Join Date: Jun 2001
Location: Catonsville, Md.
Detroit: Running on Empty with NASCAR.
Detroit: Running on Empty with NASCAR.
Detroit. Over the last year, I've been strongly advocating that the Detroit car companies seriously revamp their racing programs away from NASCAR, because the "stock" car series has now almost completely moved from being a serious motorsports endeavor to being a marketing/entertainment showcase that promotes the "cult of personality" of its drivers and the needs of its sponsors - to the detriment of the auto manufacturers involved. With NASCAR fully embracing the template-driven, "spec" car mantra, the Detroit-based car companies (soon to be joined by Toyota) are spending more than $75 million each for the privilege of putting headlight decals and grille openings on the front of the cars to differentiate their identities - cars that are identical in literally every other respect. That gigantic sucking sound you hear is a cumulative $225 million in auto company motorsports budgets being funneled down to Daytona Beach, with little to show for it other than to be lost in NASCAR's corporate sponsor shuffle. Well, something has to give, and as much as people in this business dismiss my perspective as something that will never happen in their lifetimes - I would caution those who hold that view to be very, very careful about their entrenched attitudes, because there is a sea change afoot in Detroit.
There is a growing movement deep within the auto companies in Detroit that genuinely believes that the days of getting their money's worth with NASCAR have long since passed. These insiders also believe that the more money that's poured into NASCAR, the less that money will be available to help Detroit close the "perception gap" with consumers out there who won't give Detroit products the time of day. This "perception gap" is topic number one all over the Motor City. Detroit is paying dearly for years and years of launching mediocre products out into the market. A whole generation of buyers and their families were rightfully turned off by Detroit's many transgressions - but now that Detroit is getting its act together and finally building some products worth considering - they're having a hell of a time convincing consumers of that fact.
And this is why there's growing dissatisfaction with NASCAR coming from deep within the hallways of "Detroit." Racing in NASCAR doesn't move the needle for the kinds of consumers Detroit needs to reach. It helps sell to Detroit's existing (and loyal) customer base, but it does nothing to quell the steady erosion of market share that's plaguing the domestic manufacturers. In other words, the people buying the Toyotas, Nissans, BMWs and other imports of the world in the U.S. market either are not NASCAR fans typically, or if they are, they don't consider the cars that are raced in NASCAR worthy of consideration - especially since they're fleet vehicles that populate the country's rental fleets.
Which is why there's a growing interest among the Detroit-based car companies in the SPEED World GT and Touring-class racing, and in the American Le Mans Series. Detroit has discovered (look at Cadillac and their CTS-V racing program in SPEED GT) that they can actually put their cars on the track, cars that actually look like a stock vehicle modified for racing - instead of a "spec" vehicle indistinguishable from the rest of the field - and race them against the import competition, which they have to compete against in the showroom every day. Other manufacturers have known this for years, of course, with high-visibility and highly popular touring car championships taking center stage around the world in the quest of convincing customers that their particular machines are the best. The old Detroit adage "Win on Sunday, Sell on Monday" is now alive and well - at least in other parts of the world.
For the Detroit manufacturers, "Win on Sunday, Rent on Monday" just doesn't have quite the same ring.
We get a lot of email here at Autoextremist.com, but I'd like to share one in particular that we received this past Monday. This reader perfectly encapsulates the diminishing returns Detroit is getting from their NASCAR involvement, and why he - a longtime NASCAR fan - has become a convert to the SPEED World Challenge Series:
"Born & raised in NC, I have been a NASCAR fan since I was a baby & even raced in the Winston Racing Series. I'm one of those guys that will watch a tricycle race for the competition. Lately, though, NASCAR has been a turn-off because you can't tell the car makes apart. I've also read your comments about other racing series, so I took the opportunity to catch last week's Speed World Challenge race on TV. Wow! What a concept! Race cars that were actually stock cars with safety modifications & sticky tires. Finally, I can watch a Cadillac spank the others & know I can get one at my local dealer. The most interesting thing about that race is that now is the first time in 8 years I've even considered trading my Impala SS for another car. Thanks for spreading the news because I can't wait for the next real stock car race! Renewed race fan in VA, Robert N."
The Detroit-based car companies are now in a struggle for their very survival. People around the country may not realize how dire things are for these Detroit car companies and believe that their fate won't have any direct effect on their lives - but it is and it will. Detroit must make inroads into the import market, and it must convince American consumers that their vehicles are worth considering - and even "cool" again. And right now, dropping $225 million a season on a racing series that won't allow the vehicles competing to even remotely resemble their street counterparts seems like a big-time bad investment.
In its "glory days," Detroit used to fuel its showroom fortunes with a helpful boost from their NASCAR involvement. But those days have been long gone - for at least 20 years now.
Detroit is running on empty with NASCAR, but the winds of change are gathering momentum. Just when you think the NASCAR juggernaut can't be derailed, think again.
Watch for a Detroit manufacturer to get the cojones to actually reduce their involvement in NASCAR to a substantial degree over the next 18 to 24 months in favor of other forms of motorsports.
Any bets on which one it will be?