NASCAR/RCR could lose Cingular

UPDATE #2 A reader adds, At the risk of further increasing my unwelcome status at any NASCAR event, I had to chuckle a little when I read the letter from NASCAR's general counsel to James Ellis at AT&T/Cingular. Especially when I reached the part where Mr. Crotty states: "NASCAR plays no role and is not a party to the agreements between the teams and their sponsors."

Two points: First, by restricting who can and who cannot be a sponsor for a team, isn't NASCAR making themselves a party for any agreement between teams and their sponsors? If NASCAR didn't not agree to the terms of Nextel/Sprint's agreement then there would not be an issue of Cingular changing to AT&T. Therefore, didn't NASCAR make themselves a party to the agreement between RCR and Cingular/AT&T by creating the clause at issue?

Second, didn't NASCAR make themselves a party by intervening in the recent dispute between Sunoco and Shell?

I realize that NASCAR's position is one of "legal definition" and that definition likely has no basis in common sense but one does have to laugh when you look at the history of NASCAR's meddling in the affairs of the teams and their sponsors and then read these ridiculous letters attempting to change history. Mika Malehorn

Dear Mika, We call those who attempt to change history revisionists – they try to change history to suit them. It's not unlike Tony George who tries to tell the world why he had to create the IRL and in the process destroy the sport of Indy Car Racing that had been built up and made so strong under CART.

And, to add insult to injury, he tries to insult our intelligence by changing from an all-oval series that focused on American drivers and American suppliers, to now a series that is powered by leased engines from a single foreign engine manufacturer, in a single foreign made chassis, riding on tires from a foreign company (Japan's Bridgestone owns Firestone) with many foreign drivers on an increasing number of street and road courses. Everything that we were told was bad about CART the IRL now does, but now it's OK because the IRL and Tony George have tried to 'revise' history and convince us they had a better idea. Meanwhile look where open wheel racing is in this country today compared to how healthy it was in 1995 before the split. Mark C.

03/30/07 AT&T has been pressuring NASCAR with its lawsuit over how to paint the quarter panels on Jeff Burton's Nextel Cup car as it rebrands Cingular under the AT&T logo.

According to papers being filed in the suit, NASCAR officials told Stan Sigman, the president and CEO of Cingular, five weeks ago that in April 2005, George Pyne, NASCAR's CEO at the time, told the Richard Childress-Burton team that it would not allow a change in paint scheme or logos if Cingular was bought and had its name changed.

NASCAR further said that its grandfathering of Cingular – after Nextel signed on as the series sponsor – "was tied directly to the Cingular Wireless brand and not the Cingular company."

The papers further say that "it is generally not in NASCAR's interest to limit sponsors' participation in the sport." NASCAR suggested that AT&T could sponsor a Busch team or a Trucks team instead, if it wished. That is precisely the route that Verizon has taken.

NASCAR's filing refers specifically to Pyne's letter to Childress, dated April 4, 2005. It specifies that "should Cingular be acquired by a third party, the Cingular brand is continually welcome as a team sponsor. However, should the company's name change, we will not allow any paint scheme or branding on the car promoting this new name."

The papers go on to say: "NASCAR certainly has no desire to eliminate the Cingular brand from NASCAR Nextel Cup series competition." But, "unfortunately AT&T's decision to purchase Cingular and then to eliminate the Cingular brand puts NASCAR in the position of having to now enforce the rights granted Nextel in the series sponsorship agreement."

NASCAR and Nextel signed their initial agreements in the summer of 2003, with Nextel taking over the sponsorship from R. J. Reynolds for the start of the 2004 season. Winston Salem Journal

03/27/07 The filings below (PDF Files) are part of the public record and sum up the argument AT&T is making against NASCAR pretty well— Richard Childress Racing has known for some time (2 yrs) and chose to keep AT&T/Cingular in the dark and let them exercise the one year options in both ‘05 and ‘06 for the subsequent seasons knowing a change in name for their No. 31 car from Cingular to AT&T was not going to be allowed because of NASCAR's Nextel deal.

Helton Letter | NASCAR Letter

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