The Domestic Auto Industry and NASCAR: A Marriage on the Rocks

Charles JohnsonCorrespondent IJune 13, 2009

DETROIT - JUNE 01:  Flags fly in front of General Motors world headquarters at the Renaissance Center on June 1, 2009 in Detroit, Michigan. In the biggest failure of an industrial company in US history car-making giant General Motors has filed for bankruptcy protection; backed by the US Government which is now expected to take a 60 percent stake in the firm. US Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection allows an American company time to restructure its finances while protecting it from it's creditors. (Photo by Michael Heiman/Getty Images)

Growing up on the south side of Chicago, you couldn't swing a dead cat without hitting some sort of factory. At the end of my childhood block was a small steel mill and a couple blocks over was a Dutch Boy Paint factory. Right next to that was an International Harvester plant. About five miles east was a Ford manufacturing plant and another 10 miles south was a Ford stamping plant. This was in the late 1970s.

Today, all that remains in operation is the Ford manufacturing plant—it has a lot less workers and it closes for weeks at a time during slow times.

With the loss of industry, no place has taken it on the chin like the Midwest (Michigan and Ohio in particular), and no industry has been punched in the gut like the auto business. Granted, there was some over production, poorly made cars, bad business practices, and overseas competition that each took swipes at the car business.

But nothing worked the car business over like this current economic condition and one business that will feel the hurt from this situation is NASCAR.

I remember watching NASCAR in the 1980s when Plymouths, Pontiacs, and Buicks were amidst the Chevys and Fords. It was truly win on Sunday, buy on Monday, and you had a lot to choose from in domestic cars that also saw track duty. You had Regals (I still love the Grand National), Grand Prixs, and assorted other models.

It was announced this week that GM let JR Motorsports and Kevin Harvick racing know they are pulling their funding and I'm sure there are more teams to be dropped both in Nationwide as well as Sprint Cup and probably Trucks as well. We've seen other sponsors pull back from racing—heck, current Trucks Championship Johnny Benson is without a ride or a sponsor.

It makes you wonder the future of racing and the auto business. The two have been hand-in-hand for as long as most of us can remember. I recall Richard Petty saying racing started after they finished building the second car.

This will possibly open the door for new automakers to enter NASCAR—maybe Hyundai, Honda, Nissan—who knows, now that Saturn is Penske owned, they may get involved in putting a car on the track and new competition would be good for racing (IRL, LeMans & Rolex all have various manufactures and they do great), and it keeps NASCAR going.

I mean who would have thought 10 years ago that Toyota would not only participate in NASCAR, but put some really competitive cars on the track leaving domestics in the dust.

Still, NASCAR has been the pride and joy of the domestic auto makers, yet Chrysler (Dodge), left NASCAR and then made a comeback a few years ago and though it'S not the same as the days when Richard Petty's No. 43 Plymouth ruled the track, it was nice to see them make a return to the track.

So hopefully in these days of what seems like Detroit shuttin' down, GM's problems won't mean a total exit from the track. Maybe one day they can make a phoenix-like return, not only to the track, but the street as well.

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