The NASCAR Truck Series FacesTough Economic Times and a Fight To Survive

Horn FanSenior Writer IJanuary 26, 2009

My headline says it all about NASCAR's forgotten series, but I'm more worried about 2010 and beyond than I am about the 2009 season.

Since we are typically six to nine months behind what the stock market is doing, let's hope with the change of President Barack Obama taking over the economy gets better.

If the economy doesn't get better, it will only get worse for the Truck Series.

Now had Camping World not stepped up to replace Craftsman as title sponsor, no doubt trucks would probably be on hiatus in 2009.

The season has not yet started, already one change has been made to the 2009 Truck schedule. Mansfield Motorsports Park closed due to the economy and its truck race has been moved to Iowa Speedway in September.

We've seen Bobby Hamilton Racing-VA., announce they were closing over the off-season although they said they might be back. But I doubt it, since Tommy Baldwin Racing bought all their racing equipment.

The Wood Brothers Racing Truck program is on hiatus for now, and won't be back without sponsorship.

This past week Triad Racing Technologies announced that they were supplying only and would not be racing in 2009.

Can't forget both Dodge and Ford have pulled support for the Truck Series. The lagging car sales, the way the pick-up truck sales have crashed it definitely will effect how much GM and Toyota invest in this series.

Not to mention with GM's financial problems, surely they'll budget the teams giving them less than they have in the past.

Yes, the 2009 season will be tough due to the economy, but I think we will see 15 to 20 teams at the races. Of course I'm factoring in plus or minus entries and depends on the track.

Let me mention here, in 2008 their were 27 full-time teams, with only 11 of the 25 races had a full 36 trucks starting.

So far twelve teams have confirmed they will be racing in 2009, of these nine are fully sponsored, three others still need sponsorship and one team is running a limited schedule.

Really it all hinges on the nineteen part-time teams, how they spread out through the schedule and the number of races the teams will run.

Also as of today, their are thirteen teams with open rides both full and part time and four drivers with some form of sponsorship looking for teams.

Eighteen drivers are looking for a ride in 2009, with a few big names in the series looking.

We've had about ten teams close after the 2008 season, I may be missing a few that have closed.

It includes a few part-time teams, includes the three Triad  Racing Technologies teams, two Bobby Hamilton Racing-VA teams and two Roush-Fenway Racing teams that closed when Ford cut funding to the series.

Imagine that Ford pulls support Jack Roush who helped create the expense problem with running a team in NASCAR closes two teams. While a hardworking team like Circle Bar Racing and Rick Crawford decide to continue running the blue oval.

It probably won't be until the Las Vegas race that we'll get an idea as to the actually number of trucks that will be racing each week in 2009.

Sure, the competitive nature of this series will be effected by the number of trucks racing. The series is known for it's competitiveness; the last three seasons Championships weren't decided till the last race of the season at Homestead.

It's one of the reasons I love the trucks so much, it's exciting to see races decided on the final laps coming to the checkers and not just dominated by the same three teams.

I'm hoping once the economy gets better we'll see the truck's rebound, hope that it's not a long-term deal and it effects the series continuing. Should trucks go on hiatus, we'll see it trickle into both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup.

The good news even with the bad economy is that Michael Annett, John Wesley Townley, Brendan Gaughan, and Erik Darnell have moved onto the Nationwide Series.

Now Justin Marks and Andrew Lally will be driving in GT3 Sports Car for TRG Motorsports.

Last but not least, Scott Speed will be racing in Sprint Cup. With the Speeddemon's success, we could see other drivers by passing the Nationwide on the way to Cup and be exciting to see how he runs.

I believe he could influence younger drivers to race in trucks, since they know teams will notice me if I'm successful and maybe get a shot a Cup.

Now when researching for this article, I found these two comments on sportsmediawatch.blogspot.com.

Both are eye openers, you realize just how bad things have gotten in NASCAR.

The first, when Camping World, which replaced Craftsman as title sponsor is paying half of what Craftsman is estimated to have paid.

Second, the NYT reports that NASCAR will lose 20 percent of it's take from it's title sponsorships. Maybe that's why they sold the yellow flag rights to Service Master for ISC and SMI tracks.

The big problem with truck's is it's NASCAR's forgotten series, not every fan cares about the series and it's not used to it's fullest potential by NASCAR.

Now with the fans. I just don't understand why they wouldn't like it. Since it's very competitive, has young talent with a bunch of wily veterans mixed in, the points battles are legendary and several races each year are decided on the final lap to the checkers. 

Trucks are made up of smaller race teams, than what are in either Nationwide or Cup. So it's only natural with the economy it's been worse in trucks hurting teams both financially and sponsorship wise.

Many owners use their own money or will put their companies on their trucks as sponsors to help fund their teams, some even with sponsors on-board will do it. With the bad economy they just can't afford to run like that anymore.

Now a competitive truck team budget can be 2 to 3 million dollars a season and around $100,000 a race.

While NASCAR has been pretty quiet about the truck series. More is known number wise of who's racing in the Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series.

A Scene Daily report changed that by reporting on the shrink entries in the series and this past week. NASCAR Officials met with all the truck owners at Kevin Harvick Inc. race shop to discuss ways to help owners cut the costs and stay in the game.

Prior to this meeting they had mentioned about taking away one of the over the wall crew members, which most teams would eliminate a tire carrier and I don't like due to safety issues from this move.

It's a no brainer—NASCAR needs to develop ways to save teams money, but don't jeopardize safety to do it.

One of the things discussed was the series going back to having a half time break, or a couple of mandatory pit stops.

During these stops teams can change tires, fuel the trucks and make adjustments to their trucks. Plus the teams would enter and exit, the same way they came in without losing their positions.

Of course teams will be able to pit for tire issues, after wrecks, or mechanical issues.

This was something the series did when it first started to save owners money and since most of the first tracks didn't have pit roads on the tracks.

I personally would hate to see it happen, since I love watching the pit stops and it would effect the competitive nature of the trucks.

But if it's implemented, if it means the series continues to race. Then sure I'll live with it. I'd rather have the trucks too watch, then to see the series gone.

Sure once the economy gets back on track, they'll change it back and doubt it will be something permanent.

Bruce Hylton TRG Motorsports director Of Competition believes the move would save the teams $30,00 to $60,000 a race.

Of course, not everybody is sold on doing this, since they are worried how it will be reacted on by the fans.

"I'm more worried about the fans and how they are going to react to it", Hylton said. "Is that part of the show for them? Is it ok that we don't have pit stops? At the end of the day, if they're not with our races, that not going to help us economically". (scenedaily.com)

Plus due to the length of the some races, teams would need two breaks due to the small fuel cells.

"It takes some of the glamour out of it for the fans and it kills the TV thing because the fuel cell, with the way they are today, we would have to have two breaks, not a halftime break", said Germain Racing General Manager Mike Hillman, Sr. (scenedaily.com)

While the halftime deal hasn't been finalized or implemented yet, it's probably going to be a crucial call and one the fans will have to support if we want to see the truck series racing for another fourteen years.

Another option would be to have four over the wall, rather than the tradition seven. Sure the pit stops will be slow, everyone's on equal ground, but they would still race off of pit roads.

I could live with this change as well, since like I previously mentioned, I would rather have truck races then not at all.

Another topic was limiting engine costs, currently the trucks run a 12:1 engine compression model and when they switched to them back in 2001 it was an expensive change for the teams.

A competitive truck team spends about $35,000 a race in engine costs per race.

The teams could switch back to 9.5:1 engine, it would save some money for the teams or NASCAR could use the spec engine used in the Camping World East & West Series.

That spec engine seems to be doing the job performance wise and has saved the teams money.

With the spec motor, they could run on anything one mile or less, Germain Racing has tested the CWEWS engine and like how it handles in the truck.

"I think that motor could run everywhere except Daytona and Talladega the way it is", Hillman said. (scenedaily.com)

If they use the spec motors from CWEWS, a big plus would be the drivers from the series could also add truck races to their teams schedules which could help trucks with the number of entries for races

If the choice was up to me, change the engines, save the teams money that way and don't change the pit stops back to the a halfway break or two breaks when needed.

One thing NASCAR has done already is eliminate the need for teams to have a scorer. That saves them about $30,000 a year.

I also can't forget the testing ban, which will save the teams some money.

In all the meeting went well with the owners and officials, while nothing has been decided yet, but sure we'll know shortly what changes may happen with the series.

I must also not forget NASCAR's TV partner in the series Speed TV. How will these proposed changes effect their product? Will they continue covering the races if viewership declines?

The network has put together a great crew to televise the truck races, and when you can shut a Waltrip up you're doing an excellent job.

They come to the track, with far less equipment then some of the other networks and focus on the racing action  on the track.

The end result makes for some great viewing pleasure, it's fun too watch and they earned me as a fan of their crew.

With Speed's commitment to the series, plus all the other NASCAR programs they offer to the fans, NASCAR can't afford to lose them and doubt they could replace them with another network without losing all the quality Speed brings to airing the races.

So when they implement any changes, you have to add Speed TV to the mix, along with the fans and it makes the option of changing the engine the right decision to save the teams money with out effecting the over all product of the series.

Now, I do disagree with the Daily Planet, saying the truck series was handcuffed by being on Speed. Lost in the digital plans, your local cable companies, Dish Network or DirecTV offers to it's customers at a price.

NASCAR just needs to hammer out a deal with DirecTV, make them aware this is our fan base, show it to them on a spread sheet. Then show them were they are against the competition before they offered Speed TV for free and then show them after they do offer it free to their customers.

Sure this approach would work, if they realize the gains they would make by doing it and sure the competition would be forced to also change to offering Speed for free to customers. Of course I'm basing this on reading were some customers get it free others pay for it and it all depends on were you live.

I know that were I live in Florida, I get Speed for free in my basic package luckily don't have to pay extra for it.

But I do feel every fan should also have this luxury, and both France and Helton need to address it pronto.

Bottom line with all the television providers, they know we'll pay, since we're addicted to NASCAR racing that we fans love so much.

But really to turn this Country around, put it back on the right track all this nickle-and-diming crap needs to be stopped and it would be nice to see something's given to us as a loyal customer for free as a thank you for your business.

Here's a few ideas I thought of that just might fix the truck series, keep it around for a while longer, based on an engine change:

1.) Why not try a salary cap, gear it to a max amount potential Sponsors have to spend per year of their contract. This would force the teams to budget their funds better, with a different price for full or part-time sponsorship.

They even could explore how to say cut $10,000 per race from the teams expenses. With 25 races, if it costs teams $100,000 oer race, that would save the teams $250,000 a season.

2.) NASCAR should impose a age limit, say you have to be 21 years old. have at least a year of trucks and Nationwide experience before you can race in Cup.

I'm not saying this to punish the drivers, but rather force the teams to spend the time developing the young talent better, giving them valuable seat-time to make them better when they get to Cup and their not rushed.

Since it's a roller coaster with the talent when they don't preform too expectations they are released, these teams replace them with another young driver and repeat the process over again.

Now if a driver is already over 21, then run a limited a schedule in both series, show success like Speed did in 2008 in trucks and prove their worth.

3.) NASCAR could use the series to it's potentially by getting the CWEWS, ARCA Re/Max, even some of the dirt series, more involved in the series. Then encourage the Nationwide and Cup teams with a struggling driver to add some truck races to give them more seat time.

Even get some of the older veterans who just seem to log laps in Cup to move to the series and even some of the drivers without a job to switch to the series. Make it that it's not a demotion since all three series are treat as a equal by NASCAR.

4.) Get Fox, ESPN/ABC, and TNT to show the highlights from the truck races during the pre-race show and talk with the race winner. They might add more fans by doing that, plus give the fans who can't afford Speed a chance to follow the races through the season.

The bottom line with the Camping World Truck Series is it's been hit hard by the economy my choice for the series would be don't mess with the great pit stops and rather see them change the engines.

I do agree with a comment made by Kyle Petty, that during the 2009 NASCAR season the sport would see race fans going to races were they can travel to and from the track in the same day.

I tried to make it flow, steer it away from being a rant hopefully I accomplished that.

Here's a link so you can see who's in and who's out in the trucks for the 2009 season.

Sources: Scenedaily.com, espn.com, foxsport.com, sportmedia.blogspot.com, dalyplanet.blogspot.com and truckseries.com