In a move sure to spark outrage, the White House announced today that GM and Chrysler must cease participation in NASCAR at the end of the 2009 season if they hope to receive any additional financial aid from the government. Companies around the globe—Honda and Audi, to name two—have drawn down racing operations, and NASCAR itself has already felt the pinch in the form of reduced team spending. A complete withdrawal from America’s premier racing series is expected to save more than $250 million between GM and Chrysler, a substantial amount considering the drastic measures being implemented elsewhere.
“Automakers used to operate on the principle of ‘win on Sunday, sell on Monday,’ but the Auto Task Force’s research just doesn’t validate that as true,” said the statement from President Obama. While fans have decried the Car of Tomorrow for heavily limiting what little personalization the cookie-cutter series had previously allowed to participating manufacturers, and drivers have slammed its brick-like aerodynamics and unpredictable handling, even the governmental oversight committee sees that the full-scale regulation of the cars leaves the manufacturers very little space for research and development. “NASCAR is a racing series that regulates down to the smallest detail of the cars, where a car badged a Chevrolet or Dodge differs only marginally from a Ford or a Toyota. There’s no technological development to speak of.”
The statement goes on further to say the same demand will be made of Ford if it asks for government assistance. “In order to receive this money, corporations must demonstrate they will spend it wisely. Racing has been said to improve on-road technology, but frankly, NASCAR almost flaunts its standing among the lowest-tech forms of motorsport. NASCAR is not proven to drive advancements that transfer from the racetrack to the road, and this nation’s way forward does not hinge on decades-old technology. We need new, and we need innovation.”
The President realizes this will be an unpopular call, but stands behind the decision, saying, “This is an obvious cut to make, but it is not an easy one. This administration is not ignoring the tremendous sentimental value and emotional appeal NASCAR holds for so many Americans. But now is not the time for sentiment and nostalgia; now is a time for decisive financial action. If our automotive industry is to emerge from this recession intact, then these difficult decisions must be made.”
Both Chevrolet and Dodge see the move as only temporary, and fully expect to resume racing in NASCAR as soon as they have stabilized and the government’s hand in their operations is minimized. “There is nothing really to say at this point,” said one representative, who wished to remain anonymous. “We’ve been doing this since the beginning, and we always assumed we’d be doing this until the end. Heck, nobody ever thought to think that there would be an end. But we ain’t done. As soon as this is over, we’re taking back our spot at the top.”
NASCAR officials remain tight-lipped about the call, but sources say series president Mike Helton and team managers are exploring several options, including other manufacturers to fill Chevrolet and Dodge’s vacated positions. Given the company’s recent interest in motorsport and the steady cash-flow and V-8 engine provided by its new Genesis sedan, sources indicate that NASCAR is pinging Hyundai to gauge the Korean company’s interest in occupying a spot in NASCAR. “Toyota was not well-received their first year in the sport, nor was their first season an easy one,” the source says. “But they learned, they applied the lessons, and they have proven very competitive this year.”
If Hyundai does indeed join the series, there will no doubt be a steep learning curve, and the move would leave Ford the lone domestic battling a pair of Asian makes in America’s most popular racing series. We wonder, however, how long NASCAR could hold that title without two of its most storied participants.