Race Weekend Central

What’s Vexing Vito: Gone with the Wind? Possible Government Involvement with Automakers Jeopardizes NASCAR’s Future

During his State of The Union address a couple of weeks ago, President Barack Obama asserted that despite these tough times, “America’s best days are ahead of us.” Conversely, one of my favorite bands, Shinedown, has a song whose chorus is, “starring down the barrel of a .45…” Which got me to thinking, is NASCAR and motorsports as we know it starring down the barrel of an untimely demise?

Let me first preface my comments with this, I will do my best to straddle the political fence here; I am not pointing fingers in any direction and am only looking at this through the binoculars of a NASCAR fan.

It doesn’t take a microeconomics major to see that things aren’t going so well lately. All you have to do is take a look at your own bank balance or give a gander at your 401k (assuming you still have one) to know that right now, it’s “mourning” in America. The stock market has lost nearly a third of its value since the first of the year, General Motors sales are down 53% from a year ago and outside of a the new Dodge Ram or Challenger, is there any reason to buy a Chrysler product?

Things aren’t nearly as bleak at Ford, I guess, unless you can get past the fact that the Flex looks like an Edge that broke the fall of an Expedition.

To help combat this festival of fumbling, the notion that a “Car Czar” – (Czars? Referencing pre-Communist Russia? Disconcerting, but whatever…) or a team of them – would be appointed to help right the ship of America’s automakers. It was then revealed a few days later that of this team, only a couple actually owned American cars. I am going to go out on a limb here and predict that not many of them are NASCAR fans.

Given the environMENTAList leanings of many these days, one might wonder just where motorsports fits into the bigger picture within the government and those who are keeping the Big Three afloat?

With General Motors blowing through money like, well, General Motors, the very real possibility exists that the General might get court-martialed sometime this year and become an extension of Uncle Sam. A similar fate would await Chrysler, who, if not for racing, would have very little way in promoting its most popular and profitable vehicles.

If that were to happen to either one of the auto giants, what are the chances that they would be allowed to continue to fund its extensive motorsports budgets and involvements? It costs General Motors nearly $30 million a year to be able to help back a championship-winning organization. Last year before the economic wrecking ball came crashing through Charlotte by way of Detroit, GM’s annual budget was believed to be $120-$140 million. That has been slashed significantly just as with many other companies involved in racing, which has a further trickle-down effect.

It doesn’t just mean affect team sponsorships. Tracks suffer. Races suffer. The sport suffers as a whole.

If you remember the last time the government took a vested interest in motorsports sponsorship and funding, it was when the tracks used to be swathed in Winston livery – not cellular telephone providers. Should the unthinkable happen and the world’s largest healthcare and pension company files for bankruptcy, it could cause a ripple effect that is felt much deeper than is being realized even now in the motorsports community.

Sure the manufacturers have scaled back their funding of auto racing during similar hardships, as evidenced back in the early-mid 1970s. Back then the schedule wasn’t having to criss-cross the United States 36 weeks a year or put on a show that was consistent with being one of the premier forces in broadcast sporting events as it is today. These things aren’t cheap to put on, and without the continued support of America’s automakers, there is a very real possibility that racing may not ever look the same again.

About the author

Vito is one of the longest-tenured writers at Frontstretch, joining the staff in 2007. With his column Voice of Vito (monthly, Fridays) he’s a contributor to several other outlets, including Athlon Sports and Popular Speed in addition to making radio appearances. He forever has a soft-spot in his heart for old Mopars and presumably oil-soaked cardboard in his garage.

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