No. 964
September 19, 2018

About The Autoextremist


Author, commentator, influencer. The Consigliere. Minister of the High-Octane Truth. Editor-in-Chief of .

Peter DeLorenzo has been in and around the sport of racing since the age of ten. After a 22-year career in automotive marketing and advertising, where he worked on national campaigns as well as creating many motorsports campaigns for various clients, DeLorenzo established on June 1, 1999. Over the years DeLorenzo's commentaries on racing and the business of motorsports have resonated throughout the industry. Because of the burgeoning influence of those commentaries, DeLorenzo has directly consulted automotive clients on the fundamental direction and content of their motorsports programs. DeLorenzo is considered to be one of the most influential voices commenting on the sport today.

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November 12, 2008

Still clueless in Daytona Beach.

By Peter M. De Lorenzo

NASCAR chairman Brian France met with the media last Sunday morning at Phoenix International Raceway and commented on the rapidly deteriorating state of his racing series and proved once again - and emphatically so I might add - that he flat-out doesn't get it and isn't likely to get it anytime soon, either. France, who as much as admitted that the Detroit automakers may not be around much longer due to their burgeoning financial meltdown said, “We’re also not going to live or die if one manufacturer or another has a pullback or pullout. I hope it doesn't happen. We’re working like mad to make sure it doesn't happen, but the sport is on very solid ground that transcends one manufacturer or another.”

Working like mad, Mr. France? Solid ground? Uh, you're kidding, right? Can anyone name one proactive measure announced by NASCAR to help the manufacturers, the corporate sponsors, the fans or the sport itself in the last three months? Me neither. Can you point out one bit of good news during a snoozer of a "Chase," with noticeably empty grandstand seats and declining TV ratings? Not so much.

Remember it wasn't that long ago (over The Brickyard 400 weekend at Indianapolis) that I reported that Ford and GM executives double-barreled France and Mike Helton about the gathering storm clouds and the looming financial crisis facing Detroit, and that severe cutbacks were coming, if not an out and out eventual pullout by one of them once current contracts expired. And by all accounts, it was news to both Helton and France. Never mind the fact that the media had been saturated with the grim news emanating from Detroit over the summer, with $4.00+ per gallon having completely decimated full-size truck and SUV sales. Never mind the fact that the national banking and credit crisis and the subsequent "cash burn" crisis that Detroit was dealing with was up front news in national media sources every day. And never mind the fact that the very existence of the Detroit 3 was being questioned when all of these factors were placed on the table for discussion. It still went clean over the heads of France and Helton.

What has Brian France done, exactly, since being warned that the Detroit manufacturers were on the ropes and that it was a very real possibility that their involvement in NASCAR would be wound down or terminated? How about nothing? Oh, sure, he and Helton have met with the racing operatives at the Detroit automakers to "listen" - at least NASCAR's version of it - but that's pretty much it. And what did France take away from those meetings? As he said in Phoenix last Sunday, “I've been told directly by each of the companies having challenging times that one of the things that works best for them is NASCAR. Each went out of their way to tell me that while there are pullbacks and cuts to meet these challenges, the last thing would be to abandon something that works so well.”

Well, let me just say there's "listening" and there's "selective hearing." And then there's reading between the lines to understand what's really being said. France interpreted the vacuous platitudes bandied about in those meetings as being the official point of view from these companies, when in fact all each manufacturer was doing was commenting on the way their relationship had been with NASCAR up until this point, as opposed to how it was going to be from here on out.

That Brian France would make that interpretation really shouldn't be a shock to anyone, as there has never been a more insular organization in the history of motorsport than the NASCAR of today, and the "not invented here" credo resonates on a daily basis down in Daytona Beach.

It wasn't always that way, however. NASCAR founder "Big Bill" France was an original and a visionary, and his son, Bill France Jr. was smart enough to carry the sport forward and not screw things up. Brian France, however, has spent his entire tenure as chairman either focusing on the wrong things or doing his very best to derail the series. "Vision" is not a word I would attach to this third-generation France family emperor. Not even close. Certainly not when he has alienated the original NASCAR fan base, messed with the sport's enduring traditions, neutered the competing manufacturers' brand "personalities" at every turn, and generally moved NASCAR in a direction that has left even the most partisan NASCAR apologists scratching their heads. There's an old adage that says that it's with the third generation when it all starts going wrong for family business empires. Well guess what? Brian France is proving that adage to be more true each day.

Let's get back to this whole being proactive thing again. Where has NASCAR been exactly? Where are the announced changes to help everyone get more out of the sport?

Why not cut the number of races to save costs? The NASCAR schedule is the most ludicrous in all of American professional sports. It even makes the NBA schedule seem logical. A reduced 25-race schedule in these times would help reduce costs - for the teams and the manufacturers - and make the NASCAR season seem more like a sprint rather than a marathon.

Why not cut the race lengths down to save money? Protect a handful of the premier 500- and 400-mile races and cut the rest to 200 or 300-mile events. These five-hour TV marathons that pass for NASCAR races today are beyond tedious, and the declining ratings are proving that out. NASCAR is getting to be a lot like watching F1 on TV. Watch the start and the first 10 laps, then watch the last 25 laps. Everything else can be caught on a DVR or in replays. (And speaking of which, wait until the deal with the TV networks comes up for renewal and NASCAR is offered about half of what they received in the previous contract. Think it's ugly now for the teams? Ouch.)

Why not go to two-day race weekends exclusively? Unload and set-up on Thursday, practice and qualify on Friday, race on Saturday. Go home.

Why not reduce ticket prices across the board? Going to a NASCAR race weekend has now reached a prohibitive price point that is eliminating more and more families from being able to attend. Think there were a lot of empty seats this year? Just wait until this nation's economy settles into the worst recession in history - you know, the recession that everyone refuses to call a depression - and then see what happens in 2009.

Why not make the "NASCAR-ized" Chevys, Fords and Toyotas actually look more like their street counterparts? The dreaded "Car of Tomorrow," which has now become the "Car of Today," has eliminated one of NASCAR's defining "hooks" - when fans used to be able to identify with what they were seeing on the track. Now? Let's just say it's kind of difficult to get warm and fuzzy feelings about a set of headlight and taillight decals.

France has a handle on things, he insists. “These aren't our first tough economic times, we've been in business 60 years,” he told the media last Sunday. “We've seen the energy crisis of 1972, and 9/11 wasn't that long ago. So we’re not going to change our business model because we’re in tough economic times, but it doesn't mean we won't be more aggressive and taking out costs for team owners.”

Let's see, TV ratings are fading, fans are staying home in droves, race teams are going under, manufacturers are facing bankruptcy, and your best idea is to stick to business as usual, Brian?



Publisher's Note: As part of our continuing series celebrating the "Glory Days" of racing, we're proud to present another noteworthy image from the Ford Racing Archives. - PMD

(Ford Racing Archives)
Sebring, FL, 1967. Bruce McLaren and Mario Andretti pose with their 12 Hours of Sebring race-winning Ford GT Mk IV. Developed from the infamous Ford J-Car prototype - named for the Appendix "J" car construction regulations - the Mk IV was a completely new car and a clear departure from the previous Ford GT Mk II. The Ford GT Mk IV made its debut at Sebring that year - entered by Shelby-American and painted in bright yellow livery - and the team expected a fierce battle with the impressive Chaparral 2F Coupe driven by Jim Hall and Mike Spence (Ferrari skipped Sebring after thumping the field in the 24 Hours of Daytona in February, finishing 1-2-3). Andretti fired the first shot in the battle by putting the No. 1 Ford GT Mk IV on the pole, and the beginning of the race lived up to expectations with the Ford battling the Chaparral back and forth for the lead over the first three hours. The Chaparral suffered a transmission failure and retired at the end of the third hour, surrendering the lead to the Andretti/McLaren Ford Mk IV for good. The dynamic duo then went on to not only score the largest margin of victory in the history of the race - 12 laps - they were the first to average 100 MPH for the entire race distance. The A.J. Foyt/Lloyd Ruby Ford GT Mk II finished second.