Skip to content

Not a good sign: Lawyers getting involved between NASCAR, new Race Team Alliance

Jul 17, 2014, 4:28 PM EDT

nascarlogo

When the new Race Team Alliance introduced itself to the world July 7, everything seemed like sunny skies and good feelings going forward in the world of NASCAR. Everyone spoke positively, optimistically and seemed to be full of confidence that all — owners, drivers, teams and NASCAR — would benefit.

Even NASCAR president Mike Helton said during an impromptu press conference last Friday at New Hampshire that there was no animosity between the sanctioning body and the new upstart ownership group.

“I wanted to dispel the perception of animosity to start with and then back that up with saying we’re going to do business as usual,” Helton said. “I think everybody in the garage area knows how we do our business and the role they play in it, and so we’ll continue to do it that way.”

But less than a week after Helton’s comments, the first salvo of what potentially could become an eventual antagonistic relationship has been fired, and it boils down to what oftentimes is one of the nastiest words in professional sports:

Lawyers.

The amicable original intention of the RTA has now been responded to by International Speedway Corporation, NASCAR’s sister company, as well as NASCAR itself. Both sibling companies have made it very clear to the RTA that if there is to be any communication between both sides, it will be through attorneys, not man-to-man between RTA boss and Michael Waltrip Racing co-owner Rob Kauffman and NASCAR chairman/CEO Brian France or second-in-command Helton.

As the old saying goes, can you see where this could potentially go to hell in a handbasket very quickly when lawyers are involved?

Kauffman, at least publicly, doesn’t seem overly concerned, according to an interview with Bob Pockrass of SportingNews.com late Wednesday.

“It’s not an animosity thing, it’s just a formality thing,” Kauffman told Pockrass. “NASCAR is a big company and they’re very sensitive legally. They’ve had experience (with antitrust) and they want to be very formal and correct in the initial stages. … It’s understandable. Hopefully as time goes on and both sides get used to each other a little bit, those barriers (will) tend to go down. I think it will be fine.”

The RTA’s original intention of pooling resources, cutting expenses, etc., is quite noble indeed. Even with countless cost-cutting measures, including large-scale layoffs in recent years, plus teams folding throughout all three primary NASCAR series – Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Trucks – the cost of operating teams remains extremely expensive.

Only 10 years ago, the average team operational budget in Sprint Cup was in the $10 to $15 million per year range – just to competitive.

Today, that number is more in the $20 to $25 million per year range — again, just to be competitive. And when you have multiple teams within an organization, that cost can quickly reach upwards of $100 million for a four-car group like Hendrick Motorsports and Stewart-Haas Racing and up to $75 million for a three-car operation like Joe Gibbs Racing or Richard Childress Racing.

For all the good things NASCAR has done to reduce costs, including the one-engine rule, the interchangeable Car of Tomorrow and its Generation 6 successor, it still costs a lot for team owners to remain in the game.

That’s why it’s not surprising some teams have folded or suspended operations, including at least two Sprint Cup teams this season already.

That’s also why so many sponsors have come and gone over the last six or seven years, and have forced teams to go from having one primary sponsor all season long to a number of different primary sponsors for only a certain numbered block of races per season.

The reason: overall, sponsoring a finite number of races (anywhere from, say, six to 16) is much cheaper and an easier pill to swallow for sponsors, particularly when questioned about return on investment by their shareholders.

And with significant changes likely to come to the sport next season, including a revamped schedule, the possibility of several venue changes within the Chase for the Sprint Cup, as well as more rules and equipment changes, the nine initial owner members of the RTA are understandably looking out for themselves both individually and collectively.

But with lawyers now involved, the hoped-for amicable relationship gives the appearance that things are already starting to tug at the seams.

Few have discussed the power the RTA could potentially amass in its one-for-all, all-for-one mantra. It’s not unthinkable that if NASCAR continues to struggle at the box office and in TV ratings, that RTA may try to exert and wield some pretty powerful clout:

  • Like forcing NASCAR to deviate from its “our way or the highway” mindset that has been in place for 65 years.
  • Like forcing NASCAR to give team owners significantly more power, perhaps a prelude to the long-talked about possibility of adding franchising to give owners more of a say in the way the sport operates.
  • And the biggest potential possibility of the RTA: If the owners stay united and take a hard line stance and force the issue, they could eventually demand the power to oust or retain key NASCAR officials, including France and Helton.

That last possibility could also potentially be why both sides are now starting to lawyer up. While the intention is supposed to be amicable and formal, the end result could be something entirely different.

After all, team owners in NASCAR have the least power overall of any other major professional sport. Unlike in other sports, NASCAR team owners don’t have the ability to hire or fire the sanctioning body’s top executives, don’t have voting privileges when it comes to sanctioning body decisions, have no say in what rules can be changed (although owners do have input, NASCAR doesn’t have to listen to them), and have only the limited power that the sanctioning body gives them.

Up to this point, the France family-run and privately-owned business model has worked well. Well, let’s clarify that: it’s worked well up until about 2008, when the economy went south and NASCAR’s fortunes, popularity and TV ratings began to go with it.

But I’m not saying France, Helton and others have been the cause of NASCAR’s downfall in recent years. On the contrary.

France and Helton and those under them have done a good job when faced with some very trying circumstances and situations – certainly circumstances and situations that most other sports leagues have not had to deal with as much.

NASCAR’s top officials have worked diligently to improve safety, control costs as best they can, brought parity to the performance of race cars and trucks while also making the overall racing better, and have worked hard to attract new sponsors and businesses to the sport.

They’ve worked at trying to convince hotel chains and chambers of commerce in various locales that NASCAR visits to not gouge fans for room costs on race weekends, lest that not only hurts the fans, it also hurts the overall sport and the businesses themselves.

They’ve worked to keep the sport viable and relevant. They’ve worked at alternative ways to get the sport’s message across when countless media outlets have all but forgotten coverage of NASCAR events and news. Whereas particularly newspapers used to devote hundreds of column inches to yearly NASCAR coverage in the past, now most of those same papers will run maybe a paragraph or two at best (some even less, giving nothing more than a one-sentence “report” of who won that week’s race).

Sadly, while NASCAR certainly loses in that instance, it’s the fans that lose the most because they’re deprived of the kind of expansive media coverage that helped make them fans in the first place.

While I was optimistic and hopeful that the RTA and NASCAR relationship would be good for the sport, the fact that we will now have third party attorneys doing the “communicating” between both sides is both foreboding and ominous.

We can hope for the best, but right now the best is starting to look quite concerning.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Latest Posts
  1. Gene Haas’ F1 team changes team name, launches new pages

    Sep 2, 2014, 12:17 PM EDT

    Gene Haas Formula One Press Conference Getty Images

    What was Haas Formula is now Haas F1 Team as part of a new brand rollout.

  2. United Fiber & Data announces IndyCar return; capacity, driver TBD

    Sep 2, 2014, 11:00 AM EDT

    Photo: INDYCAR Photo: INDYCAR

    United Fiber & Data looks set to return to IndyCar for 2015 and the foreseeable future.

  3. Cindric proposes IndyCar champion Will Power will run No. 1 in 2015

    Sep 2, 2014, 10:00 AM EDT

    WillNumber AP

    Team Penske president Tim Cindric all but confirms Will Power will run the No. 1 in 2015.

  4. MAVTV announces two-year IndyCar extension at Fontana; date TBD

    Sep 2, 2014, 9:00 AM EDT

    MAVTV 500 Getty Images

    MAVTV announces IndyCar’s return to Fontana for two more years through 2016, although official confirmation from the sanctioning body and a date remains to be revealed.

  5. NASCAR AMERICA: Kahne’s in Chase, but knows he and No. 5 team must improve (VIDEO)

    Sep 1, 2014, 8:00 PM EDT

    Oral-B USA 500 Getty Images

    Kahne to NBCSN contributor Nate Ryan: “We need to build off of this…As a team, we need to be stronger together.”

  6. NASCAR AMERICA: Assessing Tony Stewart’s return at Atlanta (VIDEO)

    Sep 1, 2014, 7:30 PM EDT

    Oral-B USA 500 Getty Images

    NASCAR AMERICA’S Kyle Petty and Parker Kligerman believe that the three-time Sprint Cup champion handled himself well throughout a difficult weekend.

  7. F1: Sochi grandstand to be named for Toro Rosso rookie Kvyat

    Sep 1, 2014, 7:00 PM EDT

    F1 Grand Prix of Hungary - Qualifying Getty Images

    Organizers of the Russian Grand Prix appear to be getting behind their countryman as F1’s first visit to Sochi draws closer.

  8. NHRA: Four first-time U.S. Nationals winners crowned in Indianapolis

    Sep 1, 2014, 6:35 PM EDT

    DeJoriaWin AP

    Richie Crampton, Alexis DeJoria, Shane Gray and Eddie Krawiec captured U.S. Nationals wins on Monday.

  9. WATCH LIVE: NASCAR AMERICA recaps how Kahne was able at 5 p.m. ET

    Sep 1, 2014, 4:45 PM EDT

    Oral-B USA 500 Getty Images

    Coming up today: Highlights from Kasey Kahne’s clutch Atlanta win; assessing Tony Stewart’s comeback; the Chase outlook with one regular season race left; more problems in pits for Kevin Harvick.

  10. 2014 TORC champions crowned in Crandon (SPOILER)

    Sep 1, 2014, 4:15 PM EDT

    TORCLogo

    Writer’s Note: The following is a recap of this weekend’s TORC: The Off-Road Championship season finale at Crandon, Wisconsin. NBCSN will air the races this Saturday, Sept. 6, at 3:30 p.m. ET. If you don’t want to know who won until then, we suggest you find another post to read here on MotorSportsTalk…

  11. NASCAR: Late-season stumbles put Bowyer, Larson on ropes heading to Richmond

    Sep 1, 2014, 3:11 PM EDT

    Oral-B USA 500 - Practice Getty Images

    For Clint Bowyer and Kyle Larson, winning on Saturday night will be all that matters if they want a spot in the Chase.

  12. Carpenter, SFHR top single-car teams in year before fusion into CFH

    Sep 1, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT

    CarpenterCap Getty Images

    Ed Carpenter Racing and Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing end as the top single-car teams in 2014, before merging in 2015.

  13. Feelin’ free: Frustrations end for Chase-bound Kahne, IndyCar champ Power

    Sep 1, 2014, 1:38 PM EDT

    Oral-B USA 500 Getty Images

    Kasey Kahne saves his season in Atlanta, while Will Power changes his career in Fontana.

  14. Carlos Munoz Sunoco Rookie of the Year in a deep IndyCar freshman class

    Sep 1, 2014, 12:00 PM EDT

    MunozROY Getty Images

    Carlos Munoz takes home the top rookie honors after a successful first full season in the Verizon IndyCar Series.

  15. Honda preps for first simulations, expresses confidence it can match Mercedes

    Sep 1, 2014, 11:15 AM EDT

    Remember the Honda MP4-4 that won five consecutive Formula 1 championships from 1987-1991? Here's one of the cars the late Ayrton Senna drove to one of three Honda-powered titles. AP

    Honda’s motorsport chief provides an update on the company’s F1 engine progress.

  16. IndyCar: Power leads award winners during series championship celebration

    Sep 1, 2014, 10:27 AM EDT

    Photo: INDYCAR Photo: INDYCAR

    IndyCar championship banquet goes off quickly, smoothly with a good bit of humor.

  17. Danica Patrick finishes career-best 6th after G-W-C craziness in Atlanta

    Sep 1, 2014, 1:25 AM EDT

    Oral-B USA 500 - Qualifying Getty Images

    The result beats her previous high water mark of seventh this past May at Kansas.

  18. Kevin Harvick far from being happy after Paul Menard wrecks him, costing a chance for win

    Sep 1, 2014, 1:10 AM EDT

    (Photo: Jonathan Moore/Getty Images) Getty Images

    HAMPTON, Ga. — It was a rough night for a number of drivers in Sunday’s Oral-B USA 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Atlanta, including Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer and Marcos Ambrose.

  19. Kenseth clinches Chase berth; Bowyer falls out of Grid with one race to go

    Sep 1, 2014, 12:43 AM EDT

    Oral-B USA 500 Getty Images

    Matt Kenseth enters the post-season with a second place result, while Clint Bowyer finds himself outside the Chase Grid going into next Saturday’s regular season finale.

  20. Kasey Kahne rallies in last 2 laps to win at Atlanta, makes Chase

    Sep 1, 2014, 12:14 AM EDT

    Kahne wins at Atl 2014 Getty Images

    HAMPTON, Ga. – Kasey Kahne’s 17th career Sprint Cup win couldn’t have been any larger.

Video from NASCAR America

Tony Stewart does well in return
Top 10 NASCAR Driver Searches
  1. K. Harvick (2163)
  2. J. Gordon (1965)
  3. T. Stewart (1616)
  4. J. Logano (1203)
  5. M. Kenseth (1196)