One of the big news announcements this past week was Texaco leaving the 42 Chip Ganassi Dodge driven by Juan Pablo Montoya at the end of this season. When I heard this announcement, it brought back something I heard a few years back about how good an advertisement deal NASCAR was. This statement made in the days before television decided that they deserved those advertising bucks more than the race teams. Now we see more than one team try to run a car without a major sponsor only to call it quits and park the car or sell out. NASCAR has allowed the sport to get completely out of hand over three things when it comes to the business of auto racing. The first thing is the sport has gotten completely out of control when it comes to the expense of racing these cars thus excluding what made it so strong in the first place. The second problem is allowing the huge multi-car teams that make it almost impossible for a small one-car team to compete. The last problem is the one that prompted me to write this article, NASCAR needs to look at is how the television networks televise their events. Take all of them in context and it is obvious that NASCAR is losing a battle for fans and the marketability of stock car racing as a form of entertainment.
Why has NASCAR stock car racing become so expensive in which to participate? A typical cup team will spend close to $500,000 to build a new Sprint Cup car. To maintain that car will cost another $500,000 per year per car run by that team. Most teams run as many as ten cars per season and it becomes obvious why it is so hard for an independent team to compete. NASCAR is trying to bring the cost down with the introduction of their Car of Tomorrow (COT), but in my mind, they missed the mark again. I have asked this question many times over the past few years, “Why has NASCAR abandoned the concept of STOCK in its idea of a STOCKCAR?” In years past during the heyday of NASCAR, the original idea was to use a STOCK vehicle right off the showroom floor. It took a turn during the Fifties to include safety equipment and hi-performance parts off the dealer’s parts room shelf. This was the first move away from a true STOCK car and most recognized it as next step into making these cars more exciting to watch. Still the factory manufactured all the parts and even though the parts weren’t offered on a new car, they could be purchased from the new car parts department as a factory approved dealer option and accepted by NASCAR. The manufactures were highly involved in the racing scene and the public were blessed with a plethora of exciting car and engine combinations. Optional engines included multi-carbureted inductions, fuel injection, and supercharging to name a few and when introduced, allowed on the NASCAR tracks. A purchaser could go to a dealership and buy an average family car off the showroom floor, equipped with all factory parts, and installing the minimally required roll cage, could go STOCK car racing. In fact, more than one car was driven to the track during Daytona Motor Speedway’s inaugural race in 1959. Bernie Hentges from Anoka, Minnesota bought a new 1959 DeSoto from his local dealer after been unable to find a new Dodge in the model he wanted. After completely tearing the car apart, Hentges reassembled it with the required modifications and a roll bar. After the build, he was given word that the actual race was a week earlier than anticipated and without a handy tow vehicle Hentges decided to drive the distance to Daytona in the new racecar. Loading the parts and tools he deemed necessary and putting on a set of hi-speed dirt track tires he set off for Florida. He arrived just in time for qualification, only to be told he couldn’t run the dirt track tires he arrived on. Hentges snuck into qualifying race and after starting at the rear fought his way to 12th place finish. He then found a set of correct tires and drove the car around Daytona until the race two days later. He blew his engine well into the race at lap 138 finishing 37th and had to purchase another one from the local dealer. He then replaced the engine, returned the racecar to pre-race form, and then drove home. Something that can’t be done with the current car.
After the introduction of the Hemi by Chrysler in 1964 as a dealer option General Motors decided to pull out of auto racing. Until that time, the GM products were always a force to be dealt with, but without factory engineered parts, most of the teams became second tier finishers behind Chrysler and Ford products. During the 1971 season GM began to covertly assist some team and forced NASCAR to change the rules. In an effort to make the GM engine packages, competitive weight penalties are given to the Ford and Chrysler cars. NASCAR revised the factory issued parts rule, all cars were allowed to run custom designed chassis instead of the original floor pan, and factory based suspension system. The original body and factory offered engine were mandated instead of allowing special optional parts packages. This eliminated the Chrysler Hemi and Ford Boss 429 the following season, as they were no longer offered for sale on the showrooms. NASCAR allowed the new engines to be modified with aftermarket parts instead of factory-engineered pieces. After seeing the aero wars of the late sixties and early seventies only general issued bodies would be allowed and the manufacturers would be required to produce The next year GM was again sponsoring teams and they were starting to creep back into the winners circle. Stock car racing stayed in this form until the early nineties. At that time the cars were changed into the racer that represented the last edition before the COT. By the early nineties, most of the cars offered by the manufacturers were front-wheel drive (FWD) and both GM and Ford were discontinuing the rear-wheel drive (RWD) body styles that were offered at that time. GM wanted to use their FWD platforms, which included the New Lumina, Grand Prix, Cutlass, and Regal. Ford wanted to use their Taurus as its body style and by the late nineties Dodge came back to NASCAR with the Intrepid. The bodies were only simulated using a lighter gauge sheet metal. The cost of a car went from less than $100,000 and example overnight to well over $250,000. The teams now began to hire aerodynamic engineers to design the bodies for slicker drag coefficients. The engine became a pure race engine having nothing in common with any currently factory offered street power train. In short, the term STOCK had nothing to do with the cars being run. The leap in car design from the seventies to the nineties was gigantic. The new COT isn’t much different, as it has nothing STOCK on it. Even the past requirement for certain factory body panels is gone. The cost of building a new COT is astronomical compared to its predecessor.
This leads me to my next point, the huge multi-car teams. In business there is a rule that states that a business can reduce its cost by having an, “Economy of Scale.” A simple explanation of the term mean that if you build a large number of items, then the more you build the cheaper each item becomes. Multi-car teams use many of the same facilities to fabricate their cars. By combining the parts room and testing equipment such as dynameters, cost will be reduced significantly per car. Here is a small example: A team needs a new carburetor so it goes to its parts department and pulls one from stocks. The cost of a race ready carburetor is roughly about $1,500 per unit. A small company with only one team will have to pay this price because they only ordered five to ten units. A large multi-car company may buy as many as 150 to 200 units of the same carburetor so their cost per unit would drop to $1,250. Divide these units per team and the cost will still be $1,250 and not rise to the higher price. Therefore, a team from the larger company can reduce the per-unit cost and pick the best carburetor of the bunch. The smaller team will have to run with the best they have available. The larger company can also be more competitive due to the availability of having a larger selection of parts for comparison to pick the best combination. The team can also do the same when it comes to testing as they can compare test results thus making each team stronger. This also allows the larger team to reduce cost per team whereas the small team can’t absorb the additional cost of testing the same amount of runs as the larger team. In short, the mega teams are killing any hope for a small team to compete in the race or for that all important sponsor money. Less competition whatever the cause is bad for NASCAR.
The announcement of Texaco leaving NASCAR made me ask if the sponsors have decided to buy television commercials in lieu of car sponsorships. NASCAR use to dictate how race coverage was televised and made sure that the car sponsors were featured throughout the race. Does NASCAR still have that kind of control? The race is so frustrating watching it on television because of the constant commercials. Having watched the races over the years, I can testify to the extreme amount of commercials today as compared to years back. So I ask, if I was a sponsor deciding how to spend my advertising dollars, would I pay for a car sponsorship and a television commercial, or would I just pay for the commercial. I believe reality would set in here somewhere and the commercial only solution would prevail. Remember race fan, these companies are in it to advertise and promote their business, not race. Texaco/Havoline cannot advertise their fuel as all cars run Sunoco and the Havoline Oil isn’t a major producer of racing fluids either. Most teams run a race synthetic race oil blend that Havoline doesn’t produce, so they can’t claim that distinction either. So is NASCAR in trouble because so many teams have lost or are having trouble keeping existing sponsors? Over the past year, there have been more unsponsored cars than any time in the history of NASCAR.
The facts speak for themselves. NASCAR is losing fans. All the races have unfilled seats and ticket-selling businesses are being forced to deal with NASCAR’s reluctance to admit there is a problem. Every week we hear of a race sell out, but if NASCAR has a sellout, why are there unoccupied seats? I made mention of that observation during the Brickyard 400 that there were open seats in turn 3 and 4. Yet NASCAR announced a sellout at the beginning of the race. I am not talking about one or two seats, but a large section of the grandstands were vacant. Sponsors see this and they see the falling ratings showing the races on television. It all adds up to the same thing, sponsors are pulling their money from NASCAR because it is no longer profitable to participate. So race fan, what do you think? Am I nipping at a truth here, or am I see ghost of nothing at all? You tell me.