Jul 17, 2014, 4:28 PM EDT
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:
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
Sep 22, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT
Vijay Mallya delighted as Force India makes 2014 its most successful season since entering F1 back in 2008.
Sep 22, 2014, 7:00 AM EDT
Lewis Hamilton has put himself back in control of the 2014 F1 world championship after a great win in Singapore as teammate Nico Rosberg retired.
Sep 21, 2014, 8:43 PM EDT
Millen scores his second win of 2014, while YouTube icon Block takes an 18-point lead in the championship with two races left in the season.
Sep 21, 2014, 7:51 PM EDT
Tony Schumacher (Top Fuel), Courtney Force (Funny Car), Dave Connolly (Pro Stock) and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were the winners in Sunday’s final rounds of the NHRA FallNationals in Ennis, Texas.
Sep 21, 2014, 7:00 PM EDT
The talented rookie continues to duel with the Chasers at New Hampshire before finishing second to Joey Logano.
Sep 21, 2014, 6:36 PM EDT
As the Chase for the Sprint Cup moves to Dover for next Sunday’s third race of the playoffs, nine drivers will be fighting elimination by vying for five advancement spots there.
Sep 21, 2014, 6:09 PM EDT
Brad Keselowski started from the pole, led the second-most number of laps in the race (78), overcame a late wreck and still almost won Sunday’s Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Sep 21, 2014, 5:49 PM EDT
Prior to last week’s opening race of the Chase for the Sprint Cup, Kevin Harvick said it would take wins and uncanny consistency to advance to the final four, winner-take-all battle in the season-ending race at Homestead.
Sep 21, 2014, 5:36 PM EDT
The Connecticut native joins Penske teammate Brad Keselowski in the Contender Round with his victory at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Sep 21, 2014, 5:13 PM EDT
Kenseth was running in the Top 10, when Paul Menard washed up into him and sent him spinning into the wall with 31 laps to go at New Hampshire.
Sep 21, 2014, 4:38 PM EDT
Kurt Busch had a tire rub on his Haas Automation Chevrolet when the right front tire appeared to blow on Lap 222 of the 300-lap Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, sending him hard into the wall and suffering right front end damage.
Sep 21, 2014, 4:20 PM EDT
Several drivers in the Chase for the Sprint Cup suffered damage to their respective race cars in a wreck that involved Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch, Kasey Kahne and Ryan Newman with just over 100 laps to go in Sunday’s Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Sep 21, 2014, 4:00 PM EDT
4 p.m. ET – Already several laps down, Hamlin was caught in a multi-car crash that also involved Martin Truex Jr., David Ragan, and Cole Whitt.
Sep 21, 2014, 3:42 PM EDT
Kevin Harvick is the halfway leader of Sunday’s Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Joey Logano is running second, followed by Jeff Gordon, Brian Vickers and Jamie McMurray.
Sep 21, 2014, 3:00 PM EDT
Spanish driver still pleased with the race weekend in Singapore, feeling that Ferrari has made a step forwards.
Sep 21, 2014, 2:31 PM EDT
Less than a week after a track flagman was killed at a Florida short track, a Wisconsin sprint car driver was killed following a wreck on Saturday night.
Sep 21, 2014, 2:30 PM EDT
Bottas finishes outside of the points for the first time in 2014, with his only other non-score the result of a DNF at Monaco.
Sep 21, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT
Kvyat and Magnussen both go without water for much of the race, leaving them dehydrated following the race.
Sep 21, 2014, 1:30 PM EDT
German driver lost the lead of the drivers’ championship for the first time in four months.
Sep 21, 2014, 1:15 PM EDT
Less downforce? More horsepower? Or something else entirely? It sounds like we won’t have to wait much longer on what the 2015 Sprint Cup rules package will bring.
Video from NASCAR America
- Joey Logano avoids “yellow fever,” wins at N.H. to advance in Chase 2
- Wreck involves several Chase drivers; Keselowski spins, suffers minor damage 0
- Rosberg reflects on a tough day in Singapore (VIDEO) 2
- Reports: 2015 Sprint Cup rules package expected to be released on Tuesday 2
- Hamilton rules in Singapore to re-take championship lead as Rosberg retires 1
- Rosberg forced to retire in Singapore after electrical glitch 2
- Brendan Gaughan takes lead with 6 laps to go, wins Nationwide at Kentucky 0