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DATE News (chronologically)
07/16/08
Racing news
GM cuts could hit all levels of racing
Nothing at GM is off-limits -- including its high-profile NASCAR program -- company executives warned as the automaker went public Tuesday in Detroit with its latest round of cost-cutting measures.

With the auto industry in North America taking a beating, GM racing director Mark Kent said that every level of motorsports that GM supports -- from the giant stock-car racing series NASCAR to the grassroots Sports Car Club of America -- is being evaluated. GM also competes in the NHRA, USAC midgets/sprints and the American Le Mans Series.

"Racing is not exempt (from cuts)," Kent said last week. "We are looking at ways to be even more efficient ... looking to see if they are genuinely positioned for a positive return on investment." Kent's words were reinforced by GM chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner, who announced Tuesday that the automaker will reduce salaried jobs, executive salaries and truck production, among other cutbacks, in an effort to salvage the company's sinking fortunes.

"While we are committed to maintain adequate resources to support launch products and brand advertising, we will implement significant reductions in promotional and event budgets, motorsports activities and back-office expenses," said Wagoner in comments to employees.

Troy Clarke, president of GM North America, added: Motorsports "have not gone without scrutiny. I'm not going to get into specifics about NASCAR. But there will be modifications -- changes in our marketing footprint -- in this area."

GM's NASCAR program, which has enjoyed great success and supports 12 Chevy teams, is under review, as is all of the racing GM supports, Kent said. "NASCAR, SCCA club racing -- we are looking at where we need to be." Funding a championship-winning team such as Chevy's Hendrick Motorsports and drivers of the caliber of Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. costs GM at least $30 million a year.

While attendance is down at some NASCAR tracks around the country, including Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, NASCAR still is seen as prime territory by car manufacturers, including Toyota, which tested the waters in Craftsman Truck in 2004 before wading into the Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series in 2007. Yet Toyota, which has nine Sprint Cup victories this season -- along with GM, Ford and Dodge -- is feeling the heat and reviewing everything from Sprint Cup participation to track sponsorships and other racing-related marketing programs. "There's no change at this point to our Cup team support," Ford Racing spokesman Kevin Kennedy said. "Marketing programs (at Ford) across the board have been cut, and racing in general is part of that. Yes, Ford Racing is looking for a lot more efficiencies. Efficient and scrappy is what we want to be."

Ford Racing is involved in NASCAR, NHRA, Grand Am, the Mustang Challenge and Drifting. Its NASCAR drivers include Roush Fenway Racing's Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle. Dodge is a force in the NHRA, SCCA and off-road racing, and Kasey Kahne is its NASCAR pinup boy. Mike Delahanty, senior manager of Dodge Motorsports, said that, in view of the tough economy, Dodge was in a "wait-and-see" position in regards to motorsports. "We are looking at where the market goes -- where the bottom is," Delahanty said.

Dodge has long-term contracts with its NASCAR teams and tracks, which include Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Dover International Speedway, Talladega Superspeedway and Darlington Raceway. "There's no better place to be than in NASCAR connecting with fans," Delahanty said. "It's a great place for a domestic brand. NASCAR races rank pretty high."

At Toyota -- where Kyle Busch is running rings around his NASCAR Sprint Cup rivals -- its national motorsports manager said his company is "currently reviewing plans we had in place for the entire 2008 season."

"Everybody's budgets are being reviewed," Les Unger said. "At track, on-site expos... we're looking at it all. We stand firm, however, in honoring all agreements. Relative to other sports, NASCAR is still the place to be, but with the increase in gas prices, the drop in the housing market and layoffs, we all have to take a very close look at our budgets." Detroit Free Press
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