Since the early days of NASCAR, the Detroit automakers have been tied very tightly to the growth and success of the sport. Over the years, NASCAR has shown itself to be a testing ground for new technologies, as well as an arena for corporate bragging rights.
It has been estimated that these three companies spend in the neighborhood of $150 million each, annually, on their NASCAR endeavors. At this time, how can the companies afford this? Ford Motor Company posted a loss of $1.6 billion for North American operations in 2005. General Motors announced a $323 million loss for the first quarter of 2006. In a time when the companies are slashing the workforce to remain solvent, spending this money on auto racing is a luxury that they cannot afford.
Kyle Petty and Brett Bodine put two Cars of Tomorrow on the track for the first time at Daytona (Rusty Jarrett / Getty Images)
NASCAR has been living large off the Detroit car companies' cash trough for so long now that they don't even care anymore, as all sense of reality left the NASCAR offices in Daytona Beach and New York long ago. The NASCAR attitude goes something like this: If a Detroit manufacturer drops out, it's "whatever" - because Toyota is stepping up to the plate. And if another manufacturer drops out, no worries, because eventually we'll just market our own NASCAR "Specials" and then we won't have to pay any manufacturer rights fees ever again.
This course of action is what is appearing to happen now, anyway.
NASCAR has, as of late, been giving a serious push, both in financial investment and in testing, to its own �Car of Tomorrow.� The Car of Tomorrow is NASCAR�s new �spec� car: a vehicle that takes NASCAR�s template philosophy to the next level. Each team would drive the same vehicle, a move which would eliminate teams from complaining about another teams �unfair advantage.�
The Car of Tomorrow is not a Chevy. It�s not a Ford. It�s not a Dodge. Any connection to what the manufacturers are producing has been well and truly broken. The connection was broken long ago (does Tony Stewart�s car resemble a Monte Carlo you or I could buy from a Chevy dealer?), but the manufacturers have been clinging to a shred of a connection and amusing themselves with the annual massaging of their various models' grille openings, nose shapes and headlight decals.
The Big Three�s NASCAR involvement has done more for NASCAR than anything else. NASCAR exists for its benefit and profitability first and foremost - everything else is secondary to that fundamental premise. The relentless hype of NASCAR and its sponsors by NASCAR itself and its enablers at the TV networks has resulted in dramatically diminished returns for the participating manufacturers - and pretending that NASCAR's popularity has done wonders for these car companies in the showrooms amounts to the Big Lie. The fact is that while there has been a large increase in the popularity of NASCAR over the last ten years, there has been just as dramatic of a decrease in the participating domestic manufacturers� sales fortunes. And there's not one NASCAR-sponsored survey that can possibly suggest otherwise, no matter how hard they try to "cook" the numbers.
Unlike the old days of racing, today�s NASCAR is really not about the car, anyway: it�s all about the driver. No longer is it Ford vs. Chevy, it�s Carl Edwards vs. Stewart. Think that perception is not true? Think about this: Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Jeff Gordon, Jeff Burton, and Terry Labonte all have very different fan bases, but yet they are all driving Monte Carlos.
It is time for Ford, General Motors, and DaimlerChrysler to take the blinders off and realize that the blind devotion to all things NASCAR must come to a stop. NASCAR can survive without their involvement, and these companies need to stop letting NASCAR continue to bleed them dry.
In other words, Ford, GM, and DaimlerChrysler need to take that $150 million that was previously earmarked for NASCAR, and put it to better use.