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Survival of the fittest in NASCAR

Roger Diez
Nevada Appeal Motorsports Columnist

Survival has become the name of the game in NASCAR’s off-season. Many teams had already announced layoffs prior to the season finale at Miami-Homestead; mergers and teams going out of business will further impact employment in the racing industry’s biggest operation.

The latest casualty is Bobby Hamilton Racing, which shut its doors after being cut loose by Dodge at the end of the 2008 season. The team had earlier cut its racing operations from two Craftsman Truck series teams to a single truck. It is not known what will happen to the team’s race trucks and other equipment.

What is happening in NASCAR is a microcosm of the nation’s, in fact the world’s, economic hard times. Manufacturers and sponsors are taking a hard look at their racing expenditures, and race teams are paring expenses. Another recent development was the test ban at NASCAR-sanctioned tracks that was announced at season’s end. A number of the larger multi-car operations such as Hendrick Racing, Richard Childress Racing, and others had established test teams to do development work on the cars. With the new “no testing” policy these teams will undoubtedly be disbanded, putting still more racing crewmen and drivers out of work.

The saddest part of all this is that to people working in racing it’s not just a job, but a passion. It’s bad enough to lose your livelihood, but when it’s also something you love it is doubly difficult. About the only upside that I can see is that there will be experienced racing crewmen, fabricators, engineers and others who will hopefully look toward plying their trade assisting racers lower down on the food chain. I can see some enterprising folks starting their own businesses to assist local racers with fabrication, car set-up, engine building, and other disciplines. They say that bad economic times often provide the best opportunity to start a business. I hope that’s the case for at least some of the laid-off NASCAR people.

Another area that is affected is the TV production side. Declining advertising expenditures by many companies are also part of the cutbacks in spending that seem to be almost universal. As a result, ad revenues are down for those networks that televise racing events, and FOX is meeting with NASCAR and ESPN to discuss ways of cutting production costs without negatively affecting the quality of the broadcasts. I have to say I like all the in-car cameras and being able to see the pit stop action up close, but if the number of cameras were cut from 60 to 55 would we really notice? And personally, I don’t see that ESPN needs three people in the booth plus three or four additional “analysts,” in addition to the pit reporters and the cutaway car for technical illustrations . . . but that’s just my opinion.

For those of you who still have an interest in the Indycar Series, you will recall that the series has been using and promoting ethanol fuel for the past three seasons. For 2009 the series will continue in that direction, but with a new partner, APEX-Brasil. The Brazilian sugar cane industry association UNICA is also involved. The move is a result of the shutting down of U.S. based Ethanol Promotion and Information Council, Indycar’s previous renewable fuel partner. Although Indycar’s fuel for the upcoming season will initially be sugarcane-based, UNICA is looking for a U.S. partner to supply corn-based ethanol for the series. I’m sure there are a lot of corn farmers in Iowa and surrounding states that would like to see that as well.

Finally, just a reminder that next Saturday is the date for the first annual Mackena Bell Motorsports coat and toy drive. If you have any coats, hats, or gloves in good condition that you no longer wear, they could help others who are less fortunate keep warm this winter. Bring these items, as well as new, unwrapped toys to the Carson Mall and help Mackena and sister Kellcy fill Mackena’s late model stock car and trailer with donations. Mackena will also be available for autographs and conversation. Call 882-1986 for further information.