Economy Putting The "Brakes" On NASCAR

This post is from guest blogger Sarah Talalay:

With the 2008 season in the books, teams across NASCAR are beginning to issue pink slips to dozens of employees. The sport will stop testing at NASCAR-sanctioned tracks next year to save teams millions of dollars.

Sponsors have been cutting back or dropping out of the sport. Attendance at tracks was down nearly 10 percent this year. Yes, even the rapidly growing sport of stock car racing is being forced to put on the brakes.


Industry executives are holding out hope Congress will offer financial support to Detroit's Big Three automakers this week. Team Chevy issued a desperately worded release Sunday during the Sprint Cup finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway imploring the public—and asking the media for its help—to contact their representatives in the House and Senate about economic support for automakers that supply a number of the racecars in the sport.

"We cannot overstate the importance of this initiative!" the statement says.

All are signs NASCAR's in trouble. No one knows for sure how deep the employee cuts will go and what else might be sacrificed. Veteran team owner Jack Roush, of Roush Fenway Racing, has a list of changes that might occur if the economy worsens. He'd encourage track owners to examine ticket prices so more fans could fill the increasingly empty seats the sport saw this year.

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He says sponsorships also should be examined to be sure companies are getting a reasonable return on their investment.

"Nobody I know of invests money or spends money that they don't expect to get a return on as a sponsorship," Roush said. "That may mean in the short-term the sponsorship values or sponsorship amounts will diminish some. If that happens, the teams will have less money to spend on their personnel and their preparation and tires and hotels."

With that in mind, Roush said it's possible three-day events could be reduced to two days. And races might need to be shortened as well: 600-mile races to 500 miles; 500-mile races to 450 miles, he said.

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"And maybe a limit on the number of tires you use. They're pretty much unlimited on the Cup side," Roush said. "Limiting the tires, limiting the distance of races may become the next shoes to fall. It may become necessary, but I hope they don't."

Jim Hunter, a NASCAR spokesman who has spent more than 40 years in and around the sport, remembers when pit crews were made up of repair guys from auto dealerships, who changed tires on Sundays at the racetrack.

"Today, we have $40,000 tire changers, that's all they do. Jack men, who handles jacks makes $40,000 or $50,000 a year, who work one day and practice during the week," Hunter said. "Could it be done without that? Absolutely ... Some sort of correction is going to occur, no doubt about that."

Questions? Comments?