Wednesday
Jan132010

"Business as usual" will no longer apply...

When it comes to one manufacturer’s relationship with NASCAR.
We’ve been down this road before. I reported several years ago (beginning in 2006) that the “automatic” funding for NASCAR racing and promotional programs by the Detroit manufacturers was coming under severe scrutiny - which they were - and that one could easily envision a scenario where one or more of the Detroit automakers would eventually be forced to pull out. And that was even long before the financial roof caved in on Detroit in 2009 forcing two of what was left of the Not So Big Three to declare bankruptcy.

Peter M. De Lorenzo is a national columnist who founded Autoextremist.com, a highly-regarded website devoted to news, commentary and analysis of the auto industry. He is considered to be one of the most influential voices commenting on the business today.Then I reported that at the 2008 Brickyard 400 weekend the powers that be at NASCAR were given a clear warning by representatives of the domestic manufacturers that the gravy train was not only heading to its last roundup, but that the whole damn thing could jump the tracks at any moment and they needed some relief, and in a hurry too. NASCAR, of course, reacted predictably by mumbling a few platitudes in person and then following up with some back-patting sessions later, carefully avoiding the manufacturers as a group (NASCAR minions know it’s better to divide the manufacturers in order to conquer them, after all). In other words, they did absolutely nothing.

Subsequently - as has been well-documented by myself and other NASCAR beat reporters like the excellent Nate Ryan from USA Today - Detroit NASCAR marketing budgets were indeed slashed, and NASCAR has been reeling ever since from a combination of that and the piss-poor economy, dramatically declining in-person attendance numbers, plummeting TV ratings and decimated souvenir sales revenue. In other words, the shit has hit the proverbial fan, and in spite of NASCAR relentlessly trying to put a “glass half-full” face on things, it ain’t working.

And now, NASCAR is in the crosshairs once again. Only this time it’s not a loose band of disgruntled Detroit marketing mavens tired of the NASCAR stranglehold on their marketing dollars who are on the muscle to finally break the France family cabal. (Those types ultimately don’t matter as they are easily deflected and neutered by the Daytona Beach posse.) No, this time we’re talking about someone who is at the very top of one of the domestic manufacturers, someone with a battle-tested engineering background and someone who is not only disgusted and fed-up with what NASCAR has become, but who is mad as hell that his company continues to waste millions on an enterprise that he feels offers little meaningful return on investment. Like “zero,” as he put it.

After engaging in a casual but wide-ranging conversation with this executive recently, it is clear to me that a new era is about to begin in terms of this company’s relationship with NASCAR. And how that relationship will fundamentally change and what the expectations will be going forward could very well mean dramatic and all-encompassing changes for NASCAR, or else. (Not to mention the sweeping changes within his own racing organization to root out people who are reluctant to “get it.”)

I will have more on this in the coming weeks, but suffice to say when this executive goes down to Daytona Beach for the “500” in February he won’t be bearing gifts and good tidings of great joy. He will instead unload a portfolio of deep, fundamental changes that he expects NASCAR to not only embrace, but that they will set into motion with alacrity and positive energy. And he’s going to spread his word to the other manufacturers as well.

And the myriad changes that this executive is going to dump on NASCAR’s lap at Daytona in February? They can be summed up in one word: Relevance.

And if these substantive changes and improvements aren’t embraced - and made - you can expect that this manufacturer will announce the winding down of its relationship with NASCAR in short order.

Business as usual? Not anymore. Not even close, in fact.

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