Editorial

Brownfield's new National Sprint Tour league will destroy sport
 
by Mark Cipolloni

 December 30, 2005

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After having seen how the formation of the IRL has destroyed IndyCar racing by dividing the sport, one would think that the power brokers in Sprint Car racing would learn a valuable lesson.  As we saw with Indy Car racing, one man's ego can cripple an entire industry.  Enter Fred Brownfield, Sprint Car's version of Tony George.  Anyone who knows Brownfield will tell you he has a huge ego, and it appears this ego may lead to the destruction of Sprint Car racing just as Tony George's ego had led to the destruction of Indy Car racing.

A little history

In late September, the National Sprintcar League (NSL) was announced as a direct competitor to the long-running World of Outlaw Sprint Series operated by DIRT MotorSports.  Behind it was Barry Graham, the Pettys and to a lesser extent Northwest promoter and former World of Outlaws racer Fred Brownfield.

Twelve top Outlaw drivers, including 20-time champion Steve Kinser, signed with the NSL. 

The split in Sprint car ranks left promoters like Grays Harbor Raceway's Brownfield in a tough spot: go with the old group (DIRT Motorsports and the World of Outlaws) and relatively unknown drivers, or go with the established drivers in an unknown series.  Brownfield threw his hat in with the new series at his track in Elma, plus tracks in the four other states he promotes races in.

Why?

Brownfield used to lease Skagit Speedway in Washington State.  At one point he tried to buy it from its owners but was unsuccessful.  Mad that he couldn't, he stormed off and vowed to bury Skagit.

Brownfield and wife Debbie started Brownfield Promotions Inc. in 1994, the same year they brought the Outlaws back to the Northwest after a 15-year absence. Brownfield started promoting racing shows at Grays Harbor Raceway in Elma, Wash., about 170 miles on the other side of Seattle from Skagit Speedway.  This year he promoted Outlaw races in five states. The Brownfields earned Outlaw promoting awards the last two years.

Brownfield did extensive renovations at the Elma track starting in 2002, and the improved facility drew rave reviews. Outlaw series founder Ted Johnson, a good friend to Brownfield, commented last year the Elma track was one of the top-three facilities in the country.

However, Skagit's new promoter, Steve Beitler landed a 2-day World of Outlaws race for 2005, essentially taking one of Brownfield's WoO dates from the many that he had.   This really got Brownfield hot under the collar after he vowed to bury Skagit years earlier.  The 2005 WoO race at Skagit never happened because of the controversy but the series is committed to running at Skagit in 2006 and Brownfield is still mad about.  So mad that he threw his weight behind the NSL.

Earlier this fall, Brownfield had admitted the split was "not good" for Sprint car racing and its fans but felt that because the new series had all the big name drivers, the WoO would collapse, the same way Tony George thought CART would collapse when he took the Indy 500 away from them and started the IRL.

Instead it was the NSL that collapsed because DIRT made all the right moves and kept the WoO alive.  Not only did DIRT have a good TV package they had all the race dates.  Race promoters stuck with DIRT and the WoO.  DIRT moved to sign up drivers to replace those that left and did deals to guarantee them tow money to each race.  With 90 races a year at around $500 per event, the tow money amounts to quite a bit.

By late November, NASCAR's Petty family, which had spearheaded the NSL effort, seeing how hard it was going to be to make NSL successful given WoO did not collapse, withdrew its support. At the early December PRI motorsports convention in Florida, it became known the NSL had folded.

At the time, it seemed drivers and teams would have to go back to the Outlaw series and the sport would be saved.

Earlier this month, even Brownfield, seemed resigned to going back to the series he has promoted in the Northwest since 1994.

"I guess my statement would be that I'm disappointed the NSL was not able to continue their quest to be where they wanted to be," Brownfield said Dec. 7 before a trip to a promoter's convention. "But racing will continue at Grays Harbor Raceway. We're working on setting Outlaw dates. That's what I'm flying to Reno for."

Then the shocker last Saturday, a press release announced the formation of Brownfield Promotions Inc's new National Sprint Tour (NST).

Brownfield stuns racing world with new National Sprint Tour (NST)

The new NST will compete with the Outlaws, and comes directly as a response to the NSL folding. The same twelve top drivers that were with the NSL have announced they will be in the NST.  When the twelve went back to the WoO they found that it was too late, the WoO had committed tow money and purse guarantees to the new drivers and they could not afford to go back to the race promoters and ask for more.

"I was not happy with the circumstances I was in," Brownfield said Sunday afternoon. "With the closure of the NSL, I was trying to merge back with DIRT. It wasn't going satisfactory to my liking (because Skagit had a WoO date meaning he had one less), plus the 12 drivers hadn't signed back with DIRT (because of the tow money). I felt compelled to talk to them. They wanted to race for me. It came together in 72 hours."

Brownfield said Sunday Paul McMahan would be driving for NASCAR champion Tony Stewart.  Steve Kinser, Danny Lasoski, Jason Sides, Shane Stewart, Brian Paulus, Tim Shaffer, Jason Meyers, Jason Solwold, Brandon Wimmer, and Lucas Wolf were announced the day before (Saturday).

Brownfield said he had "no idea" what happened with the NSL, and had no thoughts of starting a national series until the NSL collapse.

"I was shocked," Brownfield said. "I felt a big hole in my stomach. I had put lot of faith in that organization and the teams that were racing in it."

Brownfield has ambitious plans, and recognizes it could take a full season before things are settled down.

"We would like to start with 60 races," Brownfield said of 2006. "I would like to start the season in February. I think we're close to having February dates final. We will be scheduling tracks throughout the year. It will be difficult for tracks since they've already set their schedules, and we recognize that."  He is trying to do deals with tracks that never had a WoO date. Plus he has no TV deal. 

The odds are clearly against him, but he has a big ego and is moving forward. 

"We are very excited about the possibility of growth and what we can contribute to the sport," Brownfield said. "There's no question that without a certain amount of pain, there won't be any gain. We'll do the best that we can.

"All of the responses have been extremely positive," he said. "There has been considerable surprise, to be honest with you. I think it caught a lot of people off-guard."

AutoRacing1.com spoke to both Chris Dolack, DIRT MotorSports VP of Public Relations, and Steve Bietler, promoter at Skagit about the situation.  Both felt that what Fred Brownfield is doing to the sport by splitting it is analogous to Tony George destroying IndyCar racing by splitting it. 

To their credit, DIRT has made some off-season moves that corrected some of the management issues they had and brought Ted Johnson back in.  And last year DIRT delivered on all their promises.  Drivers were all paid and even Steve Kinser's photo remains on their webpage even though he is behind the split with Brownfield.  Of all the drivers, it is Kinser who is pushing hardest for the breakaway.  Before he retires he wants to run a limited schedule in 2006 (60 races instead of 90) so he can spend time with his son Craig who will be debuting in NASCAR.

Dolack and Bietler are dismayed that Kinser and Brownfield insist on splitting the sport instead of trying to iron out their differences with DIRT.

"In a nutshell, the NST was created because the NSL drivers failed to make that series work and when they wanted back in with the Outlaws, there weren't any spots available that paid tow money or signing bonuses," said Dolack.

"Of course, they all received significant amounts of money from the NSL, a "series" that never ran a race. The NSL came about not because of anything DIRT MotorSports did or didn't do, but more because Steve Kinser was still upset two years later that Outlaws founder Ted Johnson sold the series to DIRT rather than a group that involved Tony Stewart.

"It seems to me to be a group of drivers and teams who believe everything on the Internet message boards. Fred Brownfield, a promoter who was going to take his dates to the NSL, became the organizer of the NST because the Outlaws agreed to race at Skagit Speedway, a track about 170 miles north and on opposite sides of Seattle from Brownfield's facility."

Bietler told AutoRacing1.com he feels it's a direct result of Brownfield's hatred for Skagit and the fact they got a 2-day WoO date.

"I'm disappointed in Fred," said Bietler.  "We used to be good friends and worked together for years running races at Skagit together.  Years after Fred failed to get Skagit, I bought it, and even though we were friends, he still had it in for Skagit."

So there you have it, the real story behind the split in winged sprint car racing and the prediction by yours truly, that if Brownfield is able to get the NST off the ground, he will ultimately destroy the sport.

The author can be contacted at markc@autoracing1.com

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