations that exist will protect the workers from most of the above , but those laws would not exist if not for unions forcing the laws into existence .
Now regarding the supposed overstepping of the unions and the wages and benefits they’ve gotten for the workers , the unions are exactly like the shareholders of the companies . The board of directors has to give the shareholders the biggest profits possible or they aren’t doing their job . The leaders of the unions were put in place to get the workers as many benifits and the highest pay possible , or they weren’t doing their job . The union leaders weren’t put in place to tell the workers “ okay guys , thats all we’re gona get for you , we think you have enough “ . The board of directors would never say that to the shareholders either .
Unions were simply doing what the workers asked them to .
By the way , the poor little CEOs of these US companies have been making approx. 400 times as much in salary as their lowest paid employee . In Japan , that number is more like 12 times . The rest of the industrial world is has similar numbers to Japan . So is anyone really set to believe that the unions have caused the problems in Detroit ? Or is it more likely also the result of incredible greed by the free market system ?

Vito Pugliese - FS Staff
11/13/2008 04:48 PM

This is not the dawn of the Industrial Revolution.
They are paying guys $40.00 an hour to put wheels on Dodge Rams, not opperate a Bessemer Furnace. Factor in free lifetime health and retirement bennefits, and you’ll see where the problem lies. Also with that Job Bank that they made the big three put together in the early 90’s. When you’re laid off you make 90% of what you would be making if you did work. Yeah, it’s a great racket if you’re in it….but look what it has done.

Having said that, anything that is not wearing an American nameplate is subject to a $2500 tariff. It worked on Japanesse Motorcylces in the early 1980’s, and helped give rebirth to Harley Davidson, yet the whole market exploded.

Kevin in SoCal
11/13/2008 09:38 PM

Unions were great 50-100 years ago when they actually did something. Nowadays they only care about themselves, and have a “get everything you can right now and dont worry about the future” mentality. That attitude has now caught up with them and its practically killed them.

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