NASCAR was a recent topic in another thread. This article cloese the
argument that NASCAR is a total waste. Read on...
by Peter M. DeLorenzo
Detroit: It's Time to Pull the Plug on NASCAR.
Detroit. Since starting this website five years ago, I've built a
reputation by 1. Talking about things people in the business are
usually only comfortable with discussing in private conversations or
after hours, 2. Talking about things that executives are only willing
to discuss with journalists "off the record," or in "deep background"
conversations, and 3. Talking about things that others haven't even
thought about yet, which inevitably become topics of the moment in the
business, thanks to us. In short, creating Autoextremist.com and
writing The High-Octane Truth every week has become about leading the
discussions crucial to the industry, it's about being out front, and
in some cases, it's about saying things people don't want to hear, but
who, in private moments, admit are unflinchingly accurate, albeit as
painful as that may be.
With that reminder, today I'm going to lead the discussion on why
Detroit's infatuation with all things NASCAR needs to come to an end.
On the surface, this might be about as popular as suggesting that mom
and apple pie have outlived their usefulness, but the reality is that
NASCAR has become counterproductive to "Detroit" - and its cumulative
and urgent interest in stemming the import tide, and it desperate
mission to stop the erosion of market share in the North American
Heresy? In some circles, you bet.
But there is a growing belief in executive suites around the Motor
City that NASCAR has outlived its usefulness, which is a tough stand
to take, especially when you look at all that comes with NASCAR in its
current form. It's the No. 2 spectator sport in the U.S. behind the
National Football League. Its weekly races generate the kind of
consistent viewing numbers that make Madison Avenue media mavens grin
with a "cha-ching" soundtrack dancing in their heads. And NASCAR has
exploited every opportunity to orchestrate a monster multi-billion
dollar marketing juggernaut that has sponsors clamoring for a piece of
the action (well, it used to, anyway. Lately, NASCAR has been in the
throes of an actual sponsor exodus, as companies have found out that
participating in NASCAR is all about promoting the NASCAR brand and
But what does that really mean to Detroit? What does NASCAR actually
have to do with helping Detroit in its quest to hold market share - or
even increase it? DaimlerChrysler, Ford and General Motors spend $75
million each on their NASCAR programs. That includes direct payouts to
teams, drivers, promotions and advertising support. What, exactly,
does Detroit get for its money?
In a few words? Not a damn thing.
First of all, NASCAR has created a cult of personality based on its
drivers (and their car numbers) and their teams. The drivers are the
first priority for NASCAR's marketing machine, and they've been
extremely successful creating this cult of personality - based on the
number of TV commercials, print ads and promotions that we see with
NASCAR drivers involved.
Second, NASCAR has created a marketing environment for its
participating sponsors second only to the NFL in both its
effectiveness and in the pampering way they treat their sponsor
representatives at the events (which helps mask the fact that the
sponsors are putting more into furthering NASCAR's interests than they
are getting a return for their investments).
Third, NASCAR has created a marketing vehicle only loosely based on
the actual racing. Instead, it's all about "the show" - and NASCAR
does everything in its power to enhance that show - with sponsors, the
car companies and especially the fans taking a backseat to NASCAR's
"vision" for what constitutes entertainment.
What does that last point mean, exactly?
It means that NASCAR has taken gradual steps over the last decade to
equalize the competition, figuring that if "the show" has as close to
a boffo ending every week that they can possibly orchestrate, then the
TV numbers will stay up, and the whole machine can get fueled for even
more sponsor participation - i.e., even more money.
But in their zeal to orchestrate "the show" - NASCAR has proceeded to
make Detroit's participation irrelevant. The cars, masquerading as the
Dodge Intrepid, Ford Taurus and Chevrolet Monte Carlo, are now defined
by "headlights" and grille openings created by different decals, and
if you squint real hard they look like the cars' street counterparts
(sort of), but in fact, the car bodies are identical, with heavy
restrictions due to aerodynamic controls and the quest to "equalize"
the competition. Not to mention the fact that the cars populate rental
car fleets across America and are completely useless in Detroit's
fight in staving off their import competitors.
What is Detroit getting, exactly, from their involvement in NASCAR?
I'll reiterate an earlier point, only this time with an assist from
the late, great R&B singer Edwin Starr - absolutely nothing.
The NASCAR marketing machine is in place to do one thing: Promote,
enhance and expand the NASCAR brand. Period.
They use their drivers to create a "cult of personality" in order to
orchestrate and perpetuate that mission.
And they use their sponsors in the same way.
In a now annoying ritual, NASCAR drivers, in a typical post-race
Victory Lane interview, first thank their car sponsors in an endless
regurgitation of a laundry list memorized for the occasion, then they
thank NEXTEL, the series sponsor, then they thank the sponsor of the
actual event itself. If Dodge, Ford or Chevrolet is mentioned, it's in
a brief throwaway line that inevitably gets lost in the shuffle.
Detroit's participation, in short, has become an afterthought.
NASCAR makes no bones about the fact that it believes it can get along
just fine without Detroit, either. Moving closer to even more of a
"spec car" series in the interest of "the show," NASCAR is
contemplating building the center sections of the cars and only
allowing teams to finish them off for their particular "brands" at
their shops - all in the interest of making the cars as identical as
possible. NASCAR has even discussed making and selling "spec" engines
that remove any chance for a manufacturer to exploit any engineering
advantage discovered. Heaven forbid a manufacturer be actually
encouraged to use racing for what it has always been used for - to
push the envelope, to innovate and to explore new technologies that
end up improving production cars that we can all enjoy on the street.
Detroit is wasting a cumulative $225 million on NASCAR. And wasting is
the operative and dead-accurate word to use here. Here they are locked
in the fight of their lives, literally for their very survival - and
they're pissing away a quarter of a billion dollars every year to
advertise their rental car fleets and help fuel NASCAR's marketing
What Detroit is doing in NASCAR has nothing to do with racing -
instead, it has everything to do with perpetuating the NASCAR brand
and enhancing "the show." And for those very crucial reasons, Detroit
is being classically underserved in its interests.
There are several other viable racing series in this country that
allow Detroit to actually go head-to-head with the same import
competition that they face in the showrooms every day. Those venues,
like the SPEED World Challenge and the American Le Mans Series, offer
import-oriented consumers a real opportunity to see Detroit products
in action, and they can do wonders for Detroit's credibility. When
Detroit can't even get on most import buyers' radar screens, they've
got to go out of their way to do everything possible to change that -
and pissing away millions on NASCAR's glorified branding exercise
isn't going to cut it.
The perpetual problem in Detroit is that nobody high up enough in
these companies has the cojones to say "no" to NASCAR. Their marketing
minions trot out the usual TV numbers and sponsor mumbo-jumbo, but
nobody has the guts to ask the tough questions, such as - what are we
selling here? And what are we really getting for being part of
NASCAR's show? Or, are we making a dent in the consumers we need to
reach, or are we just placating a diminishing domestic-oriented
And nobody in the motorsports departments wants to deal with the
reality of the situation either. Given the choice of racing in NASCAR
or not racing at all, they will always just shrug their shoulders and
go along to get along with the NASCAR juggernaut. It's as much about
inertia as anything else.
And that's just a flat-out travesty.
Two years ago, General Motors walked away from one of the most
important racing programs in its history. Their Cadillac American Le
Mans Series prototype racing program had endured setbacks and fits and
starts, yet they were just on the verge of becoming consistently
competitive against the dominant Audi racing program. But then they
walked away from it, ostensibly because "they just didn't have the
money," as one of GM's top executives pointedly told me at Pebble
Beach last summer. So, instead of going head-to-head against Audi for
the overall win at the 24 Hours of Le Mans - the most prestigious
sports car race in the world - GM folded its tent and cancelled the
It was one of the most momentously wrongheaded decisions ever taken by
an automobile company. And the real reason was not that GM didn't have
the money, the real reason is no one had the cojones to say "no" to
the NASCAR machine. So, instead of competing for the hearts and minds
of imported car intenders around the world with their resurgent
Cadillac brand, they shored up Monte Carlo's stature as one of
America's favorite "go to" rental cars.
The sooner Detroit collectively realizes that they're just another
sideshow in the NASCAR circus, the better off they'll be.
It's time for Detroit to finally pull the plug on their NASCAR