Team alliance drama shows lack of trust in NASCAR garage
|Big Bill France Sr. would have crushed the RTA, but the current regime is powerless to stop it|
The drama and concern caused by the creation of the Race Team Alliance has little to do with how money will be distributed from the next big television contract.
It has little to do with the alliance's stated goal of landing better deals in a variety of common spending areas for all teams.
NASCAR It has everything to do with trust.
Think about it. The team owners are saying: "Trust us, we just want better deals with a combined economies of scale and don't want a fight with NASCAR." And yet few believe them.
NASCAR is saying "Trust us, we have run this sport successfully for 60 years, we know what we're doing." And yet few believe them.
It's a sad reality, somewhat embarrassing but easily understandable in a sport run by a benevolent dictatorship trying to delicately balance the interests of everyone in the sport. To do that, there needs to be trust. And the RTA's formation, and the reaction to it, is a sign that trust has eroded with the economy over the last six years.
If team owners had total trust in NASCAR, the sanctioning body could have taken a leadership role in working on costs and spending issues by the teams. NASCAR could use its weight (and official sponsor status program) to work better deals for the benefit of the entire industry.
NASCAR already does that for merchandising. It would seem that if that formula worked well and everyone felt they were getting an equal shake, that model could be used in other areas.
Instead, the teams opted to do it without NASCAR, either not believing NASCAR had capable people to pull off such deals or not trusting NASCAR that it would work for the total benefit of the teams and not try to cut a deal that would benefit itself.
NASCAR's initial response to the RTA was that it didn't know enough about the group to comment and now it has reportedly told the group to communicate through its attorneys. That reaction shows a lack of trust in the owners by NASCAR, which apparently is unsure of the group's intentions.
Why? Probably because the owners have never gotten together in such an alliance before. In the past they each took whatever NASCAR did and dealt with it individually. They might yell and scream in the NASCAR hauler, but they never organized like this.
Somewhere deep in the bowels of its Daytona Beach headquarters, NASCAR officials are probably wondering if these owners are just interested in increasing their purchasing power or have other motives, having just found the guts to challenge the sanctioning body.
Outside of NASCAR, even after repeated statements about the group's intentions, Michael Waltrip Racing co-owner Rob Kauffman can't gain the trust of the NASCAR industry.
Speculation about there being more to the group's intentions than what Kauffman says shows that no matter the respect those in the industry have for the current group of team owners, in this society, there is a perception that highly successful people hold their plans close to the vest before they're ready to pounce.
Their stated plan seems so simple that if the better-deals-on-rental-cars mission is true, they would have done it years ago. There has to be something more, something behind another curtain we can't see.
The television deal is the easiest thing to point to, and again it boils down to a lack of trust. NASCAR is set to earn $19 million more a year from 2015-2024 than it earns in 2014 from the television contract. It has yet to detail a plan for that $19 million. If the teams trusted that NASCAR would spend that money for the good of the sport and primarily for their benefit, would they really be forming an alliance?
Instead, the teams are organizing amid a seismic shift in NASCAR leadership.
President Mike Helton has become less and less visible. Former Cup Series director John Darby, well-liked even if he might have dragged his feet on changes he was skeptical of, has slipped into the background. Sometimes change is needed, but change doesn't come without the relative outsiders who are now executives needing to prove themselves.
Brent Dewar, a former Chevrolet executive, now heads the business side of NASCAR as chief operations officer. Gene Stefanyshyn, a former car designer for Chevrolet, is now in charge of car design as well as other technological initiatives dealing with inspection and officiating. He has spearheaded several changes and while he has shown the ability to listen, there will be skepticism until the racing improves more and his other changes stand the test of time.
The new executives don't have the trust in the NASCAR industry of someone like Steve O'Donnell, the veteran racing operations executive who has used years of balancing the wishes of NASCAR and the teams — as well as a public persona on Twitter that shows he truly cares about the sport and its fans — to earn respect as someone looking out for everyone's best interests.
The sport is a gumbo of entities all with the hopes of making money. They need each other but also at times battle for the same revenue streams or need one side to give up money for the benefit of another.
NASCAR needs a good chef to mix it all. NASCAR, the team owners and the drivers should combine to hire someone who works at arm's length from them all, much like NASCAR's chief appellate officer. Give that person — Ray Evernham? Jay Frye? Andy Petree? Dale Jarrett? — a budget and a significant fund to start programs that could benefit the teams.
Maybe it's too late for that. Maybe NASCAR is now stuck with the RTA, a sign that this is not the sport of 10 years ago. It's a sign that after 60 years, NASCAR's saying "trust us, we know how to run this sport" just doesn't hold the weight it once did. Sporting News