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Pedley: Bigger Money For Winning? Check, Please!

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, February 4 2011

It was big fun for fans when Bill Elliott won his million back in 1985, but would modern fans be entertained by similar rewards today? (Photo by RacingOne/Getty Images)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

Bruton Smith has come up with a lot of good ideas over the years. The one he offered up at the NASCAR Media Tour last week was not one of them. Rather than heal what ails the Sprint Cup Series, the idea would infect an already red and painful wound.

Smith, the CEO of Speedway Motorsports Inc,. said cash will solve the problem of stagnating interest in NASCAR. Cash to teams and drivers. Lots of it.

“(We need) a big difference between first and second place,” Smith said during a tour stop at sponsoring Charlotte Motor Speedway, the hub of Smith’s racing empire. “As a race fan, I’m going to get very interested. What if it is a $400,000 difference between first and second? You know there’s going to be a fight to the finish on that one.

“These race fans deserve that. All of a sudden, points play second fiddle to that. That’s what I would like to see. Then I wouldn’t have to worry about the points. I don’t care what you do with the points.

“We can cure this whole thing with the purse. Follow the money. These race drivers will follow the money.”

Yes, championship points have come to overshadow winning in NASCAR. But, I have problems with Mr. Smith’s plan on a couple of levels.

First, most of the teams and drivers who have legitimate shots at winning races, already have money. Lots of money. Enough money that offering an extra half million or, even, million, is not going to get them to race any harder.

Drivers, these days, are already multi millionaires. Sixteen drivers earned $5 million or more – just in

Dale Earnhardt didn't drive his guts out for the money. (Photo courtesy of NASCAR)

prize money – last season. Thirty-one earned $2 million or more.

They have all the toys; the boats, cars, airplanes, big houses. Their futures are assured and their families’ futures are assured.

This is not the 1970s and 1980s when drivers like Bobby Allison and Jimmy Means and Dave Marcis were hanging it out just to put tires on their cars and food on their tables.

And, thankfully, this isn’t stick-and-ball where the athletes compete only for money; where they sit around locker rooms and strip clubs and judge each other not by their on-field stats but on how much money they have squeezed out of fans.

(I’ll let you in on a little secret: Been in more than a few locker rooms in my time and can tell you stick-and-ball pros don’t care about winning and losing nearly as much as their fans, and, not nearly as much as the media would have you believe. And it’s because of money.

Seriously, look around after an NFL game or Major League game or NBA game. You don’t see the losers kicking chairs and slamming helmets into the ground very often. You see them smiling, laughing, fist bumping the other team’s players. In locker rooms, they get dressed and it’s over. It’s tough to get really, really angry after a loss when you know what wonderful things are waiting for you once you leave the arena behind.)

NASCAR drivers, thankfully, have not reached that point yet. Jeff Burton crashes out at Texas and he starts kicking his car. Thoughts of bigger checks missed are not going to cause him to kick any harder or any less hard.

Second, I think offering huge purses to drivers will serve to offend racing fans. Especially the old-schoolers. Especially in these times.

I get a lot of mail, and I read a lot of comments, from fans who are becoming turned off by the current lifestyles of some modern drivers.

NASCAR fans, particularly, trend toward being working stiffs. North and South. They work with their hands and backs. They flocked to racing in the past, in part, because those who populated the shops and garages came from similar backgrounds and held similar world views.

There weren’t many among those fans who stood and held up three fingers on the third laps of

Jeff Burton was angry about money lost at Talladega last year. (Photo by John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR)

races after the tragedy of Daytona in 2001 who didn’t know all about Dale Earnhardt’s mill-town roots and family work ethic.

Fans don’t begrudge a driver or an owner for making a decent living, or even a very comfortable living. But some have had enough of post-race talk of private jets and cool cribs.

Telling NASCAR Nation they wish the season was shorter so they could get the hell down to Aruba earlier is poor ambassador ship in a time where millions of fans can only wish they had a job that ate up 40 weeks of their year.

Back in 2008, when the economy fell into the abyss and teams began laying off employess en masse, I talked to a crew member for one of the big teams. Former, crew member, that is.

I talked to him the same week that the guy he used to bust knuckles for was on an episode of “Cribs”. The driver beamed and swaggered as he gave the camera crew and host the grand tour.

The former crew member and his wife broke down as they watched.

My guess is, some of the fans who can no longer afford to take their families to races are less than thrilled with the thought that a driver who makes $5 million a year would drive extra hard just to pick up an extra $400 K on Sunday.

If NASCAR and tracks and promotors and sponsors are so flush with cash that they can shovel more money at drivers and teams, then they may want to consider redirecting it toward fans.

How about $10 tickets, $2 beer, $1 hot dogs and soft drinks? How about t-shirts and hats for $5?

Want to fill up the grandstands every week? Get a family of four in and fed and entertained and out for under $50.

My guess is that that is a change that fans could believe in. And that drivers would like to see, as well.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, February 4 2011
4 Comments

4 Comments »

  • Andy D says:

    The fact that it’s profitable to build a car, haul it to the track and park it after ten laps tells me that there’s already enough money in Sprint Cup. Give the extra money to the Modified drivers, they can use it.

    There’s no reason that anyone in the USA can’t live on a million bucks a year. Money has ruined professional sports.

  • Russ Edwards says:

    Good points. While I may be slightly premature it seems that Nascar and the teams are painting themselves into a box. The information society we live in is showing some of the disconnect. People are now able to see that the drivers and team owners have little if anything in common with the people paying the bills. And perhaps the more thoughtful question the constant talk of the expense of racing, and ask themselves what the flat screen in the “war wagon” has to do with lap times. In fact there seems to be no end to the ability to get the newest shiny toy. At the same time insinuating that the problems in racing are because the fans aren’t willing to spend enough money.
    And who can overlook the constant stream of new decorating schemes (its no longer paint you know) to sell a few more diecast models.

    Oh well, we will see how it turns out.

  • Steveo says:

    Good article. Let me add to it as well. Another reason adding to a race purse is not going to get them to run any harder is because there is a bigger pot to race for at the end of the season. Its also a reason why points racing is so predominant each weekend. What’s 400,000 when you can get at least 4 million plus at the end of the season (ballpark figures). How much did Jimmie get for winning the championship last year? Far more than a bunch of race wins would pay.

  • Terry says:

    Being a long time KC Star reader and Royal fan…..I truly believe every word you wrote. The TV money and sponsorships make the purses almost meaningless. That same money makes the fans almost irrelevant except for advertisement dynamics.
    The fans don’t want to hear about the team’s owners – drivers etc. NEW FREAKING JET…
    That is why I say it would be huge for a small team to pick up a win this year. Fans would go nuts. Even though their guy lost they would happy to see David kick Goliath in the noogies….
    And sane prices at the tracks on concessions would help a parent pass on the tradition to the next generation.