The Big Go is this weekend (finals Monday) but I doubt the Business of Drag Racing atmosphere surrounding the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals will be positive.
Amidst a season of plunging TV numbers and attendance, and sponsorship levels that have the gap between the top and bottom half of the nitro class ladders maybe larger than ever, came more bad news last week: Castrol will end its 29-year sponsorship of John Force Racing after next season. (That's one year less than Budweiser's record 30-year run with Kenny Bernstein.) This just weeks after Ford announced it will exit pro NHRA racing after 2014.
When NHRA's biggest name (John) with a daughter (Courtney) who stands at the foot of sports marketing superstardom admits his team can't survive as it currently exists without a new automaker partner and big sponsor, it's legitimate to question of biz health of the Mello Yello series. (A big problem is the lack of activation by the Coca-Cola Co. brand, which was publicly promised when the entitlement switch from Full Throttle was made.)
I won't be in Indy for the Big Go, but I have a feeling the private conversations among team owners and headliner drivers won't carry a good vibe. I know this: In any other properly run business enterprise, the Board of Directors would call in the CEO and ask for his views regarding the negative metrics. Then, they'd ask for his plan to address those problems.
Those conversations need to happen. I'm also going to hope, however, that the downers won't detract from the entertainment and competition of a great motorsports event. As I've said for years, even if you aren't a straight-line fan, you should get out and attend the Nationals. Or, at least, watch on ESPN2.
I Tweeted about this, but it's worth repeating here: Since basic common sense seems to be in such short supply in our everyday lives, last week's news that Mark Martin will sub for Tony Stewart the rest of this season (except Talladega) was refreshing. Martin was leaving the No. 55 after this year anyway and Brian Vickers already was confirmed as the full-time driver for 2014. Giving Stewart-Haas Racing a quality replacement in the No. 14 while allowing Vickers extra seat time with his new team, well, it just made common sense.
Even Martin noted what he called "the amazing amount of cooperation that it took to get this deal done by so many parties, and I haven't seen this much cooperation in the past, and I think it was largely in part for the incredible amount of respect that everyone has in the sport for Tony Stewart."
Applause to Michael Waltrip Racing, Aaron's, Toyota, Chevrolet, Mobil 1, Bass Pro Shops and everyone else who had to give the green light.
Regular readers know I'm a sprint car fan and am a National Sprint Car Hall of Fame voter. But it's important to be honest and admit it's been a tough few months within this exciting, daring -- and dangerous -- sport. Jason Leffler and HoF driver Kramer Williamson have died in crashes. Stewart broke his leg in his third big wreck of the year and is out for the rest of the season.
The economic scale of sprint car racing means the reality is more limited resources for safety measures. I'd love to see USAC and the World of Outlaws step forward in a leadership position and help fund some new initiatives. But the best bet in improving the safety of the cars themselves might well be Stewart and Kasey Kahne, who have access to things and people most sprint car owners don't.
Just wondering: With ESPN to be out of the NASCAR game come 2015, what will it do with Jayski, which it owns?
Here's the downside to social media: Comments on Ben Affleck as Batman. Consider all the other important news out there. Ridiculous. Sad.
[ more next week . . . ]