By admin | June 14, 2009
By Richard Allen
With the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series having just raced in Michigan, there has been a great deal of talk about the future of the automobile industryâ€™s future involvement in the sport.
Word came out last week that General Motors, parent company of the Chevrolet brand, is about make big cuts in its racing budget. Those cuts will not only impact Nationwide and Camping World truck teams, as was originally thought, but will indeed be â€œNASCAR-wideâ€ in scope.
Considering the situation in the auto industry, it is likely that there will be more announcements of pull backs in the very near future from other auto companies.
The question is, does it really make any difference if the manufacturers pull completely out of the sport? Or perhaps a better question is, what reason would the manufacturers have for staying in the sport?
The old saying of, â€˜Win on Sunday, Sell on Mondayâ€™ canâ€™t be very much true today. In what way is the car Jeff Gordon drives really a Chevrolet? Can a prospective new car buyer go to a showroom at his local Ford dealership and buy a car that looks like Matt Kensethâ€™s Daytona 500 winning ride? Is there a Toyota like the one Kyle Busch drives on Sunday or a Dodge like his brother Kurtâ€™s on the lots of the sellers of those respective brands?
NASCARâ€™s Car of Tomorrow is not an altogether terrible idea. It is far safer than the previous car used on the Sprint Cup Series. However, in designing the car NASCAR made a critical blunder when they removed all evidence of true brand identity.
The only thing that makes Gordonâ€™s Chevy differ from Kensethâ€™s Ford are the headlight and grill stickers placed on the nose of the car. A CoT can be raced one week as a Dodge, get a new engine and have the stickers changed, then race the next week as a Ford, Chevy or Toyota.
In what way does it benefit the manufacturers to be a part of that sort of thing?
Of course, the cars are identified by their makes in the souvenir program. The different manufacturers pour, or once poured, significant amounts of money into the teams they support. And, there are differences in the engines used by each brand. But, no one can actually see the engine as the car goes around the track.
In the 1970s and 1980s the cars raced in NASCAR actually resembled cars on the street. A person could be proud to announce that he was driving the same type of car Richard Petty, Bobby Allison or David Pearson drove to win the last race. Now, the only thing that makes one car different from another is for the track announcer to say it is a particular brand.
I am not advocating that teams should be literally rolling cars off the dealership lot and modifying it race. But, there is no reason, other than NASCAR officials having to work a little harder in pre-race inspection, that the cars cannot be fabricated to have some real brand identity.
Well, of course, there is the fear that if one brand started to dominate because they did more homework than the others it might cause the others to not kick in as much sponsorship money to the sanctioning body.
One manufacturer might not be willing to spend a few million dollars to have their pick-up truck recognized as the â€˜Official Kitty Litter Spreader of NASCARâ€™ if they werenâ€™t winning once in a while. NASCAR canâ€™t take a chance on that happening so they have decided that the best thing to do is make every car the same. That way no one will feel cheated, except the fans. And theyâ€™ll always keep coming back, wonâ€™t they?
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly column appears in The Mountain Press every Wednesday.
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