GM Has Cutting Remarks For NASCAR
By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
The new General Motors will emerge from Chapter 11 bankruptcy with a significantly reduced financial stake in NASCAR.
GM announced Friday it has cut off funding to its Chevrolet Racing teams in NASCAR’s Nationwide and Camping World Truck series, according to several published reports. Among the affected organizations are Kevin Harvick Inc. and JR Motorsports.
“Chevrolet’s involvement in racing is a sound business decision that translates directly into the sale of cars and trucks,” GM said in a statement. “It is essential, however, that we continue to look at every penny we spend as General Motors takes the necessary steps to become a leaner company with a significantly stronger balance sheet.
“While Chevy Racing is talking to its business partners about ways to reduce cost and maximize the return on investment, it is our policy to not talk about the details of business relationships with our partners.”
Meanwhile, GM’s Sprint Cup teams spent Friday at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Mich., awaiting word on possible cutbacks in NASCAR’s premier series.
“I think we all have been watching and waiting to see the reaction and I think it’s no surprise that there are going to be big cutbacks,” said Jeff Gordon, a four-time Cup Series champion and partner with Rick Hendrick in Hendrick Motorsports.
“As a dealer as well as a race car driver,” Gordon said, “we’re doing everything we can to keep our business going strong and doing everything we can to support them (GM) in the decisions that they’re making so that we see a great company, whether it’s smaller than it was before or not, come out of it with continued good products out there and giving the customers what they want as well as thinking that NASCAR racing is important to them from a marketing standpoint.
“So, you know they’re going to make cutbacks and it’s unfortunate for those that have to deal with that. We’re involved with that with the Nationwide Series with JR Motorsports and Hendrick Motorsports being involved with that. So, it’s unfortunate, but those guys have to make decisions and do the best they can to keep their business and we’re going to stand by them.”
Gordon said he was unsure how the cutbacks might affect Chevy teams in Cup. GM officials are expected to meet with several Cup teams on Wednesday to spell out what cuts, if any, may be in store, according to a report posted on ThatsRacin.com.
“I rely on Rick Hendrick,” said Gordon, driver of the No. 24 DuPont/National Guard Chevrolet Impala SS. “He has his finger on this way better than I do and I’m focused on the driving side of it primarily right now. “Supporting my sponsors, which is also Chevrolet, being a dad and doing what I can for the race team. That is my responsibility. While I touch base with Rick every week to see what is going on, I have my trust in him to stay on top of it and to lead us the way we need to be led.”
Cup regular Kevin Harvick, co-owner of Kevin Harvick Inc., released a brief statement on his situation.
“Kevin Harvick Inc. has lost its manufacturer support,” said Harvick, who along with wife DeLana, fields teams in the Nationwide and Camping World Truck series. “Although this will require some internal restructuring, our commitment to our sponsors to provide the best possible product on the racetrack will not change.” KHI is home to three-time Truck Series champion Ron Hornaday Jr.
General Motors filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last week, triggering a cost-effectiveness evaluation of all its programs, including support of motorsports.
JR Motorsports is co-owned by NASCAR superstar Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Hendrick, who are fielding Brad Keselowski in the Nationwide Series.
“We’ll try to do the best we can to cover the void that (cutback) will create,” said Junior, driver of the No. 88 Amp Energy/National Guard Chevy. “Chevrolet is going through some very challenging times. I had a true understanding that this would be coming down the pipe and they would have to make some adjustments. Every company not only in this sport, but particularly having a company of my own, I’ve had to make adjustments due to how the economy has turned so it wouldn’t be any different for anybody else. I’ve been a loyal supporter of Chevrolet for a very long time and will continue to be. They’ve been a great partner. There are some really, really good friendships there and I hope our relationship will remain strong as they try to rebound.”
A two-time Nationwide Series champion, Junior said he was not particularly concerned about the futures of either the Nationwide or Truck series.
“We’ve been pretty uncertain about the future of that (Nationwide) series for a long, long time,” Junior said. “Obviously the support that Chevy was able to provide us was in a lot of ways a privilege only to a few teams. Not everybody has had that support. You see a lot of the guys that are getting to the racetrack without that kind of manufacturer support and to me it was always a feather in your cap and never taken for granted. We’ll be able to try to do some unique programs with our sponsors and future partners to try to cover that expense. I personally in no way feel like it’s changing my relationship or my perception toward Chevrolet and how I’ll work with them in the future.”
Factory support in NASCAR traditionally has gone to larger, high-profile organizations at the top of the points standings. In the case of GM and Chevrolet, that list currently features Hendrick Motorsports, Richard Childress Racing, Tony Stewart’s first-year Stewart-Haas Racing organization and the merged Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing operation. As NASCAR racing has morphed into the one-size-fits-all manufacturer Car of Today chassis and sheet metal, factory support has concentrated on engine development, parts and money.
Asked specifically about Chevrolet’s level of support in Nationwide, Junior said, “I really don’t know what each program, what their situation was as far as what assistance that Chevrolet was giving them in terms of dollars or wind tunnel time or whatever. But I know that through their manufacturers and their centers up north that we’ll still probably have a lot of engineering data and trade back and forth and we’ll still try to learn a lot of things from them on the engineering side of things. But obviously on the financial side, it is entirely going away, which everybody understands.
“Obviously Chevrolet cares really deeply about this sport and they still are going to maintain some relationships. They still want to see Chevrolets win no matter who’s driving them or who owns them so they’ll still offer quite a bit of support on the engineering and data side to try to improve and help change on aero and the development of better bodies and what-not.”
Junior added the actual percentage of factory support in a typical Nationwide budget is relatively small. And in his case at least, it was built largely upon the brand loyalty begun by Dale’s father, seven-time Cup champion Dale Earnhardt.
“The sponsorships obviously are the biggest part of our budget,” Junior said. “Our relationship with Chevrolet was more just about brand loyalty. I’ve been with them for so long I don’t really think that we even negotiated with them on the manufacturer support. It was just about brand loyalty because we’ve been with them so long and they’ve been such a good company to us. It was a good assistance to our program but it was not a very large portion of our entire funding for the season.
“I would assume for some programs it would be a lot more. For example, maybe (Kevin) Harvick was really dependent upon the manufacturer support, which we were dependent upon it, but we’ll find other ways to make that up. I think it will be pretty feasible to be able to do that.”
Jimmie Johnson, three-time and reigning Cup champion and Junior’s teammate at Hendrick Motorsports, said he was not sure what Friday’s announcement might portend for stock-car racing overall.
“It’s obviously a tough time for GM. It’s a tough time for our country,” said Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevy. “And one thing that I do know is that racing sells cars. And hopefully we can continue to do that for Chevrolet and for GM and go out and win on Sunday and sell on Monday. We also bring a huge level of technology on the safety side for the manufacturers. So hopefully all of that stuff is valuable and as everything is restructured, they are able to direct money into marketing and into racing and keep these teams funded. For a lot of these race teams, the manufacturers’ involvement is a big, big part of their success.”
Jeff Burton, who is Harvick’s Cup teammate at Richard Childress Racing, said he did not have all the details of the cutbacks at his disposal.
“I haven’t had a chance to talk to Richard (Childress) a whole lot about it,” said Burton, driver of the No. 31 Caterpillar Chevy. “But I will tell you that I know Chevrolet is going to do everything that they can to do the best job that they can in motorsports. This is an unprecedented time and in many ways it’s a sad time and in many ways it’s an exciting time. Chevrolet having to pull support is a big deal because so many people rely on them, and they have been such a big part of the series.
“So I don’t know everything I need to know about it to comment a hundred percent, but I can just tell you that in my talks with Chevrolet that they want to do everything they can to stay involved and be a part of the NASCAR deal. And I think they are but they have some tough decisions to make.”
– John Sturbin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org