Sunday, December 05, 2010


Color NASCAR’s second Sprint Cup awards activities in Las Vegas green.

But, for a few moments last Thursday, I was trying so hard to keep from laughing that I was close to blue.

At the annual NASCAR NMPA Myers Brothers Award luncheon, this time staged in the massive Bellagio (you need a golf cart to get around), Chairman Brian France laid out in the strongest terms yet the stock car sanction’s eco-friendly green program. It already had been announced that all three national series will run on E15, but what France announced – and carefully positioned – was the “American” side to the story. NASCAR’s new partnership is with American Ethanol, led by advocacy group Growth Energy. Get used to this tagline: “American grown. American made. Powering NASCAR.”

I jotted down some of France’s phrasings, such as NASCAR’s fuel will be grown on “American soil,” and that this is appropriate for a “family owned American series.” The parade of speakers included a trade rep and a corn farmer and we were told that American farmers grow twice as much grain per acre than in China or Brazil. Retired NATO Supreme Commander, Gen. Wesley Clark, now working for the ethanol industry, told the ballroom crowd that corn ethanol “creates jobs and strengthens national security.”

What had me amused, other legitimate considerations aside, this clearly was at least an indirect shot at the IndyCar Series. NASCAR has many ways to play the racing political game, and in the aftermath of the unhappy IndyCar-International Speedway Corp. split – no IC races at any ISC tracks in 2011 – this was an example of who still has the muscle in the U.S. motorsports industry.

Remember, when IC went to ethanol a few years ago, it was using corn E in association with a U.S. trade group. When said trade organization went belly-up, IC had to go to Brazil for its E fix. Now NASCAR has staked its claim to the red, white and blue benefits of green.

And that’s no coincidence. It’s a political shot across the bow of the IndyCar series. Oh, NASCAR is even copying IC’s E-logo green flag.

FAST LINES: Roger Penske unveiled Helio Castroneves’ Pennzoil yellow-and-red Indy 500 car at his Wynn Ferrari dealership Thursday night. I was surprised to learn the primary deal is for Indy only, at least as of now . . . I asked Penske if the racing economy is improving and he basically said no, it’s about the same, meaning it’s a huge struggle to find the $$$ to race on . . . The best joke going around at the Penske function, set amidst the wildly expensive cars, was: “Pick out whichever one you like and put it on George Gillett’s tab” . . . Looks to me as if IndyCar’s return is Vegas is in place save for a splashy announcement of a big sponsor for what apparently will be a street-course/oval doubleheader. Randy Bernard was on hand at the Penske announcement . . . Jimmie Johnson beat Jeff Gordon to the “Drive for 5” and I’m guessing the tagline for his try for another title will be “Six Pack” . . . The announcement that Jim Hunter, NASCAR’s late VP-corporate communications, won the Myers Brothers Award for contributions to stock car racing drew a standing ovation . . . I’ll end with this from Chad Knaus: “It’s about teamwork. It’s always been about teamwork. Teamwork is at the root of all success.”

[ next week I'll share some year-end thoughts . . . ]