Aric Almirola, EGR No. 8 Latest Example of When a Race Team Dies

Mary Jo BuchananSenior Writer IApril 9, 2009

FORT WORTH, TX - APRIL 03:  Aric Almirola, driver of the #8 Guitar Hero Metallica Chevrolet, drives during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Samsung 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on April 3, 2009 in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo by John Harrelson/Getty Images)

The headlines scream with the demise of the No. 8 NASCAR Sprint Cup team fielded by Earnhardt Ganassi Racing. Without sponsorship, the great No. 8 driven by Aric Almirola has officially been sidelined, temporarily if not for good.

Driver, team, and merged owners at EGR remain committed to trying to get back on the race track. But with the difficult economy and only slight nibbles of sponsorship interest, this team may indeed be headed into the casualty column for the race season.

Unfortunately, and all too often, race teams do indeed die. Sometimes teams and drivers split up or there is a rift so serious in the team that they cannot continue together.

But most often the cause of death for a race team is a glaringly simple one...money.  It all comes down to a lack of money, to the point a team just cannot continue to exist financially.

When a race team dies, it is devastating for all involved. Everyone, including the driver, crew, team and owners experience it as a traumatic loss, similar to the death of a loved one or good friend.

Just as Aric Almirola grieves the loss of his ride and team, many racers have over the years gone through the same stages of grief. There is the initial shock and disbelief that the disbanding of the team could even be happening.

There is also most often anger and lashing out, perhaps even leading to depression.  After working through all of these stages, the hope is that there will finally be acceptance.

But with race teams, that acceptance is the most difficult to achieve. Racers always believe that they can win; accepting defeat is antithetical to everything in their persona.

Like Almirola and the No. 8 EGR team, I too have had the unfortunate up-close and personal experience of watching a race team die.  As I look back, I should have known that it was all destined to turn out that way in the end.

The team, one racing in the developmental series for NASCAR, was severely underfunded and in fact had lost a primary sponsor just as we became involved. The driver, although charismatic and talented, was also finicky and sometimes downright abrasive.

Our family supported the driver financially and with our volunteer support, attending every race and even performing some of the team's functions, such as counting lap times and working tire pressures.

But as the driver even admitted, the team and crew were more like the "Keystone Cops," running in circles and inevitably making everything worse. There were terse exchanges almost every race between the team owner, acting as crew chief, and the very demanding driver.

In spite of the lack of funding and the dysfunctional crew, the performance out on the track was not terribly bad. In fact, the team's record even attracted a major sponsor for one race who agreed to put their company's name on the hood of the car.

That sponsor definitely did not get their money's worth in the deal. The car was in a terrible wreck, crashed hard into the wall and burst into flames.

In spite of that blow-up, the team actually did manage to make it into the top 15 in championship points. This assured a berth to the Toyota All-Star Showdown at Irwindale Speedway in California.

We all trooped out to the West Coast, taking in the sights of Hollywood and the Pacific Ocean before hitting the track. The driver and team performed well and actually came in with a top five finish, thanks to the wreck-fest that often occurs at that particular race.

But just as the season ended, so did the race team. The driver and team parted company from us and also from each other.

I could not believe that it was over. And our family was incredibly angry at how it had all ended for us and this race team.

It was a traumatic loss and indeed felt like we had lost a good friend in our lives. The anger continued, interspersed with layers of sadness and grief.

Eventually, we moved on and came to accept that we had been given a gift, a very special one that many fans of the sport never get to experience. We mourned, but we finally made peace with the loss and death of the race team.

As I look back on my own personal experience in seeing a race team fade away into oblivion, I can only hope that Aric Almirola's team will not have the same experience or face the same outcome.

But I cannot help but fear that the No. 8 team, and perhaps a few others to come, will be casualties in this year's difficult economic season. 

My hope is that they too will work through their grief and anger, finally arriving at that most difficult stage of acceptance and moving on. 

Or better yet, they hold onto their ardent belief that they can indeed conquer the death of their team, finding that new sponsor or ride just around the next turn.