Chasing Success

"Quit saying I look like Stilwell from 'A League of Their Own'!"

You know, a LOT of fans have been complaining lately about the changes Brian France has made to the Chase for the Cup.  But really--and I might take some flak for this--I think he's really moving in the right direction.  Honestly, I think that the new, expanded Chase will be a complete success.

…well, unless a driver wins Daytona, then goes into a massive slump, and still qualifies for the Chase.
...or a full field for an IndyCar race

…or there are team orders to take out one of the four drivers in the "winner take all" final race at Homestead.

…or a driver wins one race early, then just knocks off enough top-10s in the Chase to win the championship.

…or enough fans ignore the legitimacy of the Chase by simply considering the most-dominant driver for the entire season as the true champion.

…or the sport's impending relationship with NBC means that the Homestead championship race will have about a five-minute-long post-race so that they don't interrupt Sunday Night Football.

…or if missing the Chase becomes the new standard for firing a driver, leading to mass driver/team/sponsor changes, confusing fans further.

…or they fail to specify what the "special circumstances" are that would allow a driver who misses a race or two due to injury to qualify for the Chase.

…or the whole thing gets ignored by the mass-media, making about as much an impact as the FedEx Cup in golf.

Yep, its smooth-sailing ahead for the France family!

The Sponsorship Game: Fun Facts, Oddities, and FAQ's

Contingency decals, typically advertising
"Official Nascar" sponsors

Sponsorship is as important a part of Nascar as engines or pit stops.  Oddly enough, there's no great central resource on the various quirks of this necessity of Nascar.  That's where I come in!

BK Racing cars
--Ever wonder why huge companies like Taco Bell or Burger King sponsor low-end teams like Front Row Motorsports or BK Racing?  Well, its because technically, they don't.  Teams like those instead sign “licensing agreements” with the big sponsors, in which they are paid a fraction of what a company would have to pay a top-flight team like Hendrick or Roush.  Why?  Well, those teams are owned by franchisees of their sponsors—Front Row owner Bob Jenkins is a major Yum! Brands franchisee, and BK Racing principal Ron Devine has several Burger King restaurants in his portfolio.  Of course, with such (comparatively) little money coming in, those teams are glad to accept outside sponsors, even though they might not be nearly as well-known as their “sponsors” are (case in point: TMOne).

Haas-owned, Haas-sponsored
--Of course, some teams are actually sponsored by a team owner's business, thus keeping the whole sponsorship game “in house”.  Advantage:  Much less sponsorship pleasing (meet & greets, commercials, etc.).  Disadvantage:  Much MUCH less money coming in.  The best-known example of such a sponsor today is Furniture Row Racing, which is sponsored (obviously) by Furniture Row, owned by team owner Barney Visser.  In 2014, they'll be joined by Stewart-Haas Racing's #41 car, sponsored by co-owner Gene Haas's Haas Automation.  In the past, Jasper Motorsports lasted for years with primary sponsorship from Jasper Engines & Transmissions, while the team was owned by Jasper CEO Doug Bawel.

Ford EcoBoost on the hood
--Today, teams will occasionally “fill-in” empty races with their own companies.  Advantage: Avoids wasting a race with a blank hood, and promotes an in-house business.  Disadvantage:  Prospective sponsors might not realize you're looking.  Examples of this are (Hendrick Motorsports), Dr1ven (Roush-Fenway Racing), Penske Truck Leasing (Team Penske), RK Motors (Michael Waltrip Racing), and Medallion Financial and VeriFone (Richard Petty Motorsports).

--Teams will also occasionally promote their manufacturers instead of running a sponsorless car.  Ford usually promotes EcoBoost while Toyota has ToyotaCare.  Chevy teams rarely run Chevy-sponsored cars.

--The past decade or so has seen the arrival of “wraps”--vinyl applications for the entire car, thus eliminating the need to paint a car each time there's a sponsorship change.  This cuts down on cost and (especially) time, allowing for teams to have numerous sponsors throughout the year.  Wraps allowed for one of the oddest arrangements in Nascar when Little Debbie sponsored teams.  Little Debbie's parent company, McKee Bakeries, is owned by devout Seventh-Day Adventists, who refuse to advertise on their day of worship, Saturday.  As a result, a Little Debbie-sponsored car would never run Little Debbie colors on a Saturday (race, qualifying, or otherwise).  Here's a video of the Joe Gibbs Racing crew applying a wrap to Kyle Busch's Camry:

--Though most teams now use wraps for their cars, the term “paint scheme” is still used by many to describe the look of the car.  A notable exception, however, is Jeff Gordon's #24.  Since he's sponsored by Axalta Coatings (an automotive paint company, formerly part of Dupont), his car is still painted “the old-fashioned way” for each race.

--Nascar retains final say on the appearance of cars entered in any of its races.  As a result, an unapproved 
Jeff Burton's logo-less car
sponsor can still “sponsor” a team, but Nascar can remove their logos from the car's paint scheme/wrap.  The best-known example of this is Nascar's battle with AT&T and Richard Childress Racing.  When Nextel (now Sprint) entered the sport, they requested exclusivity (see below) in the namesake Nextel (now Sprint) Cup Series.  The two existing wireless communications provider sponsors in Cup at the time—Alltel and Cingular—were allowed to stay.  However, when Cingular was rebranded as AT&T Wireless, Sprint objected.  As a result, the #31 RCR car ran its normal paint scheme, but without logos (for AT&T) for several races.  Other examples include Team Penske running an unbranded #12 car (due to sponsorship from Verizon Wireless), and Nascar rejecting sponsorship from as offensive.

--Exclusivity for a title sponsor is nothing new in Nascar or motorsports as a whole.  During Winston's long run as title sponsor of the Winston Cup Series, other cigarette companies were prohibited from sponsoring cars or races.  In motorsports, such an agreement is known as a “Viceroy Clause”, supposedly after Viceroy brand-cigarettes first made the request to an open-wheel series in the 1960's.

The first special paint schemes
--The first instance of a “special paint scheme”--running a different-than-usual look on a car for reasons other than a new sponsor—came in the 1991 Daytona 500, when Winston paid for five otherwise-unsponsored cars to run the colors of the US Military branches in support of Operation Desert Storm.  The special paint scheme went from “fad” to big business, however, when Dale Earnhardt ran his famous silver-painted car during the 1995 Winston all-star race, in honor of Winston's 25th year sponsoring the series.  Soon teams looked for any reason—a new movie, an anniversary, etc.--to run a different look in order to make (and, hopefully, sell) more merchandise, particularly die-cast cars.  The practice has slowed down in recent years, as the advent of wraps has allowed teams to conceivably run a different paint scheme every week.  However, the early special paint scheme merchandise continues to go for high-dollars to fans.

--The longest-running current association between a sponsor and a race team is Miller (beer) and Team Penske's #2 car.  Since 1991 a Miller brand (first Miller Genuine Draft, then Miller Beer, then finally Miller Lite) has sponsored the #2 car.
A long-running PAINT scheme

--The longest-running current association between a sponsor and a driver, meanwhile, is Jeff Gordon and Dupont/Axalta.  Dupont first sponsored Gordon in his Cup debut, the famed 1992 season finale.  Since then, Dupont has spun-off its performance automotive coatings business, forming Axalta, which continues to sponsor Gordon in several races each year.

--One way to make the search for a ride easier is to bring sponsorship with you.  This is nothing new—in fact, it was Wrangler's sponsorship of Dale Earnhardt Sr. (as opposed to sponsoring directly with his team at the time) that allowed him to go to RCR.

--Of course, an even easier way to find sponsorship is to have a family-owned business be your sponsor.  Examples of this today include: Brendan Gaughan (South Point Casino), Brian Scott (Shore Point Lodge), Justin Lofton (Lofton Cattle), and, of course, Paul Menard (Menards).

Mid-January “News” and Notes

--There were rumbles about it for months—a great change coming to our sport.  People are angry, wondering WHY the people in charge seem addicted to such change.  Thousands have taken to internet message boards, Twitter, and call-in radio shows.  But in the end, there isn't much that us fans can do—Leavine Family Racing is changing its office furniture provider.

Just an average 3-hour day for Brian
--In a completely unrelated story, Brian France put his Newton's Cradle away for a day to (allegedly) come up with another new format for the Chase.  This system will feature more drivers, a greater emphasis placed on winning, and guarantee a two-or-four driver “winner take all” finale.  So yes, its basically the same damn thing they've tried to do twice before, just with more guys.

--Anybody else notice how much the “new Chase” resembles the WWF/E's “Deadly Games” tournament at Survivor Series?  And would that make David Ragan Duane Gill?

--BK Racing continues to have it THEIR way by signing a pair of rookies to pilot their cars in 2014: Alex Bowman and Ryan Truex Jr.  See what happens when you take too many fancy Dr. Pepper pens from the office supply closet?  David Reutimann, I'm looking in your direction...

--Penske Rac—er, I mean, TEAM PENSKE—has signed Alliance Truck Parts and Wurth to partner with Miller Liter on Brad Keselowski's #2 car next season.  Miller Lite—Pays Great, Less Races.

--From the “We all knew, but I guess they had to make it official” department: Justin Allgaier was named the full-time driver of the Brandt car for Phoenix Racing in 2014.  For those of you who don't know, Brandt is a producer of genetically engineered crops for farmers.  And so, our best chance for an “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes” car is born!

My Trip to Daytona International Speedway

Llake Lloyd
This week I was lucky enough to visit the Daytona International Speedway.  Here's some pics and comments!

Daytona: Home of Nascar's biggest race, Nascar itself, and Brian France's closet full of commemorative spoons.

This gives you an idea just how HIGH the banking is in the turns.  31 degrees is nothing to sneeze at!  (Well, it was for me, but that's because I'm allergic to good weather).  And yes, it really DOES look that narrow in person.

The flagman's stand and start-finish line.  Its pretty amazing when you think about all the great drivers who have won here.  And Jimmy Spencer.

The front-stretch grandstand.  You can see where they've started the "Daytona Rising" renovation project, which was hyped by our tour guide about 3 times per minute.  Eventually the entire front-stretch grandstand will be replaced.

And THIS is the backstretch grandstand.  The Daytona Rising renovations will see this entire grandstand disassembled, removed, and repurposed at other tracks nationwide.  Just think--soon you could be at Kansas Speedway sitting on the very seats where your crazy uncle puked in 1994!

This is a model of what Daytona International Speedway will look like after the Daytona Rising renovation project.  Although I'm a little worried that a race would only have about eight cars in it.

One of the Sunoco sign towers.  Nascar puts its officials up in here to keep an eye on the competition.  Before Sunoco took over as the Official Fuel of Nascar, these were much bigger (and much MUCH cooler) orange 76 balls.

Inside the drivers' meeting room.  Basically, this is the place where drivers are told safety information, track-specific rules, and how to avoid staring at Derrike Cope.

See?  You can't turn away, can you?

Nascar Team Owners: Who Owns What (and how'd they get so rich?)

Here's a comprehensive compilation of the men who own Nascar's various “power teams”, and how they made their fortunes.

Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates (1 & 42)
Chip Ganassi (Majority Owner)—An ex-racer turned businessman, Chip's driving career ended in a 1984 IndyCar crash.  He turned his attention toward team-ownership while taking a more-active role in his father's real-estate business.  The Nascar portion of Ganassi's holdings were previously partnered with the remnants of Dale Earnhardt Inc.  OTHER SPORTS—Chip's most-visible business holding is his IndyCar team, which he owns independently of his Nascar partners.  He also owns a successful sports-car racing team, and was a minority owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Felix Sabates (Minority Owner)--A self-made millionaire, Felix arrived in the US from Cuba.  Working his way up through the ranks, he wound up making a fortune through Top Sales Corporation, purveyor of such items as the Teddy Ruxpin doll.  He started the team that became Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates in 1989.  OTHER SPORTS—Felix was a part-owner of the Charlotte Checkers minor-league hockey team in the 1990's.  He also played a pivotal role in bringing the Charlotte Hornets basketball team into being. 

Team Penske (2 & 22) Roger Penske (Sole Owner)--Roger's professional career started as a racer.  However, he soon transitioned to new-car sales, building his company into one of the largest dealership groups in the country.  He has also expanded into such fields as leasing, truck rental, and various interests in the greater Detroit area.  The current team began as Penske Racing South, a partnership with Rusty Wallace and Don Miller (eventually joined by Michael Kranefuss and, later, Doug Bawel).  OTHER SPORTS—Roger has an extensive history in open-wheel racing, with a dominant record in the Indy 500.

Richard Childress Racing (3, 27, 31) Richard Childress (Sole Owner)--Richard Childress is one of the only current Nascar team-owners to have made his fortune almost solely through racing.  Richard was a driver himself in the 1970's, racing as an independent (an owner-driver with little-to-no manufacturer support).  In a deal brokered by Nascar and Winston executives, Richard retired, briefly turning his ride over to Dale Earnhardt Sr.  After a two year run with Ricky Rudd (during which the team scored its first wins), Earnhardt returned, allowing Childress to build his team into juggernaut status.  Outside of racing, Richard's most-prominent investment is in the Childress Winery, a vineyard in North Carolina.  During the previous decade, there were investors in the team as silent partners, but they were bought out a few years ago.

Stewart-Haas Racing (4, 10, 14, 41)
Gene Haas (Co-Owner)--Gene Haas built his namesake company, Haas Automation, from the ground up.  His firm makes CNC machines—automated industrial machines, typically for commercial customers.  He spent a brief time in federal prison for tax evasion in 2008.  His team began as Haas CNC Racing, a “spin-off” of Hendrick Motorsports.
Tony Stewart (Co-Owner)--“Smoke” came into Nascar with Joe Gibbs Racing.  After JGR switched to Toyota, Stewart began seeking a way to return to a team with General Motors (Chevy) support.  In exchange for joining Gene Haas's struggling race team—as well as bringing then-sponsors Office Depot and Old Spice—Tony was given 50% ownership of what then became Stewart-Haas Racing.

Hendrick Motorsports (5, 24, 48, 88)Rick Hendrick (Sole Owner)--Rick Hendrick took his new-car dealership to the top in the Carolinas, allowing him to start his race team (originally known as All-Star Racing).  A scandal involving bribery claims between Hendrick and Honda resulted in Rick spending a period under house arrest in the 1990s.  Driver Jeff Gordon is the “listed owner” of Jimmie Johnson's #48 car, but other than recommending the hire of Johnson, he has little to do with the 48 team's day-to-day operations.

Richard Petty Motorsports (9, 43)
Andrew Murstein (Majority Owner)--Murstein is the chief executive (and owner) of Medallion Financial, which actually owns the majority of RPM.  Murstein's family company acquired its wealth through the purchase, renting, and trading of taxicab medallions—licenses granted in large cities (like New York) to control the number of taxicabs on the streets.
Doug Bergeron (Minority Owner)--Bergeron is a longtime executive in the technology industry, particularly in the finance/transaction field with companies such as VeriFone.
Richard Petty (Minority/Listed Owner)--“The King” is a seven-time Cup Champion, having won each of those titles running for the family-owned Petty Enterprises.  PE was actually started by Richard's father Lee, a three-time Cup Champion.  Day-to-day operation of PE had passed to Richard's son Kyle (a fellow racer) when majority interest in the team was sold to the Boston Ventures investment group.  After sponsorship issues resulted in BV nearly shutting down the team, Richard essentially left Petty Enterprises, taking his name (and a small ownership stake) to what was then Gillett-Evernham Racing, which was then renamed Richard Petty Motorsports.  When George Gillett nearly went bankrupt, Petty brokered the sale of the majority interest in the team to Murstein.

Joe Gibbs Racing (11, 18, 20)
Joe Gibbs (Sole Owner)--Joe Gibbs grew up with an interest in drag racing, but made his mark as the head coach of the Washington Redskins, winning three Super Bowls in the process.  In his final year of his first stint as coach, he started JGR with assistance from Rick Hendrick.  Joe's son J.D. Gibbs has a major leadership role in the team.  OTHER SPORTS—other than his time coaching the Redskins, “Coach” has had a variety of interests in sports ownership.  In between coaching stints, he was a minority owner of the Atlanta Falcons.  He also owned a successful NHRA Drag Racing team in the 1990's, and currently owns a Motocross motorcycle racing team run by his son Coy.

Michael Waltrip Racing (15, 55, 56)
Michael Waltrip (Co-Owner)--Michael Waltrip raced in the Nascar Cup Series for over 20 years, most-notably becoming a two-time winner of the Daytona 500.  Waltrip transitioned to becoming a driver-owner in 2007, and has since maintained day-to-day control of the racing operations of the team.
Robert Kaufmann (Co-Owner)--Kaufmann is one of the founders of Fortress Investment Group, a firm with diversified interests ranging from ski resorts to railroad operations to assisted living facilities.  He became a co-owner of MWR late in the team's first season.  OTHER SPORTS—Kaufmann owns and operates RK Motors, a car restoration facility, and also races his own team in sports-car events.

Roush Fenway Racing (16, 17, 99)Jack Roush (Co-Owner)--Jack Roush has been involved in the automotive industry—specifically racing—since the 1960's.  His wholly-owned Roush Performance is a longtime customizer of Ford vehicles.  OTHER SPORTS—before devoting himself solely to Nascar, Roush-backed teams competed in drag racing and sports-car events.
John Henry (Co-Owner)--The “Fenway” of Roush Fenway Racing, John Henry made millions through his own John W. Henry & Co. investment firm.  In recent years, his primary investments have been in the sports world, though he remains owner of the Boston Globe newspaper.  OTHER SPORTS—Henry is the primary owner of the Boston Red Sox, as well as historic Fenway Park.  Previously, he owned all or part of a number of teams, most-notably the Florida Marlins.  He also is the principal owner of the Liverpool Football Club soccer team.

Spade Racing Movie Previews: The Dumping Ground

The holidays are over, people are huddled up inside, and Hollywood is putting out whatever garbage they made by mistake in 2013.  Thankfully there's a few with a motorsports bent--here's a look!

The Legend of Hercules:  Mark Martin performs his most-Herculean task yet: Trying to get Danica Patrick to succeed on an intermediate track.

Shadow Recruit:  Phil Parsons searches for the next driver to pilot the Black Paint-backed car.

Ride Along:  ESPN honors its memorable 90's commercials with this look at the 2014 season.  It will air at 3:30am on ESPNU (between an interview with the head basketball coach at Northwestern Southeastern and a replay of the Beef O'Brady's Bowl).

Devil's Due:  Michael Annett reveals how he has a full-time ride in Cup for 2014.

I, Frankenstein:  A mad scientist explains why he sprung his most-horrible creation ever--Digger--on the public.

That Awkward Moment:  About the time I kinda-sorta met Danica Patrick, I assume.