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DATE News (chronologically)
05/21/07
nascar
Should NASCAR be split into two divisions?
Greg Erwin is one of the classic new-breed NASCAR crew chiefs, a full-fledged engineer (Clemson), as well as a graduate of stock-car racing’s School of Hard Knocks the past decade, a father of three and now facing what looks like a turning point in his upward-bound career.

It’s almost June, and NASCAR crews have been through the wringer the past several months. Even drivers are showing the distinct signs of burnout, coming remarkably early this year, an ailment that usually doesn’t strike hard until late July or early August.

So, Erwin is not alone in reassessing his life on the Nextel Cup trail. And he said that it’s time for NASCAR executives to consider reformatting the Cup tour to make it more user-friendly for the several thousand crewmen, officials, drivers and truckers who make it all happen.

Erwin, the crew chief for Robby Gordon and now his chief engineer, suggested that NASCAR create a two-division series - an American League/National League tour - with half the sport’s teams in one division and the other half in the other. That would open up the sport to more teams and more sponsors and more tracks, Erwin said.

The concept isn’t new, of course. The late T. Wayne Robertson, when running R. J. Reynolds’ sports-marketing operations, first raised the idea some 10 years ago, as a way of expanding the sport’s reach across America.

Such a two-division series, Erwin said, could ease the burden on NASCAR families, who now struggle through a 38-race season that seems almost torturous, even crueler this season because of the introduction of the car of tomorrow and the ceaseless testing involved.

Erwin put it bluntly: “I’m 37, I’ve been doing this for 11 years, the last nine on the road ... and I’ve got a wife and three kids, including a seven-month-old, and this is really hard on people with a family.... The tour may be OK if you’re single, or if you’ve got your wife on the road with you. But for all these families it can get pretty rough.

“I’d like to do this for a long time, but it’s really hard the way they’ve got it set up now. If we could just get a couple of weeks break in the summer to catch our breath it would make it a lot more bearable.

“If NASCAR would divide the tour in an American League and a National League, like baseball, we could schedule more races, add more new tracks, ensure all these big-sponsored teams make the fields, and give the crews a few breaks, too.

“We could bring Rockingham back on the tour, we could run a second race again at Darlington, we could run a second race at Las Vegas, Martinsville could breath a lot easier, and there would be room for new tracks, too. We could add new venues and still not add to the workload.”

Ty Norris, the veteran team manager who helped the late Dale Earnhardt build DEI 10 years ago and who is now helping Michael Waltrip build his stock-car team, pointed to another aspect of the same issue. Norris said that NASCAR needs to do more to protect multi-million-dollar sponsors, especially the newcomers to the sport who have become caught up in the vicious cycle of failing to make races because there are too many high-dollar teams vying for the 43 spots available each race weekend.

This season, the sports business of NASCAR is so hot and popular that there are 48 full-time Nextel Cup teams with major-league sponsors. That means at least five high-dollar sponsors have to sit out the week’s action, despite spending millions of dollars to play the game.

So Norris said that NASCAR should expand each field to at least 47 cars, or risk losing some of the sport’s big sponsors entirely.

“They may argue that these tracks don’t have enough pits, but if Bristol can find pits for 43 cars then certainly these much bigger tracks can find space for more pits,” Norris said.

“If we don’t do something, two years from now, some of these big sponsors will simply vanish.”

Erwin, though, said that just putting more cars on each track each weekend isn’t the solution: “No, we don’t need bigger fields; we’ve got too many cars out there as it is.

“But if we could get the tour down to about 25 races (for each division), everything would be much more manageable.”  More at Winston-Salem Journal

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