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Friday, July 18, 2008

Woes of Big 3 U.S. automakers could eventually lead to exits from NASCAR

Imagine this: A Cup series involving competitors driving Toyotas, Hondas and Nissans.

The thought of this induces nightmares and sends chills down the spines of many NASCAR fans, who love the sport in part because of its all-American history. The top three U.S. automakers -- GM, Ford and Chrysler -- have been the backbone of the sport we all love since it started. When Toyota began fielding cars several years ago, many fans were disgusted, and to this day refuse to root for a Toyota. It’s clear that even some drivers (read: Tony Stewart) don’t really feel comfortable driving a Toyota.

But a shocking, new reality may be coming to NASCAR within the next decade. Anyone who has been watching the news has noticed that things are not well at GM, Ford and Chrysler. Job cuts are happening across the board, monthly sales figures are often dismal, plant shutdowns are being extended, car models are being eliminated, etc. Simply put, they are in trouble.

I’m not here to offer advice to the industry. There are many opinions out there as to why this crisis is occurring … Some blame the unions for driving up costs, others think gas prices over $4 a gallon are to blame, and others blame the Americans who have decided to buy foreign vehicles instead of domestic ones.

I’m only here to comment on one thing -- how this will affect NASCAR. And a sobering idea was put out there when GM Racing Director Mark Kent said that “Racing is not exempt (from cuts) … We are looking at ways to be even more efficient … looking to see if they are genuinely positioned for a positive return on investment.”

By no means am I suggesting that any of these three companies are planning to abandon NASCAR in the near future. I’m sure they would all love to continue to do so at long as NASCAR exists. But it costs them many, many millions to continue this support each year, and that doesn’t even include the money spent on series such as NHRA, USAC, SCCA and others.

The immediate impact is that GM is dropping some sponsorships at racetracks, and you can bet that is the tip of the iceberg. Teams will likely receive less support from the companies, as they try to save every dollar they can.

The worst part is that while the U.S. automakers struggle mightily, Toyota, Honda and Nissan continue to do well, partly because their products often offer better gas mileage. If the U.S. automakers continue to struggle and lose money, there might come a day when at least one of them decides to completely remove itself from NASCAR. And should that happen, there’s no doubt one of the foreign makes would be eager to take its place.

I’m not saying I want to this happen … far from it, in fact. As a resident of the Detroit area, the success or failure of GM, Ford and Chrysler have an immediate impact on the state economy and, subsequently, my own wallet. I wish them nothing but success, and hope they can make the changes necessary to return to profitability and a bright future.

But right now, the cloud of doom hanging over these companies is hard to ignore. There are even discussions of whether they will need to file for bankruptcy, or if they can even survive. The worst-case scenario, though unlikely, is all three U.S. automakers eventually deciding NASCAR is no longer worth the investment.

Obviously, there would be a huge backlash if this happened and all the cars had foreign nameplates. But people love racing, and after cooling off, most would probably still tune in to see how their favorite drivers are doing. They would have a simple choice… either grit their teeth and root for a foreign make, or just shut NASCAR off completely.

Let’s hope it never gets to that point.


Blogger Tommy said...

Chrysler is in danger of being broken up and sold piecemeal by its parent Daimler.

I'm not sure if the Ford Motor Company will exist in its present form in the next 10 years.

I think General Motors will survive.

It won't be a matter of manufacturers pulling out of Nascar just to save money. Frankly, they won't be in existence.

July 18, 2008 at 10:00 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If the american auto makers would build a car that would hold up as well as the japs they might not be in the trouble they are in. I am an american and buy american I own a dodge pickup and a chevy malibu that are both falling apart at 50,000 miles, while my freinds with toyotas and hondas with well over 100,000 miles laugh at me. Even still I will not pull for a toyota to win a race. The people in the U.S. only have themselves to blame.

July 19, 2008 at 7:57 AM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

NASCAR has turned into bland IROC racing. Brian France has managed to ruin a great thing in a fairly short amount of time. The cars don't look anything like what's on the road anyway and I'm surprised that Big 3 aren't out already. NASCAR died in 2001.

July 19, 2008 at 9:27 AM 
Blogger carl said...

I think Nascar turned there back on the very people that put them where they are today. High ticket prices...dropping tracks like Rockinghan...Darlington..and then allowing Toyota to come aboard and basically dominate all 3 divisions in a matter of 3 years...Kyle Busch was sort of an also ran at the top Chevy camp...and in the span of 4 months he is winning nearly every race he enters...the only thing that changed was now he is in a Toyota. I think the stands are empty because of these changes and I for one will not attend or watch any races next year. I shave spent thousands of dollars going to the races over the years. I guess I will find some where else to spend my money..Goodbye Nascar it was fun.....

July 19, 2008 at 11:53 AM 

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