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NASCAR Media Tour - Day 4

by Pete McCole
Friday, January 23, 2009

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Yates Racing owner Max Jones, driver Travis Kvapil, Paul Menard, Bobby Labonte, and owner Doug Yates
Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR
The 27th annual NASCAR Sprint Media Tour hosted by Lowe's Motor Speedway drew to a close on Thursday, marking the final day of the four day tour as teams prepare for the season opening Daytona 500.

Ford Racing headlined the morning session with a panel that included officials from the three major Ford-backed teams – Roush-Fenway Racing, Yates Racing and the Wood Brothers.

Brian Wolfe, Ford's director of North American Motorsports, began the program with the unveiling of Ford’s new "FR9" engine which will be making its debut in 2009.

The Roush and Yates engineering group helped in the development of the new engine, continuing a partnership between the two former engine building competitors.

"About five years ago I got together with Robert (Yates) and we merged our engine program.  The cornerstone of that was, of course, his son Doug.  Doug is the son that we both shared as it related to looking forward to what we'd be able to do with the engines,” said Roush-Fenway owner Jack Roush. “I took the responsibility to go straighten out the race teams and get those going and Doug took the responsibility to come back and make the engines work with his dad standing behind him

“This (new engine) represents a real milestone.  It's really all the guys in Dearborn (Mich.) brought together their engineering, and then Doug and Robert and all the crew down here were able to adapt those engineering ideas to the problem that we've got of making these cars go fast and live on the race tracks.”

In addition to their technical alliance with Roush-Fenway Racing, Yates has also formed a partnership with Hall Of Fame Racing, providing engines and chassis as well as technical support to the team.

The Wood Brothers, who have been involved in the sport since 1953, announced they will run only a partial schedule of 12 races in with driver Bill Elliott for the 2009 season, while cutting back on staff in order to be able to compete in today challenging economic climate.

“We arrived at that decision because in tough times you kind of look back at where you used to be and what worked for you - kind of dance with what you brought to the party - so that's why we're going back to our roots,” said team co-owner Eddie Wood. “We had our most success running a limited schedule back in the seventies and the eighties.

“We've got tons of support from Ford Motor Company and Ford engineering and we're looking forward to it."

The current downturn in the economy has forced Roush-Fenway to make cutbacks as well, but has full sponsorship for all five of its Sprint Cup entries

"The sport has some economic challenges that are not unique to businesses around the world,” said Roush. “The disappointing ticket sales and souvenir sales are an indicator of the health of the world's economy and not the referendum on the popularity of NASCAR.

"The makeup of the teams and the drivers and the sponsors will continue to evolve as they have throughout history.  The core NASCAR product is fundamentally sound and requires no change as seen by me.

"I'm a race fan and I think that my fellow race fans are still interested in the best on-track performance that we can deliver. I'll do my part to see to it that they get a great value for their entertainment dollar going forward.”

Later in the afternoon, the tour rolled on to the NASCAR Research and Development Center in Concord, N.C., where NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France discussed the current state of the sport, particularly the economy and NASCAR’s new no-testing policy.

NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France addresses the media at the NASCAR Research and Development Center in Concord, N.C.
Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR
“The NASCAR management team has been extremely busy this winter working with teams and tracks to face the challenges of the economy and keep our sport moving in the right direction,” said France. “One of the key areas we're zeroing in on is helping the teams develop a new business model to fit today's ever changing economy, exploring ways to manage costs much smarter, working with our media partners to explore additional ways to take our product to our fans, meeting with our tracks to brainstorm new promotions for ticket opportunities for our fans.”

“Everyone up here and all the departments at NASCAR, it's our responsibility to try to help the teams,” said NASCAR chief marketing officer Steve Phelps. “Our industry marketing group is out in the marketplace trying to help the teams secure sponsorship. They're out trying to help the teams create packages that will be meaningful for sponsors that are looking to get into our sport.  And they try to create meaningful points of difference from team to team, driver to driver, that create something special that that sponsor might look for.”

NASCAR Hall of Fame Executive Director Winston Kelley helps announce the annual induction process for the NASCAR Hall of Fame, scheduled to open in Charlotte, N.C. in 2010
Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR
As part of a initiative to help teams reduce their operating costs, NASCAR has eliminated all testing at NASCAR-sanctioned tracks starting in 2009, hoping also to further level the playing field for teams that could not afford the expense of traveling around the country for testing.

In response to the ban, several Sprint Cup teams have traveled to non-sanctioned tracks, such as Rockingham Speedway and Texas World Speedway, to conduct their on-track testing.

“We believe that the suspension of testing that we announced in November for the '09 season has accomplished a lot and most of what we wanted it to accomplish, and that's, number one, economically for car owners.  It is a big impact,” said NASCAR President Mike Helton.

“NASCAR has the ability to enforce its policy, and we have that ability with tracks that we have business relationships with.  We don't have that ability at test facilities, proving grounds, tracks like Rockingham or (Texas World Speedway).  We don't have that ability to enforce a policy.  So that far reach that we would like to have is not enforceable, and we're not going to have a policy or a procedure or a rule that we can't enforce fairly across the board. 

“That's a part of the basis of a policy that we come up with, is that everybody in the garage area has to feel like it's fair to them.  Now, we hear the same thing you hear.  We know what's going on out there.  But it's also a matter of us not being able to enforce that.”

NASCAR is also looking into other cost cutting measures, such as trimming each NASCAR weekend down to only two days, or further extending the no-testing policy through 2010.

“If there's a new way of doing something, we're going to be open minded to it,” said Helton. “The decision making process has a lot of ripple effect to it. But the decision making processes that we make today in tough times, and sometimes they're tough decisions, have to keep the quality of NASCAR racing at the level that NASCAR fans expect it to be.”

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