Tuesday, May 01, 2007

DEI/Yates Talks Spark Manufacturer Derby

Discussions about a possible merger between Dale Earnhardt, Inc., and Robert Yates Racing are underway, triggering a battle between Ford Motor Company and rival Chevrolet for the affections of the potential new super team.

DEI Executive John Story and RYR President Doug Yates both confirmed to Sirius NASCAR Radio Sunday that preliminary talks have been ongoing for several weeks, but that no paperwork has been exchanged. Story said DEI hopes to add a fourth Nextel Cup team as soon as next season, and is working to solidify a manufacturer-based financing and technological support package for 2008 and beyond, after its current deal with Chevrolet expires at the end of this season.

While refusing to rule anything out, Yates stated that he and his father expect to remain with Ford Motor Company for the long term, thoughts that were echoed by Ford Racing Technology Communications Manager Kevin Kennedy. “Ford is fully committed to Robert Yates Racing for the long-term,” said Kennedy last week, “and they have assured us that are similarly committed to Ford. Robert and Doug have been in contact with Ford about the nature of the discussions (with DEI). We fully expect they will remain with Ford for many, many years.”

Chevrolet has been Dale Earnhardt, Inc.’s manufacturer of choice since the team’s founding, but sources close to the situation say that the situation could easily change. Some see a merger with Yates as Teresa Earnhardt’s way to ensure DEI’s long-term future, even without Dale Earnhardt, Jr. In addition, a move to the Ford camp could increase DEI’s level of manufacturer support. Presently, DEI ranks behind Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing and Richard Childress Racing on GM’s Nextel Cup roster. A move to the Ford camp would place them second only to Roush Racing in the Blue Oval pipeline.

Story stressed that Dale Earnhardt, Inc., will exhaust all its options with Chevrolet before looking elsewhere, while admitting that the team has spoken to other automakers.

“We've had some conversation with a couple other manufacturers,” he said. “They've called to inquire what our contract situation was. We told them…we are going to sit down and exhaust our options with Chevrolet first, and if the opportunity came up, we'd talk to somebody else.

“We haven't seen anything in writing from anybody else. The only proposal we have right now…is from Chevrolet.”

Chevrolet executives said they were unaware that the team was talking with rival manufacturers. But Ford Racing Technology Director Dan Davis confirmed that the Dearborn automaker is interested in adding DEI to its stable, saying, “We definitely have been talking with DEI. We’ve been having informal talks with them for several years. We have not yet made a formal offer to them, but we know that their GM contract is up at the end of the year. We had some discussions with them, and we’ve made it clear that we’d love to have them in our program.”

Toyota’s Lee White, meanwhile, said his company will not be involved in the DEI/RYR Derby.

“There is a tremendous amount of both equity and liability involved with Dale Earnhardt, Inc., and Dale Earnhardt Jr.,” he said. “Right now, Toyota is not ready to take on the liability that would come with that scenario.”

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