Woody: Baker Says Racing Climate Is ‘Brutal”
By Larry Woody | Senior Writer
Nashville – Gary Baker has had experience hitting hard walls.
During his driving days he once cracked the concrete at Talladega at over 200 mph.
Now Baker, speaking as a team owner, says stock car racing has hit an equally hard economic wall. He’s not sure when – or if – it will recover from the jolt.
“I’ve been involved in this sport for 40 years as a driver, track owner, marketing official and team owner,” says Baker, a Nashville attorney and co-owner of Baker Curb Racing. “It’s worse than bad. It’s brutal.”
Baker lost long-term sponsor Kimberly Clark at the end of last season along with veteran driver Jason Keller. He has signed Greg Biffle to drive a partial schedule in the Nationwide Series and is unsure about the remainder of the season.
Baker and other Nationwide team owners are struggling to survive in NASCAR’s second-tier series that is being smothered by Sprint Cup interlopers.
Cup drivers win all the championships and most of the races. They drain off the prize money and leave Nationwide regulars scratching for crumbs and leftovers. But Baker – who himself hired a Cupper for part-time duty – explained that sponsors like the idea of star drivers like Biffle in their cars. Nowadays what sponsors want, sponsors get.
NASCAR continues to twiddle its thumbs while the series collapses before its eyes.
“Anyone can see what the problems are,” says Baker who for years has lobbied to limit Cup-driver participation in Nationwide races. “You bet it’s frustrating.”
The presence of Cup stars boosts Nationwide media coverage and TV rating and helps sell tickets. But to what avail if it eventually kills the series?
Teams like Baker’s are hanging on by their fingernails, struggling to run part-time schedules with dwindling resources.
Baker has seen hard racing times in the past; he owned Nashville’s Fairgrounds Speedway during its glory years but saw the track’s fate sealed when the city let its two Cup races get away in 1984. He has landed sponsors and lost sponsors. He has worked tirelessly to help son Brad get his racing career off the ground.
He knows that frustration and setbacks are part of the sport, but he’s never seen a climate as grim as the current one.
So why does he press on, spending millions in hopes of finishing 10th on a good day?
“I’ve always been an optimist,” Baker says. “I got it from my dad who taught me to look on the bright side of things. I don’t see much sunshine right now but I’m not ready to give up. There’s always tomorrow.”
– Larry Woody can be reached at email@example.com Comments