The economy is still in rough shape no matter how you look at it. Unemployment is far over historical levels, corporations are cutting back on marketing budgets, costs for race teams are escalating and track owners are struggling to fill the seats at their venues. NASCAR apparently understands these struggles for teams and tracks and is trying to make things easier for the Nationwide Series to continue to operate. However, in an inexplicable decision, the sanctioning body has decided that the best way to make things easier on track owners is to cut back on the purses that are paid for competing in events in the series.
Somehow the economic wizards in Daytona Beach have come to the conclusion that, in order for the Nationwide Series to flourish, they are going to reward the teams that show up and run in their events with less money to take home from the track.
This is quite possibly the dumbest thing the people who run the sport have ever done, and that is saying something considering their recent track record with the Chase and the Top-35 rule. A series that is working hard to establish an identity as a developmental circuit and an entry point for ownership is now going to give away less money while the teams that are interested in running next year have to build a new fleet of racecars thanks to the new car design being implemented full-time next year. There is simply no logic to explain how this move will spur involvement in the series.
If NASCAR was serious about making things easier on track owners, it would take some of the billions of dollars it is raking in from all the “official” sponsors and pour it back into the second-tier series and its tracks while the economy struggles. If the suits in Daytona want to make things easier on the track owners, they should do as Kyle Ocker mentioned in Mirror Driving this week and reduce the fees that the tracks have to pay to NASCAR to host events. The fee tracks currently pay is certainly a substantial amount of money. The tracks would be able to immediately reduce their overhead expense for hosting Nationwide races by not having to fork over the thousands of dollars that they are required to in order to host a race. If NASCAR eliminated the fee or cut it in half, the track could put half of the savings into the purse and pocket the other half, and both the track and the competitors would benefit.
The only reason this decision could make sense is that NASCAR is trying to watch its own back. At least 15 of the events on next year’s Nationwide schedule are going to be contested at ISC racetracks. ISC is the arm of NASCAR that owns and operates racing facilities and is a subsidiary of NASCAR. Therefore, the bottom line from the track operations directly impacts the financial well being of NASCAR itself. If the tracks have to pay less money to the parent company for hosting races, the tracks are able to show a better profit, which makes them look like better investments for the parent company. Unfortunately, when you look at the big picture, it is a wash because the tracks are paying the fees to the parent company which keeps the money in house, so the money is held within the same overall organization.
What NASCAR really needs to do is pour money into tracks and prize funds that are already ridiculously small compared to the Cup Series. Start-and-park teams are increasing in numbers weekly because the costs of competing for entire events, even though it’s the Nationwide Series, are prohibitive when the reward for running the entire event is considered. If NASCAR increased the payouts to reward the teams that are running on a weekly basis, there might be incentive for other owners to attempt to break into the series.
As it stands now, there will probably be an increase in start and park operations — or worse, a decrease in overall teams showing up at the track because the money that can be earned will no longer even offset the expense of coming to the track every week. With the announced reduction of another 20% in purses means that, between this year and next, the money to be had from running a Nationwide race has dropped by 28%. In a sport where the cost of doing business has gone up somewhere in the neighborhood of 30% over the last couple of years, that is simply not an acceptable rate of return on investment.
If NASCAR put money into tracks while bringing races back to where the sport started, it would immediately see an increase in interest and ability to reduce the Cup presence in the series. Nationwide races used to be held at Hickory, South Boston and Orange County speedways in North Carolina and Virginia. If NASCAR were to come into those tracks and install SAFER barriers, improve the infrastructure and focus its promotion efforts on the series, it would see a great increase in interest from fans and teams. The tracks are close to the base of operations for most of the teams in the series and the racing would be outstanding because they are short tracks that practically guarantee the best competition and the most excitement for fans.
When all is said and done, the Nationwide Series is hurting right now and the last thing it needs is a decrease in teams on the racetrack. If NASCAR cuts the purses by another 20% next year, the most likely result is that only the Cup-backed teams and one or two of the Nationwide standalone teams that have been the most successful will be all that is left on the track. NASCAR will be scrambling on a weekly basis to put 43 cars on the track in order to get maximum television revenue, and the number of start-and-park teams that show up will probably end up somewhere around 20 teams.
Imagine a race where nearly half of the field is behind the wall before the first pit stops. That is not what the Nationwide fanbase wants to see. Wake up NASCAR! When the number of customers is decreasing at your place of business, you don’t cut back on the menu and let the building go into disrepair. You increase the variety offered, you remodel the building and advertise more. That is where you need to be heading with the series, not down the path that you’ve announced.