Friday, January 19, 2018

Spade Racing Films 6 for 6: An Offseason Documentary Series--…And The Horse He Raced In On


(a man turns on the lights in an old Nascar garage.  He begins slowly walking through it.  Eventually it become apparent its former driver and current broadcaster Phil Parsons)

Phil Parsons (voiceover, as he looks around with a contemplative look on his face): “I’m proud of what I accomplished in my career, as a driver, owner, and a broadcaster.  But I always go back to that day at Dover Downs in 1994 when—(jump cut to intense sounds of football tackles)—the Canadian Football League invaded.”
Available at any farmers'
market in Middle River

(stock footage of football players practicing appears on-screen.  All of a sudden, a stock car races through the practice field, leaving the players befuddled.  The car leaves “And The Horse He Raced In On” in mud-tracks on the field).

Scott Hill (author, When The Colts Left Baltimore: 20+ Years of Whining): “The Colts had left Baltimore in the middle of the night in 1984, there was a USFL team here for a quick minute, then everyone seemed to want to move to Baltimore, but only used it as a ruse to get a better stadium lease from their own home city.”

Phil Parsons (retired Nascar driver, long-suffering broadcaster): “I’d come down south in ’82 to join my brother Benny, I’d had some success in Nascar, won a race in Cup, but by the 90’s I was trying to reestablish myself in what was then called the Busch Series.”

Scott Hill: “Baltimore lost out on the NFL expansion derby of the 90’s, and it seemed like there’d never be football again in Baltimore.  Then, all of a sudden, here comes the Canadian Football League.”

Steffy Jordan (co-director of marketing, Baltimore CFL Colts): “The Baltimore CFL Colts franchise got a LOT of positive reaction when we started out, but we knew that we’d have to appeal to a larger fanbase than just football fans in the city of Baltimore.”

Phil Parsons: “Things were going well for us, we’d just won the race at Charlotte the week before, and we had an open race for sponsorship the following week at Dover.”

Steffy Jordan: “We decided to use our resources the way anyone else in our shoes would—by sponsoring someone in a Nascar race three hours away.  Well, four hours if you include traffic on the Bay Bridge.”

Scott Hill: “All of a sudden you have this strange combination—a CFL franchise, sticking it to the NFL, and a driver in Nascar, a sport that was just starting to assert itself on the national stage.  It really made for some natural, manufactured drama, and left a pretty big impression on some of the fans.”

Mike Mackler (writer/webmaster/janitor, Spade Racing): “Yeah, my dad took me to Dover that weekend to catch qualifying.  I remember seeing that Baltimore CFL Colts car on pit road and thinking, ‘well, that’s one way to spend your money’.  Yeah, I was an insufferable smartass even then.”

Phil Parsons: “We finished in 12th place that day, not exactly the day we were looking for but a decent run nonetheless.”

Steffy Jordan: “There was a BIG response to that car—lots of people calling in the next day.  Of course were we closed the next day—it was a Sunday—but still, our answering machine was filled-up when we came into work on Monday.”

Scott Hill: “The Baltimore CFL Colts became the Baltimore CFLs, then the Baltimore Football Club, then the Baltimore Stallions, and they only lasted two seasons, but their legacy, more than anything, was showing the appeal of crossover promotion between the football world and Nascar.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. (retired Nascar driver, mayonnaise connoisseur): “Yeah, we were gonna run that Philadelphia Eagles car last year, but it kinda fell apart.  Too bad, as I was really looking forward to scraping it against the wall.  So, what’s this thing about anyways?  The CFL?  Like the lightbulbs?”

Phil Parsons: “I’m glad I left my mark on this sport, and I’m glad that the Baltimore CFL franchise left their mark on the football world.  I’m just glad we could do it together.”


(on screen graphics): “The Baltimore CFL franchise relocated to Montreal after the Cleveland Browns NFL franchise moved to Baltimore—the newly-christened Alouettes continue succeed both on and off the field.  Steffy Jordan currently works as a community liaison for the Baltimore Blast indoor soccer franchise.  Scott Hill is working on his latest book ‘When The Bullets Left Baltimore: 50+ Years of Not Caring’.  Phil Parsons works for FS1 as a broadcast partner of longtime furniture enthusiast Michael Waltrip.”

Friday, January 12, 2018

Spade Racing Films 6 for 6: An Offseason Documentary Series--Brian France: Softball, Hard Knocks (Part 2)



Phil Brown: “I hold here in my hands the rulebook from the 1980 season—as you can see, its not a book, its just a mimeographed sheet listing the schedule and a few regulations.  Here is the rulebook from 1981 when Brian France took over—pretty hefty, isn’t it?”

Jarrod Hampton: “We all got these copies of the new rule book, and our eyes just bugged out—what was the point of all this?”

Mike Calloway: “So here’s what we had now—you couldn’t score more than five runs in an inning.”
Brown: (reading from the rulebook) “All teams must abide by the run limiting rule of no more than five runs per inning, so as to maintain competitive balance.”

Sean Treadwell: “Instead of wins and losses, we had this points system that would determine the standings.”

Brown: (reading) “Teams shall receive 10 points for winning a game, as well as a bonus point for every inning they win.”

Hampton: “Wasn’t there something about later games being worth more than the others?”

Brown: (reading, incredulously): “After the season is 3/4s over, all games will be worth double-points, although inning-points will remain the same.”

Calloway: (stares at camera exasperated)

Brown: “This was all to run a six-team softball league.  You know, for people to HAVE FUN.”

Treadwell: “Everybody was asking me why Brian was doing all this—they were asking ME because once the season started, we basically didn’t see Brian again.”

Hampton: “Brian was running the thing, and he was still paying athletic field fees on time, so he WAS actually running it, but we’d never see him at games.”

Brown: “There were all sorts of rumors—some people were saying that he’d resign because he’d broken up with his girlfriend.  Some people were talking about drugs being involved.  One guy called him ‘a hands-off control freak’, that pretty well summed it up.”

Hampton: “What was REALLY strange was that all our games were now being broadcast on tv.”

Treadwell: “Yeah, TV, that was Brian’s idea.  The campus had a public access student station and he arranged for all our games to be broadcast on it.  Of course, once we started doing that, we had to finish all our games in under two hours to fit the timeslot, and sometimes we’d take breaks between outs just to let them play commercials.”

Calloway: “I missed a game once with a head cold and I watched it on that student station in my dorm—I’ve never seen so many commercials in my life.  And all for the same four companies too!”

Brown: “I heard he was even trying to have all six teams play at the same time in the championship game.  I don’t know if that was true or not, but I wouldn’t have put it past him.”

Hampton: “After that ’81 season, nobody really wanted to play that kind of softball anymore.  It just seemed like all those changes, everybody just lost interest.”

Calloway: “I graduated after that year, but I heard that virtually nobody returned for the league in ’82.”

Treadwell: “Most of the players gravitated to other sports—a few went to football, some went to soccer, but nobody wanted to play softball anymore—or watch it, for that matter.”


Brown: “That year really killed the league.  Its a shame, because how many times do you hear about a college intramural league dying out?  Well, then again, my cousin went to college in Indiana, and he said some guy split the entire basketball league down the middle over what kind of surface they played on.”

Friday, January 5, 2018

Spade Racing Films 6 for 6: An Offseason Documentary Series--Brian France: Softball, Hard Knocks (Part 1)


Part 1

(we open with an early-80’s song playing in the background, as a number of men in their mid-50’s are mic’d up and seated in a chair.  A University of Central Florida (UCF) logo is backlit behind them)

Voices, blending into each other: “We were a bunch of teenagers and twenty-somethings, so wanted to have some fun…how hard can it be to run a softball league…he wanted to run it, so we let him…we figured he’d know how to since he came from money…it got so confusing you couldn’t figure out what was going on…eventually it all just fell apart”

(title shot: “Softball, Hard Knocks appears on the screen, followed by a nameless player sliding across, revealing “Brian France” above it)
Nice to see the school recovered

Phil Brown, Electrical Engineer, UCF Class of 1983: “My freshman year, I got roped into playing intramural softball by my roommate.  I hadn’t played much of anything like that since Little League, but it turned out to be a great way to get some exercise, blow off some steam, and meet up with some great people once or twice a week.”

Jarrod Hampton, English Teacher, UCF Class of 1982: “Yeah, that softball league at Central Florida was fun.  Just a bunch of guys having a good time, chilling out, having a few beers afterwards.  Some of my best college memories comes form those days on the diamond.”

Mike Calloway, Restauranteur, UCF Class of 1981: “I played in the intramural league all four years.  The problem was always trying to find a guy to run the dang thing.  I mean, it wasn’t that hard to schedule half-a-dozen teams for three months, but it definitely got in the way of school work, or social work (laughs).”

Sean Treadwell, Personal Trainer, UCF Class of 1982: “I ran the softball league at UCF in ’80, but I really wanted to focus on my Kinesiology work for 1981—just play and have fun, you know?  Well, out of nowhere, my roommate tells me ‘There’s this guy in my marketing class who wants to run your league, his name is Brian France’.”

Calloway: “My dad lived in Daytona Beach at the time, so I recognized the ‘France’ name pretty quickly.  Sean asked me what I thought of him, and I was honest, I said, ‘I had a Psych 101 with him, and he seemed pretty cool’, and of course coming from a family like that didn’t hurt matters either.”

Brown: “So we show up for the annual sign-up meeting—remember, this is before Facebook and the Internet—and we find out this new guy, Brian France, is running the league that year.  Seemed strange to me, to have a non-player running a softball league, but hey—if he was willing to put the work in, more power to him.”

Treadwell: “He leaned on me pretty heavy to get through the annual draft and to figure out the scheduling part of things with reserving the fields, but pretty soon after that he wanted to do things his own way.  He kept talking about ‘shaking things up’, and I could never figure out why someone would want to change things on a league that’s already working fine.”

Hampton: “We’d always have a big get-together the night before the first weekend of games—it was mandatory to attend if you were playing.  Usually, it was just the guy running the league that year telling you when your games were going to be, reminding you of the mercy rule, and telling everyone to have fun.  But the year Brian took over?  Well, that was something else.”

Treadwell: “I introduced Brian to everybody at the inaugural meeting, told them all just to trust him.  Funny thing was, that was a JOKE—I mean, who wouldn’t trust a guy running a league you pay five bucks to join at a college?  Boy, things sure changed that night.”

Calloway: “The stuff that came out of his mouth, I mean, SO many changes…and what for?  I mean, wasn’t this really just changes for the sake of changes?  Who messes with success?”


TUNE IN NEXT WEEK FOR PART 2

Friday, December 29, 2017

Spade Racing’s 2017 Silly Season Recap—100% True, 95% Complete

Dale Jr. stands next to his replacement
driver--Alex Bowman--and replacement
car--the Chevy Camaro.

Spade Racing’s 6 for 6 offseason series returns next week

Happy New Year, everybody!  As we power into 2018, you might be wondering where the dust has settled in arguably the busiest Nascar “Silly Season” in recent memory.  Well, that’s where your good friends—well, ok, friend—at Spade Racing comes in!

WHAT’S THAT ABOUT DALE JR. LEAVING?!?  Yep, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Nascar’s most-popular driver, announced his retirement and has officially driven off into the sunset, minus a few Xfinity Series races over the next year or two.  He’ll be sticking around the sport, however, as an analyst for NBC Sports’ Nascar broadcasts.

WHO ELSE IS GONE?  Matt Kenseth announced mere weeks before the end of the season that, lacking a contending ride for 2018, he’ll be taking this upcoming season off, although one would have to think it would take something crazy to find him back racing in Nascar full-time in 2019.  Meanwhile, Danica Patrick, also lacking a ride for 2018, has announced she will run in the Daytona 500 and Indy 500 next year, then retire from racing.
BIGGEST SCHEDULE CHANGES:
--Daytona starts a week earlier, giving us three off-weekends
--Chicago moves to mid-summer
--New Hampshire loses its 2nd date
--Indy is now the final "regular season" race
--Las Vegas gets a 2nd race, which opens the Playoffs
--Charlotte's Playoff race will be on the "Roval" road course

EARNHARDT JR, KENNETH, EDWARDS, STEWART, GORDON—WHY ARE SO MANY DRIVERS CALLING IT QUITS?  There’s many reasons, but the main one is money—now that the boom period gravy train has derailed, drivers simply aren’t getting paid as well as they once were.  Nascar is much safer than it has ever been, but too many drivers, looking at a secure financial future from shrewd deals in the past, simply don’t want to be risking their health (and lives) for less money.

IS NASCAR’S DOWNTURN IN POPULARITY DUE TO SO MANY BIG-NAME DRIVERS RETIRING, OR ARE SO MANY BIG-NAME DRIVERS RETIRING BECAUSE OF NASCAR’S DOWNTURN IN POPULARITY?  Yes.

OK, OK, SO WHO’S MOVING AROUND FOR 2018?  Glad you asked!  Here’s where everybody’s wound up now that the music has stopped for this season’s game of Musical Racing Seats:
—Erik Jones slides over from the 77 Furniture Row car to take Matt Kenseth’s spot in the 20 Joe Gibbs Racing car.  The 77 team is shutting down with sponsor 5-Hour Energy moving over to Furniture Row’s remaining team, reigning champion Martin Truex Jr.'s 78.
—Alex Bowman moves into Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s former ride, the 88 Nationwide/Axalta car.  Beyond that there’s some car number changes at Hendrick Motorsports—Chase Elliott’s ride will now be the #9 car (in honor of his father), while William Byron moves up to the former #5 car—renumbered to the 24—to compete for Rookie of the Year honors and sponsorship from Liberty U and Axalta.
—Released from the former #5 ride, Kasey Khane moves over to the Leavine Family Racing #95 car.
—LFR’s former driver, Michael McDowell, goes to Front Row Motorsports, where he’ll team with David Ragan, sponsors and number assignments to be determined.  Currently former FRM driver Landon Cassill looks like the “odd man out” without a ride for 2018.
—Kurt Busch looked like he could be leaving Stewart-Haas Racing, but has instead re-upped for another year.
—Aric Almirola takes his talents—and Smithfield sponsorship—from Richard Petty Motorsports to SHR’s #10 ride, formerly that of Danica Patrick.
—After a messy breakup, Smithfield will still support RPM’s famed #43 ride in some form, although not as the primary sponsor.  ROTY-candidate Bubba Wallace Jr. will take over for AA in the 43, which will switch from Ford to Chevy (and an alliance with RCR).
—Speaking of famed rides, the Wood Brothers will have a new driver next year in Paul Menard, who will drive the #21 in 2018.  Ryan Blaney will shift over to the long-dormant third Team Penske car, the #12.
—The only major ride left open as of now is Menard’s former ride, the RCR #27.  It has been linked to Brennan Poole and sponsor DC Solar, but could simply be shuttered for 2018.

WHEW—THAT’S A LOT OF CHANGES.  ANYTHING ELSE I NEED TO KNOW?  All Chevy teams will be running Camaro’s instead of SS’s (EssEssEs?) next year.

HOW ABOUT SPONSORSHIP SHIFTS?  The biggest one, mentioned above, is Smithfield following Aric Almirola to SHR.  Also, Target departed motorsports entirely, with Credit One taking over as the main sponsor of Kyle Larson’s #42 car.  And Brad Keselowski’s #2 car will have sponsorship split relatively evenly into thirds with Miller Lite, Discount Tire, and Alliance Auto Parts.

SO WHO’S LEFT WITH SPONSORSHIP TO FILL?  Well, many announcements could be forthcoming, but right now the biggest teams with major holes appear to be Chip Ganassi Racing with the 42, Joe Gibbs Racing with the 20, Richard Petty Motorsports with the 43, and, depending on how you consider in-house sponsorship, possibly the SHR teams of the 14 and 41.

UGH, OK, TELL ME—WHAT ARE THE RULES CHANGES FOR 2018?  Surprisingly few—there’ll be five men over the wall on pit stops instead of six, but other than that, things are pretty much the same…for now.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Spade Racing Films 6 for 6: An Offseason Documentary Series--Don’t Turn Out That Light: The Last Man at MLC


(Open on a wide-shot of an aging Detroit-area office building at sundown.  The building has a large “RENT/LEASE” sign plastered over what appears to be a 90’s era Chevrolet logo.  As the narration begins, the camera very slowly zooms in onto the only window of the building with the lights on in it)

Narrator: “There’s an old saying—‘Last man out, turn off the lights’.  Well, truth is that in some cases, there’s reasons—usually of the legal variety—when one man has to stay.”

(Switch to an interior of the office building.  Dusty cardboard stand-ups of Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. are piled against a wall in an otherwise unused conference room.  Another switch, to a rust-covered bathroom with a 90’s era Detroit Lions decal on a stall.  Finally, another switch to an office door, with lights on the other side.  We enter, to see a late-middle-aged man working at his desk.)

Narrator: “This is the office of Allen Cathy.  From 1999 until 2009, he helped run GM’s Chevrolet racing division, pumping millions of dollars into race teams like Richard Childress Racing and Hendrick Motorsports.  In 2009, GM entered a government-backed bankruptcy proceeding.  The profitable assets of General Motors was transferred to a ‘NEW’ GM, while the remaining components were kept in what was now know as Motors Liquidation Company.  The bankruptcy judge decreed that someone had to remain at MLC for legal reasons.  This is his story.”

Allen Cathy: “Hi—I’m Allen Cathy, executive director at Motors Liquidation Company, formerly known as General Motors.  Welcome to my world.”

(Title screen ‘Don’t Turn Out That Light: The Last Man at MLC’ appears across a late-90’s-era CRT computer monitor)

(Scene is set in an “interview corner” of Cathy’s office—there’s a framed autographed picture of Dale Earnhardt Sr. on the wall, as well as a random IndyCar diecast car on a small pedestal.)

Cathy: “Well, we did a lot here back when it was the old GM.  We won races, won championships, even established a dynasty with Jeff Gordon.  Not a lot of people know this, but I was one of the first people to suggest hiring Jeff to drive for us.  Back then Ford has all THEIR eggs in the Robby Gordon basket.  Nice to see how that’s turned out for THEM.”

Narrator: (as we see Cathy thumbing through filing cabinets) “Every weekday for the past nine years, minus vacations, Allen Cathy has come in to work at 9am, leaving at 5pm.  He’s the sole employee of this company, one that once employed hundreds of thousands around the world.”

Cathy: (interview corner) “The idea to bring in the Looney Tunes characters, that was all me—the bigwigs had their hearts set on Felix the Cat for some reason, but I convinced them that Dale Earnhardt (Sr.) transforming into the Tasmanian Devil was money in the bank.”

Narrator: (as Cathy eats a small lunch at his desk) “Its often been said that history cannot be bought, sold, or faked.  In that sense, the nearly-century-long history of Chevrolet is not embodied in the company based in the Renaissance Center down the road—its embodied here, by a man who maintains a job that consists almost entirely of archiving files and answering the phone calls of asbestos litigants.”

Cathy: (interview corner) “Nobody knew who Jimmie Johnson was until I put him in front of Rick Hendrick.  That kid was raw—anybody who saw him race for Herzog-Jackson in the Busch (now Xfinity) Series would know that.  But that’s what the sport needed at the time, not some polished pretty-boy who’d spend time every morning manicuring their facial hair.”

Narrator: (as Cathy adjusts a clock on the wall) “‘What’s good for GM is good for the country’, the old idiom supposedly went, but ironically the success of ‘NEW’ GM has pushed the legacy of MLC further from the minds of the public.”

Cathy: (interview corner) “So in 2009 I got reassigned to this place.  I still don’t know why I was moved off of the motorsports division, but one rumor I heard was because I took too much credit for everything, which is funny because I invented telling people that they did that.”

Narrator: (as Cathy sits idly at his desk) “As you watch Kyle Larson competing for another win.  As you drive by a Cadillac dealership on your way home.  As you see a Buick commercial and wonder how the heck they stuck around.  Remember that this all is from a company less than a decade old.  And that 101 years of success, history, and legacy is maintained here, in this office, by Allen Cathy.”


(Fade out over the office building as the single light remains on)

Friday, December 15, 2017

Spade Racing Films 6 for 6: An Offseason Documentary Series--Let’s Go Away


“Hi, I’m Kyle Busch”  “Hi, I’m Austin Dillon”  “Hi, I’m Kyle Larson”  “Hi, I’m Brad Keselowski”  “Hi, I’m Jimmie Johnson”

Narrator: “These drivers don’t have a lot in common, but they do have one common thread

All Drivers In Unison: “Hi, I’m a Nascar driver, and I was inspired by Daytona USA!”

(Daytona USA theme starts as “attract mode” screen is shown) “Doo doo doodoo doodoo doodoo DOO DOOOOOOO DayyyyyTONNNNNAHHHHHH!!! DayyyyTONNNNAHHHHH lets go away…”
(Title screen is shown)

Kyle Busch: “When I was growing up my brother would take me to the mall.  He’d go to hit on some girls over at the weapons store and leave me at the arcade with five dollars in quarters.  I used to play NBA Jam or Virtua Fighter, but then one day that Daytona USA console showed up.  Just think what might have happened otherwise. (image shown of Kyle Busch’s head superimposed on a basketball player’s body)  Before then, racing was just something my dad and my brother did on the weekends.  But from the moment I put in that first dollar’s worth of quarters, I knew that racing was something I could do, and do as much as I wanted to, no matter what.”

Austin Dillon: “I remember seeing a Daytona USA console for the first time, oddly enough, at Daytona USA, the old exhibit they had down at the track in the 90’s.  I guess you could say my introduction to the game was just like anybody else’s—I played it once, said I thought it was cool, and next thing you know it, my pop-pop has a four-seat unit shipped to my parents’ house for my birthday. (image shown of Austin Dillon’s head on a kid’s body, a clipart party hat cocked at an angle)  It was great because before, to me, racing was what my my dad did with my pop-pop watching his every move.  Now, pop-pop was focusing his attention on ME, making sure I never screwed up, and was always learning about what it meant to be a racer.  You know, I still have that unit today (shot of a Daytona USA unit in a ‘man cave’, with one seat well-worn, the other three in pristine condition).”

Kyle Larson: “Daytona USA—well, to be honest, i didn’t really play it that much.  I think my dad played it with me a few times when I was really little, but by the time I can remember going to the mall with my mom, the arcade was replaced by a Chipotle.  (image shown of Kyle Larson in cartoon form showing up at a mall, seeing “ARCADE CLOSED” sign, and walking off despondently).  In fact, I’ve never really been much for video games at all.  I thought most people knew that—why am I being interviewed for this?  Oh, wait, *I* get it—you think just because I’m part-Japanese, that I’m really into video games?  Huh?  Well I’m sick and tired of that stereotype!!!  I grew up like a redneck and spent every waking hour on the track, not watching anime or having Pokemon battles!  And another thing—“

Brad Keselowski: “Growing up in racing, we weren’t like most families.  I knew I’d go down to a restaurant down the block with a little ‘arcade’ section and play Daytona USA till I ran out of money.  I earned myself quite a reputation down there, taking on all challengers for the title of ‘Jerry’s Grill & Sports Bar Daytona USA Champion’. (image shown of Brad holding up an animated championship belt as an unseen crowd cheers)  Yep, me and some stranger would sit down, start the race, and just go back and forth.  He’d say something about my car looking slow, and I’d say something about how the general acceptance by most of the public of an omniscient being makes free will truly an illusion.  He’d ask me what my problem was, and I’d say that it’s wondering how we can go on knowing that there are likely whole other planes of existence and consciousness yet to be explored by man.  Funny thing was, win or lose, they’d never want to play me again."

Jimmie Johnson: “It’s funny—when I first moved to North Carolina to pursue my dream of being a Nascar driver, it was hard to meet new people.  So on Friday nights when I didn’t have a race to run, I’d go down to a mall near my condo and just play Daytona USA for an hour or so.  It gave me a chance to clear my head, think things through, kind of like what running and biking does for me now (image of Jimmie’s head on a cartoon body in a Daytona USA console, steering with his arms but pedaling a bike with his feet).  You know, the strange thing was, I’d always see Ray Evernham down at that mall too.  It was kinda weird, I mean, him being a world champion crew chief around a bunch of teenagers, but he’d always say he was ‘scouting for his next project’.  Me being a nobody trying to become a somebody, I’d ask if he was looking for a driver, but apparently he was only looking for female drivers for some reason."

Narrator: “Daytona USA—one of the most-popular, most-successful, and most-influential video games of all-time, especially amongst Nascar’s ‘Young Gun’ crowd.  Well, most of them.”


Chase Elliott: “I wasn’t allowed to play Daytona USA—my dad made me play Bill Elliott’s Fast Tracks on a Game Boy.  I kept telling him that nobody HAD Game Boys anymore, but he really wanted me to learn how to win in an Oldsmobile for some reason.”

Friday, December 8, 2017

Competing with Nascar, A Two-Part Longform Series from Spade Racing--Part 2: The Attempt

It is inarguable that Nascar has a stranglehold on stock car racing in this country—the most-prominent stock car racing organization not owned by Nascar is ARCA, a minor league that has worked with Nascar for years.  But in 2001 a group of investors looked to change all that by taking on Nascar at their own game.  That’s right, someone actually tried to compete with Nascar.

They called themselves TRAC—Team Racing Auto Circuit

WHO WERE THEY?  TRAC’s owners were a hodgepodge of investors from different backgrounds—men like longtime TV executive Robert Wussler and future politician Charles Jeter.  On the motorsports side of things longtime Nascar team owner and Ford executive Michael Kranefuss was on the board of directors, while three-time Cup champion Cale Yarborough served as the organization’s spokesman.  Some have even suggested that Yarborough’s involvement with the Nascar competitor delayed his entry into the Nascar Hall of Fame.

WHY WAS IT POSSIBLE?  For those of you newer fans, you might have trouble believing this, but in the early-00’s, Nascar was white-hot.  At that time it was the number-two professional sport in America (behind, of course, the NFL) and there had been a bidding war over the first-ever unified TV contracts.  Fox, NBC and Turner (TNT) won, leaving ESPN/ABC and CBS/TNN out in the cold.  A contract for TRAC to televise races on ESPN and ESPN2 was quickly reached, as was an agreement with media conglomerate Raycom Media to handle the organization’s sponsorships and advertising.

WHERE WOULD THEY RACE?  The series reached an agreement with Speedway Motorsports Inc. to host eleven of its twenty estimated first-season events at SMI tracks, including Las Vegas, Bristol, Texas, and Atlanta.  SMI was, and still is, owned and operated by Bruton Smith, the irascible thorn-in-the-side of Nascar since their earliest days.  While Smith kept his distance from the upstart TRAC, taking no ownership stake and staying out of its affairs, he no doubt enjoyed sticking it to Nascar by offering his facilities to a brand-new competitor.

HOW WERE THEY DIFFERENT?  Teams would be centrally-owned by TRAC management, but would each represent a different city or region (Atlanta, New England, etc.), similar to how Major League Soccer was started in the early-90’s.  Sponsorships would be arranged by TRAC via Raycom for each team, aiming for eight-to-twelve teams of two cars each.  All cars would be centrally-produced by Riley & Scott to allow for competitive-balance, similar to IROC.  Instead of the sedan-style stock cars of Nascar, TRAC planned to utilize high-performance sports cars—Dodge Vipers, Ford Mustangs, and Chevrolet Corvettes.  In a bit of a preview of Nascar’s future Chase/Playoff format, teams would be divided into “National” and “American” conferences, accumulating points throughout the year and allowing for a “championship race” at the end of the season.  Furthermore, the organization took a page from Formula 1 by planning to limit its races to a two or three hour television window.

WHEN WERE THEY PLANNING TO START?  The original target year for their first season was 2003.  Eventually this got pushed back to 2004.

WHAT WENT WRONG?  Money, or lack thereof.  The series got as far as doing some on-track tests before money woes derailed the organization.  TRAC owed most of its money to car builder Riley & Scott, which naturally stopped production.  No cars meant no progress towards getting the series off the ground, and everything ground to a halt.

WHY DID IT GO WRONG?  Raycom Media was unable to sell any of the sponsorships for any of the teams.  The group had outsourced its marketing to them, but had retained the ownership of the prospective sponsorships themselves (in other words, sponsorship money would’ve gone directly to TRAC after Raycom got their cut, since they owned the teams outright).  Furthermore it appeared as if the TV deal with ESPN was a “barter/buy”-style deal in which ESPN paid little to nothing up front, while TRAC would’ve retained the rights to sell commercial time (again, via Raycom), although this cannot be confirmed.

WHEN DID IT ALL END?  August 26th, 2003.  That was when TRAC announced that none of the team sponsorships had been sold (apparently they needed to sell at least six to get up and running) and that the organization was no more.

WHAT WAS THE FALLOUT?  The following year a group of investors sued TRAC’s former management for mismanagement and fraud.  While the organization itself claimed losses of nearly $7,000,000 over its short, abortive lifespan, the suit alleged shareholder losses at over $50,000,000.  The result of this suit is unknown.

WHAT REMAINS?  Virtually nothing.  The whereabouts of the test cars are unknown, though they were likely repossessed for nonpayment.  The website has long-since been shut down, the domain taken over by an unrelated company.  ESPN eventually re-entered Nascar, only to leave again in the 2015-16 offseason.  Nascar’s current “Playoff” format’s similarity to TRAC’s league-style points system is likely more of a coincidence than a copy.  Arguably its biggest contribution to the world of motorsports was a valuable lesson: If you plan to compete with Nascar, prepare to lose everything.