By admin | June 21, 2009
By Richard Allen
Last week, eight Formula 1 teams announced their intention to leave that sanctioning body and form their own series. Among those teams were powerful Ferrari and McLaren.
The problem stems from the FIA’s attempt to impose a budget cap for next season. FIA is the governing body of Formula 1. The teams have stated in the strongest terms that they believe such a cap would be detrimental to the sport. FIA has stated in equally strong terms that they believe such a cap is essential for the health of the sport in tough economic times.
The real problem is not necessarily the budget cap, but instead, the teams do not want to be told how to run their businesses. Whether the breakup will actually occur remains to be seen but the gauntlet has been thrown down.
In recent years, NASCAR has become more and more involved in running their teams businesses for them.
Particularly since the inception of the Car of Tomorrow, NASCAR has become as much a parts supplier and set-up dictator as a sanctioning body. Shocks, springs, gear ratios, camber angles, wing angles, tire pressures and restrictor plates are among the pieces and parts either supplied by or dictated by NASCAR to the teams.
While it may sound to the novice that NASCAR is making the job easier for teams by taking away so much decision making, what is actually happening is that race officials are putting teams in a box in terms of car set-ups.
Mandating so many parts and pieces may have been passed off as a way of saving teams money, but that has not been the case. Teams now spend fortunes with scores of engineers trying to find the slightest of advantages in the few places where NASCAR still allows some degree of leeway.
More mandating means more expense for teams.
And to make matters worse, NASCAR has clamped down on some teams ability to bring in the necessary revenue to keep up with the high cost of the mandates. In a time when the sport’s organizers should be helping teams find sponsorship in order to maintain a healthy number of competitive cars on the track, NASCAR has instead decided to look after its own interests.
Teams are finding sponsors or already have sponsors in place only to have NASCAR come in and run those sponsors off or take them away for themselves.
When Sears announced its Craftsman brand of tools would not return as sponsor of the truck series in 2009, NASCAR scrambled to find a replacement. Eventually, Camping World agreed to take on the task of series namesake.
Camping World was serving as the primary sponsor of a truck series team. Kevin Harvick, Inc. found itself without a sponsor because the one they had was taken by the sanctioning body.
KHI has been able to piece deals together for driver Ron Hornaday with several different companies. Had KHI been able to keep its sponsor those other companies may have gone to other teams. That would in turn have insured the survival of those teams. Instead, teams are falling by the wayside. Several truck races have been run this year without a full field of 36 competitors.
In other cases, sponsors have been chased off by NASCAR to insure they would be able to take care of their own advertisers. When AT&T bought out Cingular Wireless, the newly formed company was told they could not continue to sponsor the #31 car for Richard Childress Racing. Penske Racing South and Robby Gordon Motorsports have experienced similar sponsor chase offs.
Still, NASCAR has hurt teams in other ways. The Car of Tomorrow has erased all brand identity from the cars. With that, there is little reason for the manufacturers to have interest in helping the teams who run their brands because fans, the potential customers, cannot see the difference between the makes.
Of course, the manufacturers have done little to help themselves but there would be more incentive to stay in NASCAR and make budget cuts elsewhere if there was a reason to do so.
Teams associated with Chrysler and General Motors have already felt the sting of budget cuts. Ford and Toyota teams almost certainly will experience the same type cuts.
All of this leads to the asking of the question, “Is NASCAR headed for the same type breakup as Formula 1?”
NASCAR seems to be making the same mistakes as the FIA, if not more so. Open wheel racing in America experienced such a falling out in the 1990s which caused damage that may never be recovered from. While that instance may serve as a warning to both teams and the sanctioning body, there may be damage done that cannot be ignored if things continue at the current rate.
When things are going well, the grandstands are full, television ratings are high and everybody is making plenty of money then everything is fine among all involved. However, that is not the case now.
For those who have made it this far and read this entire column, I did not intend for this piece to be so long. But, there is a lot I see that is headed in the wrong direction in the sport I have loved since my early childhood. What bothers most is that the powers that be either are not smart enough to see what is happening or don’t care. Either way, it is a bad thing.
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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