Could NASCAR survive without Big Three automakers

By Tania Ganguli

McClatchy Newspapers

ORLANDO, Fla. — Imagine NASCAR without the great American automakers pushing and pulling it along. Imagine if the Chevy bow tie in front of Jimmie Johnson’s car vanished, if the blue Ford oval fell off Carl Edwards’ No. 99.

Imagine if Dodge disappeared.

NASCAR would survive, but it wouldn’t be easy.


Losing all that would cost the teams. Manufacturers play a vital role for NASCAR’s teams — providing prestige, engines, technical support, help with testing and, in some cases, financial support. Without them, teams would have to find some way to replace those resources.

"If we withdrew altogether, could a team survive?" asked Doug Hervey, North America Operations Manager for Ford Racing Technology. "If that’s the question, I think it would be very difficult, but they could survive, given the other sponsorships that they acquire. Engine-wise, engineering-wise, it would be a setback."

On Sunday in Arizona, NASCAR CEO Brian France said the almost unspeakable. He said he wasn’t sure whether America’s "Big Three" automakers — Ford, GM and Chrysler — could remain a part of NASCAR.

France said he was confident NASCAR would be fine if they didn’t. But it was the first public acknowledgment by NASCAR’s head of how the grim economic situation that’s crippling America’s businesses might affect NASCAR.

"You just never know — who would have ever thought that today would be as bad as yesterday?" said Tim Duerr, NASCAR marketing manager for Ford. "Look at the stock market. You just don’t know when the bottom’s going to reach."

General Motors, Chrysler and Ford have all asked for government help. GM’s stock fell to a 65-year low on Tuesday.

Talks of a merger between GM and Chrysler stalled last week when GM reported significant losses and decided to focus its attention on saving itself rather than acquiring Chrysler.

"Hopefully it’s a big cycle and things will come back around," said Dale Earnhardt Jr., who drives a Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. "The government won’t let a company like (GM) fall under for sure."


Ford is comparatively better off, though its stock has slid this week. Japanese automaker Toyota, though having its sales affected by the same American consumer market that the Big Three American automakers have, struggles less.

Every manufacturer is looking for ways to cut costs in racing.

"We’ve been asked by our top management, as is the case for all of the departments within our corporate structure here in the United States, to look at our budgets, determine whether there are areas we can reduce," said Les Unger, Toyota’s National Motorsports Marketing Manager.

So why spend money to be a part of NASCAR?

To manufacturers it’s another form of advertising and exposure. Being a part of NASCAR means associating your brand with the NASCAR brand and theoretically opens up a different market of consumers.

But now, more than ever, results are imperative.

"We are in NASCAR to sell vehicles," Duerr said. ". . . Every dollar we spend at Ford Motor Company, especially today more than ever, we have to justify that it’s selling more vehicles."

In exchange for that, teams get the benefit of a manufacturer’s engine program, technical support, help with testing and, in some cases, financial support.


Ford, for example, has an engine program that provides engines for all its teams.

Toyota does so for Red Bull Racing and Michael Waltrip Racing. Joe Gibbs Racing and Bill Davis Racing have their own engine departments. Each Chevrolet Cup team has its own engine program with General Motors providing parts and research.

Losing GM would affect Chevy teams in more places than the pocketbook.

"Your concerns are because you’re passionate about the company, not because of what we can lose," said Tony Stewart, who will own a Chevrolet Cup team next season. "We’re passionate about General Motors, we’re passionate about the Chevy brand and we want them to be successful. . . . If our funding goes away then we have to lay people off. You’re always very concerned about it, but we haven’t seen that affect our programs so far at either our open-wheel level or our Cup level."

He’s lucky. In an economic climate where sponsors are tentative and money is limited, every setback feels a little more like a punch.

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