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Is NASCAR headed for the same type breakup as Formula 1?

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.

Topics: Articles |

17 Responses to “Is NASCAR headed for the same type breakup as Formula 1?”

  1. Gina Says:
    June 22nd, 2009 at 7:33 am

    I don’t know if there will be a split or not, but your points about the changes in NASCAR that have been “detrimental to the sport” in the parlance of the rulebook, are so many that many fans are turning away. I know that, personally, I have gone from being an avid fan to a casual fan. I no longer watch every moment from the pre-race to the post-race because honestly, there is too much hype and not enough substance. The COT was the worst idea ever in my opinion. As you pointed out, there is no longer brand identity for the fans and with the Big 3 already in economic distress, why would they put money into a sport when no one can tell which make of car their driver is driving.

    NASCAR racing was so much fun to watch when there was a real race car on the track. The IROC series is no longer active, is it? I never saw very large crowds for those events - not even when they were paired with a NASCAR race. Why did NASCAR think that creating another larger version of it would be welcomed?

  2. amy anderson Says:
    June 22nd, 2009 at 8:03 am

    Revolt is way over due, but I doubt it will happen. Bruton Smith missed several opportunities to make a break and never did. Now he’s too old. And Sir Brain will have the series in the toliet soon enough anyhow. For my part, I have stopped paying much attention until the last 30 or so laps of a race because that is pretty much all the racing there is these days, and many times not even then.

  3. John Says:
    June 22nd, 2009 at 8:12 am

    Right On Rich. The racing is boring. It’s nothing but a high end IROC series except with different sponsors on the cars. NASCAR has driven up the costs, and squeezed out all of the independents that helped make the sport great. There is no arguing that the COT cars are safer. But that could have just as easily been done with the cars already in existence. NASCAR just used it as an excuse to get into the parts business. So now they have run off the fans, run off the sponsors and squeezed to car owners to the limit. What do they expect? Serves them right. I’d love to see Bruton Smith start his own series… and he has the means to do it.

  4. Ozzi Says:
    June 22nd, 2009 at 8:59 am

    Nope. F1 runs independent of track owners. Brian France and Bruton Smith (Nascar proper) are the track owners. And Brian France by purchasing the Grand Nationals has made certain that any other “independent” owners of tracks do not organize against Nascar.

    But the fans screaming for parity have brought this one on themselves. The fans wanted the races to be “fair” and now the races are “fair” and “equal”. The fans thought they were “helping” the little guy when in fact, in Nascar there is no little guy. In racing there is no little guy. The little guy is a myth. Never existed.

    And fans get upset when their drivers die in a wreck and they get upset when they don’t.

    Nascar fans like most Americans are whiners. Always have been, always will be.

  5. The Old Guy Says:
    June 22nd, 2009 at 9:04 am

    NASCAR may, in fact, be in the self destruct mode. I wouldn’g be at all surprised to see some teams break away and try to form a new series.

    But who?

    Hendrick? Not a Chance

    Gibbs? No change there either

    Yate? Not out of the realm of possiblity.

    RCR? Doubtful

    Rousch? Not likely. However, Jack has been at odds with NASCAR since he brought in his first team in 1988. So?????

    Petty. Probably not.

    SHR If Tony does anything, I will be go back to open wheel. So, count SHR out as well.

    Robby Gordon? Probably!

    Red Bull Very Likely.

    A dozen, or so, other 1-2 car teams might go as well. But, 1 - 2 years, they’ll be looking to come back.

    Separate series. Probably not.

  6. Overra88ted Says:
    June 22nd, 2009 at 9:32 am

    The timing would certainly be right for a fresh new series, Bruton Smith would be the right guy to lead it. If he was another 10 years younger, it would really make sense for him to do it, but with him being in his 80’s, the time has passed for him to make it worth while.

  7. Mike Says:
    June 22nd, 2009 at 9:42 am

    They tried making the midget cars a turn-key operation many years ago and when they did, their popularity went downhill. Back then, they just about rivaled the fledgling NASCAR. Once they went “standardized”, they lost a lot of fans and attendace went down. They have yet to recover.

    IROC at least had one thing going for it. Although the cars were all alike, they at least had a resemblance to their street counterparts. You can say the same thing for the NASCAR version.

    Every time NASCAR says “it’s a cost saving measure”, it’s a case of BOHICA.

  8. LD Says:
    June 22nd, 2009 at 10:05 am

    The France family reminds me of the rich kids that I grew up with in my neighborhood. We “poor Kids” had a football team and about three times a year we would play the “Rich Kids” from the fancy neighborhood on the hill. This went on for years until us poor kids started winning, and then the rich kids would either take their ball and go home or try to change the rules so they could win. We (poor kids) finally quit playing the rich kids and started playing to other poor kids in the area. The bottom line was that the rich kids and their money was ruining the game. I am old enough to remember when a couple of folks could get a car build it, and go race with the big boys. NA$CAR left me I didn’t leave it. When it becomes all about the money then money is all it’s about. What a thrill it is to watch a driver take a car that is a 10th place car and refuse to lose. That will never happen in NASCAR again, and that is sad.

    PS Mark M you are my hero.

  9. Brian Says:
    June 22nd, 2009 at 10:40 am

    You know, the problem with NASCAR today is nothing to do with the sanctioning body. The problem is the fans who seem to think that they know everything. Everybody has an opinion and they are so convinced that they are right, and when NASCAR doesn’t do exactly what they want then they kick their feet and scream like a five year old and walk away. Get over it. You are not the smartest person in the world, you are not a necessary player in the politics of NASCAR and wasting time whining about what NASCAR should or shouldn’t do does nothing but make people who appreciate the sport for what it is want to walk away.

  10. Bill B Says:
    June 22nd, 2009 at 11:24 am

    I agree with your assessment overall regarding NASCAR’s greed taking away sponsors but I have to point out what a terrible example Kevin Harvick’s losing Camping World sponsorship was….
    If that wouldn’t have happened your sentence might have been….
    “Had KHI been able to keep its sponsor ” there would not have been a truck series.
    While most of the sponsorship NASCAR steals from the teams is frivolous, overall series sponsorship trumps all others.

  11. John Says:
    June 22nd, 2009 at 12:17 pm

    I would not leave out Roger Penski from starting a new series at all. He just bought Saturn from GM, he has the means to do it as well. I went searching Sunday morning on the internet for “stock car racing” to find a new series to watch instead of Nascar. As of yet I have not found one. I don’t even see Arca on the tv anymore. But it would be great to run a series with modified real cars. Keep the safety, loose that sick looking COT. It’s a pig of a race car. Come on Roger, start a real stock car series, get up with Burton Smith and use some of his tracks.

    Sports that are run correct rairly change the rules. Football, baseball, basketball, hockey rairly change there rules year to year. Nascar is navigating in the dark, changing rules monthy, weekly and daily. As a long time fan it’s total crap to always be paying attention to the rule changes so I know what I’m seeing and hearing. That’s nuts. But with the current crap running Nasar I see no end to it.

    Where’s Roger??

  12. Charles Says:
    June 22nd, 2009 at 1:34 pm

    Richard I agree that they are heading in the wrong direction , Cot , Chase, to many rules etc, favoritism!

    I dont think they will create a new series, but I think they need a new focus and leadership!

    I like the concept of one organization, the IRL, and Cart fued didnt do anyone any good!

    Two of the biggest mistakes was to “demote the car guy or girl fans” and close Rockingham, North Wilkesboro and moving the Southern 500 and taking a race away from Darlington!

    The COT and Chase was added insult to injury!The name Nascar and what it stands for should mean something! It should be about the cars and drivers not a spec series!

    Nascar should look at some of Detroits past mistakes to see where they are headed!

    All you have to do is look at say GM for instance, in the 50s to 60s most all there brands had a unique look and body style, I mean a Buick did not look like a Pontiac, Chevy or Oldsmoblile!

    Then in the late 1970s and through the eighties there bean counters found out that they could use the same bodies engines and the brands started to look alike!Make all this money! Car buyers are not stupid, then you see what has happen to Oldsmobile, which was a number 3 seller in the early 1970s, now Pontiac now GM, Ford and Chrysler has done this as well!

    Here Nascar is doing the same thing with the advent of the COT, look alike cars, because it is cheaper for these millionaire owners to build, but demishes the sport! So who wins, Nascar losing its core fan base like Detroit and empty seats are just like the ones in the showroom!

    I sure dont want to see Nascar, or Detroit to fail, but until they start making the customer first and listen to them neither will get it right! They are going down a failed businness plan!

  13. midasmicah Says:
    June 22nd, 2009 at 1:59 pm

    Never thought it would happen even after last years borefest, this year I’ve becoming more dis-interested with each passing week. Brian France has taken a great organizatio and slowly destroyed it. For the last few years fans have done everything but scream about the changes (the chase, the car of crap, the generic tracks) but Nero France has just sat on hus throne ande fiddled away. Now the fans are leaving in droves. Something has to change, but I just can’t see the powers that be changing anything.

  14. Keith Says:
    June 22nd, 2009 at 2:53 pm

    To Ozzi…
    I don’t appreciate reading comments about American citizens being whiners. Stick to your F1 series where after qualifying, the race is over. At least in Nascar, there are actual lead changes of greater than two. You call it whining, but in America, it is called enjoying free speech, something American citizens still believe in fighting for and preserving. You ignorant fool!

    Yank aside… I would gladly support a series opposite of nascar, with no restrictor plates, cars from the showroom, enhanced to ensure speed equates to safety, more attention paid to winning races, etc…

  15. Joe in Pittsburgh Says:
    June 22nd, 2009 at 3:16 pm

    I’m not sure Brian could sound anymore clueless in the previous post. For the record,I along with a vast number of fans never wanted all these changes. We also patiently put up with change after change being shoved down our throats and quietly tried to like them. Now after 5 years we finally have had enough and have quit buying souveneirs,going to races and even watching the races,you degrade us? I say if this is what you enjoy in it’s current state,then by all means have at it,but the numbers support me and my kind who are fed up—fed up with NASCAR’s and your attitude of “shut up and like it”.

  16. Kryle Boosh Sucks Says:
    June 22nd, 2009 at 5:05 pm

    Well said, Joe in Pittsburgh. Fire France and reset the sport starting at the end of 2003. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it. Your Old Man (rest his soul) told you that Brainle$$ France, and you did it anyway. So up yours NA$CAR. Die off already so the sport can start over. Boo NA$CAR, GO ARCA.

  17. Keith Says:
    June 22nd, 2009 at 6:04 pm

    This is when the monopoly lawsuits will be seriously looked at by the courts when the new sanctioning body petitions for a race at Daytona or Talladega and I$C says no because if they can increase the bottom line for I$C even at Na$car’s expense they have to do it if they don’t look out it is over and as a share holder of I$C i’ll sue them myself.