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Minter: In NASCAR, Parkers Keep Cash And Clunkers

Rick Minter | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, August 7 2009
Joe Nemechek and his car have parked 15 times before the ends of races this season.  (Photo by John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Joe Nemechek and his car have parked 15 times before the ends of races this season. (Photo by John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR)

By Rick Minter | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

When it comes to personal vehicles, I’ve always tended to adopt the same philosophy as the start-and-park teams in NASCAR. The goal is to try to remain in the transportation game but have as many dollars as possible left over at the end of the day.

My cars won’t ever win any trophies at car shows or put on any displays of horsepower on the highways.

I’m more likely the guy you’ll see with his windows down in the summertime, trying to get a fresh whiff of air into a car with a long-dead AC system. I’m the one with the “Check Engine” light permanently lit, and the radio that only picks up nearby FM stations.

My last car carried battle scars for years from an incident near Lowe’s Motor Speedway. The other party’s insurance company paid me two grand for the damage. I put the check in the bank, got out a hammer and beat the fenders away from the tires and was back on the road again. The car wasn’t a pretty sight – duct tape and dents never are – but the bank balance sure was.

But on Monday, my frugality finally caught up with me.

Riding up the road on a routine errand, the old beast lost power. After 308,500 miles, she would barely make 35 miles per hour.

I was able to nurse it into the local Ford dealership, which mercifully was at the bottom of a hill, which gave me enough momentum to coast into a parking spot.

I went inside and signed up for the Cash for Clunkers program. The dealership will destroy my old car, and I got a shiny new pickup, which was affordable thanks to the latest government program.

I assumed the Cash for Clunkers program was bringing poor people out of the woodwork. I was wrong. The sales manager said only those people with good enough credit to buy a new vehicle anyway were taking advantage of the program.

That brought to mind another cash for clunkers program that doesn’t produce the expected results – NASCAR’s start and park payoff plan.

But unlike the government program, NASCAR’s cash for clunkers plan doesn’t require back markers to relinquish their cars to collect the bonus.

They get to clunk along in the same old car and still collect a pretty good check.

It’s pretty good money in Cup. Seven starters at Pocono on Monday ran less than 40 laps before parking, and they earned about $65,000 apiece. A.J. Allmendinger ran all 200 laps and got $72,750, not nearly enough difference to cover the tire bill, wear and tear on the engine and the cost of having a real pit crew on hand.

It’s happening in every major NASCAR division, even the comparatively low paying Camping World Truck Series. In Saturday’s truck race at Nashville, six starters ran 10 laps or less before pulling in, earning about $6,900 apiece. David Starr ran all 154 laps and earned $9,930, a difference of about $3,000. That’s less than the cost of two sets of tires.

If President Obama and his friends in Washington had come up with a NASCAR-like Cash for Clunkers plan that paid me to keep clunking along in my old car, being the penny pincher that I am, I’d still be riding in it. But that’s not the way the program works, and now after 37 years of driving I have my first new truck.

Realistically, NASCAR can’t make teams and drivers race, but they can be like the folks in Washington and change the rules enough to make them want to try.

– Rick Minter can be reached at rminter@racintoday.com

Rick Minter | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, August 7 2009
One Comment

One Comment »

  • Terrell Davis says:

    Hey Rick,
    Since it’s tax money that is supposedly helping pay for your new ride and I’m a taxpayer, the next time your in Nashville, I want to drive your truck for a few minutes. I feel like I own part of it and about 50,000 other vehicles thanks to the clunker program.
    Since the truck fields are way short this year, maybe NASCAR will allow you to start and park your new ride. I mean a few start and parks along with the “free” government doe and your truck will be paid for in no time at all!