And of course there were the kumbaya platitudes for all to see in order to prove it too: "The teams have met in various forms and forums over the years to explore areas of common interest," said Rob Kaufman, co-owner of Michael Waltrip Racing and the leader of the new group. "This simply formalizes what was an informal group. We all have vested interests in the success and popularity of stock car racing."
That all sounds well and good and eminently logical, but does anyone really think that this group is going to figuratively hold hands with the powers that be in NASCAR as they skip through the issues of the day? Please.
Why is the formation of this RTA so ominous for NASCAR? Like everything else associated with the NASCAR machine, this is about the money. Along with all of the other issues this new group will be collaborating on, they're going to be going after a bigger slice of the pie (read Nate Ryan's excellent piece about it in USA Today here). And as you might imagine, this is not something that will sit well with the NASCAR brain trust in Daytona Beach.
Unlike in the past, when NASCAR could easily and often say "it's our way or the highway," the parameters have changed dramatically. NASCAR as a sport has been in steady decline since 2007, despite the overreaching and grossly overpriced TV contracts won by the organization. Complicating the situation is that ironically enough, NASCAR is ultimately suffering from a creation of its own making. It has projected and promoted the star power of its drivers – to the detriment of almost everything else I might add, including the participating manufacturers and sponsors – and guess what? Who do those drivers work for? Not NASCAR, although the drivers participate in endlessly promoting NASCAR, but for the teams. The teams align with the manufacturers, they acquire the sponsors and they sign the drivers because of the money coming in from the sponsors and the manufacturers. The foundation of the NASCAR marketing model – the promoting of the drivers and their personalities above all else – is now completely controlled by those aforementioned teams.
Not only that, the manufacturers are no longer content to sit back and let Daytona Beach dictate the circumstances, like in years past. They have become more vocal and aggressive with NASCAR, making their feelings clear and pushing for changes where they see fit. For instance, the end of the dreaded "Car of Tomorrow" was the direct result of manufacturer lobbying, not NASCAR's willingness to change on its own, even though NASCAR would like everyone to think otherwise. The manufacturers have even formed a manufacturers advisory council – which no one has talked about as of yet – which NASCAR isn't pleased about either. Add to this volatile mix more aggressive sponsors who aren't necessarily buying the NASCAR view hook, line and sinker and you have a recipe for a contentious situation, with the new RTA the focal point of it all.
NASCAR will have to grudgingly listen to the RTA and take their recommendations seriously, because this just in, the RTA holds all of the cards. It's not like in ancient times when NASCAR could muster enough teams and drivers for the sake of "The Show" and carry on with the fans hardly noticing. The fact of the matter is that today the RTA teams are The Show, and NASCAR can't hide it or pretend otherwise.
Expect this not to go well for NASCAR because they're going to have to relinquish some control and more significantly, acquiesce to parting with a larger percentage of the cold, hard cash coming in. And that is anathema to the powers that be in NASCAR, pure and simple.
Things are about to get very interesting in NASCARVille. Peter De Lorenzo/Autoextremist