Columnist Peter DeLorenzo of autoextremist.com claims that a domestic automaker is holding serious discussions about pulling out of NASCAR. For the record, DeLorenzo has a flair for the controversial, and is decidedly anti-NASCAR. However, he claims that a timetable is actually in place for that automaker – Ford, Chevrolet or Dodge – to withdraw from NASCAR, shifting its focus to production-based racing series, engine programs for open-wheel and prototype series, and a road-racing effort focused on the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
DeLorenzo says the three manufacturers – each of which (he claims) spends $140 million annually in NASCAR – are unhappy with the “Car Of Tomorrow," feeling that it bears no resemblance to what they sell on the showroom floor. In his words, “any connection to what the manufacturers are producing has been well and truly broken.”
DeLorenzo’s beef with the Car Of Tomorrow is interesting. It’s also completely baseless.
As NASCAR’s Brett Bodine told Sirius Speedway during Speedweek in Daytona, “Right now, the only major variation between a Ford, Chevrolet and Dodge Nextel Cup car is in the nose and tail panel. There are some minor differences in other areas, but basically, the cars are pretty similar. The Car Of Tomorrow will differ fairly dramatically in the A,B and C pillars, and will have more points of difference in the nose and tail. Anyone who calls the Car Of Tomorrow an `IROC car’ doesn’t know what they’re talking about.”
In short, the Car Of Tomorrow will have more in common with its stock, showroom namesake than current NASCAR racers do. Gary Nelson, former Head of Research and Development for NASCAR, has echoed Bodine’s comments on numerous occasions, as have spokesmen for the various manufacturers. Did Peter DeLorenzo somehow miss these facts?
Probably not. More likely, he chose to ignore them.
In recent weeks, GM, Ford and Dodge have all expressed interest in the possibility of converting NASCAR’s Busch Series to a so-called “Pony Car” class, featuring the Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Camaro and Dodge Challenger. Dan Davis, Director of Ford Racing Technology, said of the concept, “We’ve discussed it, and I’d like to see it.” John Fernandez, who directs Dodge’s racing operation, said, “It’s under discussion with NASCAR. Not to what I’d consider the serious stage, but it is under discussion.” If NASCAR is such a lousy deal for the Detroit automakers, why are they investigating opportunities to become more involved in the future, by entering a second nameplate in NASCAR’s Triple-A division?
It doesn’t add up.
Amazingly, DeLorenzo places the blame for Detroit’s recent financial struggles squarely at the feet of NASCAR, saying, “Pretending that NASCAR's popularity has done wonders for the car companies amounts to the Big Lie. The fact of the matter is that the increase in the popularity of NASCAR over the last 10 years has seen a corresponding decrease in the participating domestic manufacturers sales fortunes. The relentless hype of NASCAR and its sponsors by NASCAR itself and its enablers at the TV networks has resulted in dramatically diminished returns for the participating manufacturers.”
While there is no question that Detroit has dug itself a colossal financial hole in the last decade or so, DeLorenzo is the only pundit I’ve seen who blames that downturn on involvement in NASCAR. Virtually everyone else in the automotive community sees the situation for what it is; the result of restrictive, one-way trade policies, U.S. labor laws, and the failure by Detroit to develop economical, fuel-efficient, family friendly vehicles that appeal to domestic buyers. Does DeLorenzo truly believe that GM, Ford and Dodge would have steered a different path in the last 10 years, had they not been so distracted by their involvement with NASCAR?
Poppycock, pure and simple.
DeLorenzo also believes that the arrival of Toyota has changed NASCAR’s attitude toward the other manufacturers. In his words, “All sense of reality left the NASCAR offices in Daytona Beach and New York long ago. The NASCAR attitude goes something like this: If a Detroit manufacturer drops out, it's "whatever" - because Toyota is stepping up to the plate.”
Again, exactly the opposite is true.
Had Mr. DeLorenzo taken the time to speak with anyone in NASCAR – executives, officials, car owners or drivers – he would have learned that the sanctioning body is already keeping a tight rein on Toyota to ensure that the playing field remains level. NASCAR recently turned thumbs-down on Toyota’s announced plan to build all its Nextel Cup chassis and engines in-house for subsequent distribution to its teams. That strategy has worked well on the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, but NASCAR has clearly stated that it will not allow that kind of fundamental sea-change in its upper divisions.
Clearly, DeLorenzo’s most recent rant is not based on facts. Instead, it is born of his own long-standing personal dislike for anything and everything NASCAR. He makes that case himself, writing, “NASCAR exists for its benefit and profitability first and foremost. Everything else is secondary to that fundamental premise.”
So Pete, have a great time at your next Champ Car, IRL or SCCA race. Spread out and relax in those spacious, wide-open grandstands, secure in the knowledge that NASCAR’s days are numbered. And if you've got a spare minute, explain to me how any manufacturer could justify underwriting an engine development and manufacturing program, in the same Open Wheel series' they all bailed out of just a year or two ago.