Thursday, April 20, 2006

You're Out To Lunch, Pete

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.

5 comments:

  1. Dave, I agree that he's taken it too far but once GM and Ford dig further into the hole they will eventually turn to management that isn't tied to the traditional view of marketing in the U.S. Once financial concerns reach a point where the large institutional investors insist on drastic measures to recoup some of their money all kinds of cutting will happen.

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  2. Jason In California1:07 PM

    I was going to send this to you guys. Glad I checked here first. Anyways here is the most telling paragragh from this piece.

    "This particular manufacturer has finally come to the stark realization that their NASCAR involvement has done more for NASCAR than anything else. NASCAR exists for its benefit and profitability first and foremost - everything else is secondary to that fundamental premise. 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 - and pretending that NASCAR's popularity has done wonders for these car companies in the showrooms amounts to the Big Lie. The fact of the matter is that the increase in the popularity of NASCAR over the last ten years has seen a corresponding decrease in the participating domestic manufacturers sales fortunes. And there's not one NASCAR-sponsored survey that can possibly suggest otherwise, no matter how hard they try to "cook" the numbers."

    To me, that paragraph says it all. The amount of bias against NASCAR in this article is ridiculous. They have had articles before about the demise of NASCAR, or people within NASCAR and have been wrong everytime. In fact about 6 months ago he wrote that Ford should pull out of NASCAR and return to the Indy 500 and LeMans. Hmm sound familiar? I doubt you will see Pete at any CHAMP CAR races as he has bashed that series as well.

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  3. I agree with much of what Mr. DeLorenzo has said, and fully expect to see at least one of the big 3 to pull out of NASCAR in the near future.

    I think many people would agree with "NASCAR exists for its benefit and profitability first and foremost - everything else is secondary to that fundamental premise." Which is why NASCAR will be out of the short track business in short order.


    I don't put a lot of stock into what a NASCAR official will say for radio & TV sound bites.

    The COTs I've seen don't look anything like what is on the showroom floor. Nelson & Bodine are doing nothing more than towing the company line. Most people are intelligent enough to realize that the cars of today, and the COT are little more the IROC on roids.

    Peter DeLorenzo is highly regarded for his knowledge of the interworkings of the auto industry, which stock car racing is just a small part. Perhaps he stepped on a few toes, but I find it amusing that someone who in essence works for NASCAR through MRN, could call out someone else for being bias; isn’t that just a case of the pot calling the kettle black?

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  4. Jason In California6:11 PM

    "The COTs I've seen don't look anything like what is on the showroom floor."

    Why is NASCAR the only sanctoning body that is hit with the double standerd of their cars having to look like something that sells on a dealerships sales floor? True NASCAR cars used to be cars right off the showroom floor but lots has changed in this country. NASCAR cars today are no different from any other type flight racing series car. They are purpose built race cars not street cars. Acura has made a big splash recently with their entry to ALMS. Show me a LMP car that looks anything like a showroom car. If a racecar that looks like a street car was so important to race fans then why is NHRA Pro Stock cars not the top series in the NHRA? Or why is Grand Am Cup cars not the headliners for Grand Am over the Daytona Prototypes? Pete Deloranzo should be proud he gave his website a huge boost in hits and has been the talk of much of the racing world over nothing.

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  5. Andy, you say you "don't put a lot of stock into what a NASCAR official will say for radio & TV sound bites."

    Before you call Brett Bodine a liar, answer one simple question. Why would NASCAR build a Car Of Tomorrow that the manufacturers hate? What would they gain by jeopardizing a partnership that has helped make them the #2 spectator sport in the nation? Not much, it seems to me.

    Still not convinced? Use your own eyes. Check out the Car Of Tomorrow up-close and first hand, as I have. When I looked at the Car Of Tomorrow on pit road at Daytona, I saw a vehicle that looked a good deal more like a showroom stock model than anything competing today. Are they identical? Of course not. That's not the goal. But they are a good deal more "stock appearing" than what we have now.

    You sound a lot like DeLorenzo, saying, "I haven't bothered to look closely at the car, but I still think everyone is lying about what it is." That's your right, I guess, but I would think you might want to be better informed before jumping into the fray.

    As far as my "bias" is concerned, it is common knowledge that I work for MRN Radio; which is owned by International Speedway Corporation, not NASCAR. Within the first 60 seconds of every "Sirius Speedway" show we have done over the last three years, I state that we originate from the MRN Radio studios in Daytona Beach, Florida. I am also fairly "out front" on weekends, broadcasting for MRN from racetracks around the country. You're not uncovering some deep, dark secret here, and you're certainly not "outing" me. You're simply stating a commonly known fact.

    If you choose to disregard my opinion because of who I work for, that is your right. However, you may have more trouble "writing off" people like Dodge's John Fernandez and Alba Colon of Chevrolet; both of whom call DeLorenzo's claims completely false.

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