It's no secret the auto industry in America is suffering right now. In an effort to save a failing Ford, a near bankrupt General Motors and a collapsing Chrysler, Congress is set to approve a $25 billion bailout plan for the three.
September saw Detroit lose 28,300 jobs, adding on to the nearly 78,000 total as of last month. That number is expected to continue, especially with Ford and GM stock combined to be less than five dollars. That's right, with a green bill with Abe Lincoln's picture on it, you can own stock in the two former auto giants.
"We're doing what we can, both on and off the track, to try and support the company," Brian Wolfe, director of North American Motorsports for Ford, said. "On the track, we're winning races and contending for championships...we're creating a winning image for our products. Off the track, our drivers and teams in NASCAR and NHRA have been working hard to get the word out about our products."
Both Ford and Chevrolet say they're committed to the sport, along with a struggling Dodge, who admits they may not be in the sport past 2009. Because of their own financial squeeze, GM has called off all talks on a merger with Chrysler.
“The sport is on very, very solid ground that transcends one manufacturer or another,” Brian France, NASCAR Chairman, said in a conference November ninth. “We’re not also going to live or die if one manufacturer or another manufacturer has a pullback or a pullout. I hope it doesn’t happen. We’re working like mad to make sure it doesn’t.”
What exactly is a solidly grounded NASCAR doing? Not much. Shortening races, fixing the testing policy- say, staying at certain track on Monday to test there?- and other measures are not being taken by the sanctioning body to save teams money.
France also said it wouldn't be "practical" for NASCAR to create a line of credit for the teams, similar to what the NFL did, because they're individual businesses, as well as the fact that "there are literally hundreds of (teams) that can be affected, depending on how far you would go in our national series, different teams starting up or exiting all the time."
Truck, Nationwide, and Sprint Cup teams may be closing, losing sponsorship, or, for some Dodge teams, losing a manufacture. Truck points leader Johnny Benson is leaving his current team at the end of the year, simply because they may not be around due to lack of sponsorship in 2009. Bobby Hamilton, Jr. is financing his Nationwide Series entry out of his own pocket. Junior Motorsports doesn't have sponsorship for next season.
NASCAR crew members and shop workers are also feeling the pain. Due to lack of sponsorship in June, Chip Ganassi Racing let go more than seventy employees from their shop. Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing have also recently layed off employees, including driver Jimmie Johnson's spotter.
More firings are expected to come after this Sunday's season-finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, where all three NASCAR champions are to be crowned.
Teams are coping by taking in outside investors and merging. Struggling for sponsorship, it's being heavily rumored that Chip Ganassi Racing and Dale Earnhardt, Inc. are set to merge, possibly by season's end. Penske, Petty Enterprises, who were taken over by Boston Ventures earlier this year, Gillett-Evernham Motorsports, and others are also rumored to be merging, cutting back cars, or changing manufactures to ease the crunch.
NASCAR needs to do something to ease the burden on these teams. Without these teams, there would be no fans in the stands, no souvenirs to sell, and all in all, no NASCAR.
Brian France, this is yet another cry to you. Stop expanding and start fixing. This sport can't afford a weak leader... much less anything else.
Thanks to ABC Online, The Canadien Press, Jayski, Auto Racing Daily, and the Minneapolis Star Tribune for the quotes and statistics used in this piece.