NASCAR: Sport’s top teams form alliance

jutter@charlotteobserver.comJuly 7, 2014 

Nine of NASCAR’s biggest multicar teams announced Monday the formation of a business alliance that in theory could transform the sport of stock car racing but its immediate practical effects remain unclear.

The Race Team Alliance is composed of nine teams that compete in NASCAR’s premier Sprint Cup Series – Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates, Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, Michael Waltrip Racing, Richard Childress Racing, Richard Petty Motorsports, Roush Fenway Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing and Team Penske.

A news release said the organization for the first time creates “a single entity to engage with stakeholders on creative ways to market and experience the power of the sport’s teams and drivers.

“As part of its focus, the RTA also plans to explore innovative ways to harness the combined purchasing power and scale of the teams’ operations to drive efficiencies in costs.”

Together, the teams field full-time rides for 25 of the sport’s biggest stars and every driver who has won a race so far in the 2014 season. The breadth of the alliance crosses all three manufacturers involved in the sport – Chevrolet, Ford and Toyota.

Rob Kauffman, co-owner of MWR, was elected the first chairman of the organization, the formation of which almost immediately invoked comparisons to NASCAR drivers’ short-lived union in 1969.

“This could be one of the most formidable things that’s happened in NASCAR since the Professional Drivers Association in 1969, and believe me, that rattled some windows and made some significant changes in NASCAR,” said Humpy Wheeler, former longtime president at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

“This might even be a more powerful situation because the car owners represent most of the starting field,” he said. “If all of a sudden one day they didn’t show up, you’d have some serious problems on your hands.

“These teams involved control all of the sport’s stars.”

In August 1969, many of the drivers in what is now the Cup series created the PDA in part over concerns with racing conditions at the then-new Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway.

Drivers wanted NASCAR to postpone the inaugural race in September until more suitable tires could be used. Officials refused, and many of the drivers left. NASCAR filled the field with a collection of cars and drivers from various series, and the race went on as scheduled.

The association eventually lasted three years and dissolved in 1972, although most of the drivers involved in the boycott returned to racing a week later.

The primary concerns involved with the creation of the owners’ alliance appear to be centered on cutting costs and increasing team revenue.

Kauffman said the organization formalizes what has been mostly an informal process in recent seasons of NASCAR, teams and manufacturers meeting to discuss areas of concern regarding the sport.

“The key word is ‘collaboration.’ We all have vested interests in the success and popularity of stock car racing,” Kauffman said. “By working together and speaking with a single voice, it should be a simpler and smoother process to work with current and potential groups involved with the sport.”

Based on its response, NASCAR seemed to have little or no advance notice of the RTA’s creation.

“We are aware of the alliance concept the team owners have announced but have very few specifics on its structure or purpose,” NASCAR spokesman Brett Jewkes said in a statement. “It is apparently still in development, and we’re still learning about the details so it would be inappropriate to comment right now.”

There was mixed reaction from the sport’s manufacturers.

“The betterment of the sport is the responsibility of all stakeholders, including NASCAR, manufacturers, teams, tracks and sponsors as all of us ensure the sport remains relevant to our fans,” Jamie Allison, director of Ford Racing, said in a statement.

Representatives from Toyota and Chevrolet said their respective manufacturers had no immediate comment.

Next season, NASCAR will begin a new 10-year TV deal with Fox and NBC worth a reported $8.2 billion. Currently, NASCAR teams receive roughly 25 percent of the TV revenue, tracks received 65 percent and 10 percent goes to NASCAR.

With lower attendance at many races in recent years, the TV money has provided the bulk of tracks’ revenue stream.

“There seems to be one thing pushing this and that’s money,” Wheeler said. “Despite huge TV revenue coming in, you have the problem of terribly declining grandstand revenue.

“Just by putting themselves together in a very powerful unit, the owners, I think, will see some changes down the road.”

Utter: 704-358-5113; Twitter: @jim_utter

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