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What to make of that big owners meeting at Rick Hendrick's shop: Good question

  Tony Stewart: calls the invitation to that unexpected meeting of team owners at Rick Hendrick's "one of the highlights of my career." But what was the real purpose of the meeting....and what will be the outcome of those discussions? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

    By Mike Mulhern

    POCONO, Pa.
    Saving money -- cutting expenses -- was the biggest goal in that curious owners meeting at Rick Hendrick's shop this week.
    With big-dollar sponsors becoming harder and harder to find, and with some current high-dollar sponsors, like DuPont, planning major cutbacks in NASCAR, the pressure is on to figure out how to resolve the financial dilemma. So some 18 team owners and team representatives met to talk about what might be done.
    Currently top teams budget $25 million to $30 million a year for expenses. And even one of the big stars of the sport, Jeff Gordon, at the moment apparently doesn't have a full sponsor for 2011; long-time sponsor DuPont is expected to pull way back on its sponsorship. And Sprint Cup tour leader Kevin Harvick still hasn't announced a 2011 sponsor (though he says he's not worried).
    Tommy Baldwin, an independent owner, though not invited to the Hendrick meeting, predicted "In two years a good sponsorship is going to be $8 million to $12 million."
   And why wasn't Baldwin invited? "That was just for the rich folks," Baldwin said. "And they're facing some tough times.
   "But all these teams have so many fixed costs.....like engines."
    Among the team owners at the meeting: Rick Hendrick, Roger Penske (with Walt Czarnecki), Chip Ganassi, Felix Sabates, J. D. Gibbs, and Tony Stewart. Among the team representatives: Robbie Reiser (for Jack Roush), Robbie Loomis (George Gillett and Richard Petty Motorsports), and Jay Frye (for Red Bull's Dietrich Mateschitz). No NASCAR officials were present, but the meeting of men representing at least 24 Cup teams apparently had Brian France's 'blessing.'
    Some cost-cutting changes discussed:       
    -- Shorter races.
    -- Having a smaller tire allotment each weekend.
    -- Using engines for more than one race.
    -- Having teams team-up on flights to and from the events, instead of each flying so many individual planes.
    -- Limiting crewmen at the track, perhaps eliminating those special pit crews.
    -- Going to slower fuel dump cans, so faster pit stops aren't an issue.


Bobby Hutchens, competition director for the Tony Stewart-Ryan Newman team (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


Team owners weren't the only men there, which apparently aggravated a couple of car owners, who seemed miffed that some top owners were missing, like Richard Childress and Jack Roush, and that some team managers were on hand instead. The meeting, some suggested, should have included only owners, the men who actually have to write the checks.
    Tony Stewart was one of the owners at the meeting and says "it's one of the highlights of my career" to be part of something that appears rather historic.
   Mass meetings of stock car team owners is something the France family over the years have shied away from, fearing the results might too contentious.
   And just why this meeting was called, at this point in the season, is still somewhat unclear. According to one man invited it was only put together last Thursday or Friday, at Indianapolis.
    There has been little comment about it all from NASCAR CEO Brian France about it.
    But the team owners are apparently charged with finding consensus on some issues and take those points to NASCAR for consideration.
   Jay Frye, who runs the team owned by Red Bull's Dietrich Mateschitz, attended the Hendrick meeting and said he was impressed: "Roger Penske, Rick Hendrick, these guys are all hugely successful in other businesses, and it was really humbling for me just to be in the room with them, and for three or four hours.
   "There were lots of ideas....and there is no 'bad' idea. It was all about reducing costs and making the product better. This was the first one of these, so there was a lot of stuff tossed out for consideration.
   "Cutting costs was one part of it. But you don't want to affect the product.
   "There was consensus on some things that were easy. But I don't think there was any consensus on the engine thing.
   "It was more about ideas, generating a list of ideas.
   "And I'm not exactly sure what the next step is."


  Car owner Tommy Baldwin: Not invited? Why's that? "Just for the rich folks." (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

  One man privy to the meeting, but asking not to be named, offered this summation:
   "One thing we spend a lot of money on, that we don't want to spend a lot of money on, are these darned special pit crews. But some of the managers there said 'Hey, that's part of the show.' But, shoot, it costs a lot of money.
   "The big things – limiting the number of tires, shortening the races so you'd use fewer tires and put fewer miles on the motors.
   "And the owners really need to get together and agree to stop paying these drivers $10 million. We've got a good deal with our drivers....but we've had drivers come to use asking for $12 million to drive the car.
   "Some of them have the idea that if we went to slower dump cans,
   "It will, when you have to fill up. But it won't if you only need to take three or four gallons.
   "These special pit crews are so costly – ours are earning more than the rest of the guys on the team who are working seven days a week. I understand pit stops are cool, but my gosh these special crews are prohibitively expensive. They make half-again as much as the regular crew guys.
   "On top of that, the tire bill each weekend for each car is $30,000. They've got to get that down to $20,000.
   "And the motor bill is $100,000 per car...and you've got to get that down to $60,000 or $70,000. And the only way to do that is to run fewer miles.
   "Those $12,000 to $15,000 special high-pressure radiators – most teams tried them but got away from them. We use the standard $2,000 radiator.
   "Is there too much carbon fiber in these cars, is that an expense we could all cut?
    "Well, I look at it like this – That stuff is a durable good, it's these, and once you use it, you can use it again. My point is every car here throws away $30,000 in tires every week. Every week. Some people complain about us having to buy 500 wheels (every year); but, heck, they're (only) $60 buck apiece. Yes, that's $30,000 – but we're throwing away $30,000 per car in tires every week – that's over a million dollars a year.
   "The money in these cars is in motors and tires. On each of our teams, there's $4.5 million a year in engines and tires that's just 'gone.' That's the problem."
    Eliminating the special, fast pit crews, who flew in Sunday morning specifically to pit the car, has long been a debated issue. Those crewmen are highly paid.
    But crew chiefs, like Greg Zipadelli, are adamantly against taking those special crews out of the game.
    And Zipadelli is certainly not in favor of any limits on crewmen allowed at the track each race weekend: "We need those people because of this crazy schedule they have us running. Like Sonoma, California, one weekend and Loudon, N.H. the next and Daytona the next.
   "If you have a problem, you can't just load up and go home; you've got to fix it right there. That's why we need all these crew guys. If they had a tour schedule that was halfway sensible, we wouldn't need all these guys."

  Crew chief Greg Zipadelli: If NASCAR's Sprint Cup tour schedule were more effectively laid out on the calendar, teams wouldn't need so many crewmen (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

    Bobby Hutchens, who helps run Tony Stewart's team, says some of the discussion was about teams possibly "pooling resources, like having some big planes and teams sharing that expense. Maybe we could all get by with just four planes. Because we all arrive at the same place the same time, and we all leave the same place at the same time.
   "And there was some talk about 'crew limits' at the track. Here's the deal: some people say if we slow down the dump cans, we won't need these superfast pit crews. But if it comes down to a green-white-checkered finish and you only need tires, you're still going to need the baddest pit crew you can get to put you back on the track as fast as possible."
  Engines? Stewart leases motors from Hendrick.
   "They're looking at the Nationwide/Truck model for engines, of running the same engine two times, at certain short tracks," Hutchens said.
   "But now there would be development costs going into that."
    One top crew chief, who asked not to be named, said the idea of running more than one race on a Sprint Cup engine would entail considerable development expense and would likely be something like a five-year project.
    Hutchens pointed out "There are a lot of things we could cut out....but the problem is we've already invested in those things: take the special qualifying brakes. To come out today and we can't use those any more, that's not going to save us any money, because we already have them.  
   "But what we all need to do is pay attention – like last year when the chase started, one team showed up with a special (lightweight) dashboard for qualifying. Well, there should have been a rule the next week that you can't do that. But what happened was all the 'Jones' in here picked up on that and we all had them.
   "We all need to be better policemen ourselves and work closer with officials....not to stop innovation but to stop some of the things like that."

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  Car owner Rick Hendrick (L), one of the sport's most powerful men, and four-time champ Jimmie Johnson (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)



Getting scared are they?

It appears the owners are ready to brainstorm since now the deal is going sour all around. Classic case of closing the barn doors after the horse is already out. Actually its nice to see all these bigwigs squirm finally. Maybe something will get done to make this interesting to watch again,which by the way I still dont. Just checking in to see if racing has returned yet---apparently not.Ciao

i was a little disturbed that

i was a little disturbed that the Hendrick meeting was, in Tommy Baldwin's words, 'just for the rich guys.' Every full-time team owner should have been there. All the big guys are going to do is what helps them; they could care less about Robby Gordon and Tommy Baldwin and whoever the next Alan Kulwicki might be.....
oh, you might want to check out the last few minutes of Sunday's 500 here -- remember Smoke has promised to deal out some justice himself, and looks like he's got a good car.

Even Childress said it was for the rich guys

According to Richard Childress, it was "just for the rich guys."

Childress said: "NASCAR knows that we were in a meeting, and that was just a group of guys -- as owners, we want to keep the top-quality teams with top-quality equipment to keep putting on the great shows that we put on for our race fans."

I'm surprised as well that it

I'm surprised as well that it was "just for the rich guys". What about owners that have "paid" there dues like James Finch, Michael Waltrip (I don't recall seeing his name mentioned, if he did show up he prolly woulda said sumpthin' stoopid), Beth Morganthau or even Teresa Earnhardt. Is it true she bought into a Starbucks franchise?....lol What about the N'wide/Truck owners? Or was this a "Cup" thing? Shouldn't this have been opened up "across the board" for all 3 series, considering many purchased/lease equipment from each other and so on...

Thanks Mike

Having been a fan for over 50 years, I remember when guys like you were the ONLY news source I had out on the west coast. "Speed Cost How Fast Ya Wanna Go?" has forever been the bane of auto racing. Unfortunately, unless it's a straight ahead spec car series, somebody is going to spend more than the next guy in an effort to go faster. And while spec cars are fine for short tracks, on longer ones all you are going to get is parades.

Funny is that they are complaining about the cost of personel. The very guys that have made them gazillionaires. Typical. What's also funny is that in any other business, what they did by having this meeting would be called collusion. If bankers or big oil or the world's automakers got together like this (oh that's right, they do. It's called the Bilderberg Club) folks would be calling for their heads.

Oh wah, the drivers, tire changers, and traveling mechanics make too much money. So try to win a race without them. And yea, they were bummed cause the meeting turned out to have non-owners at it. My guess is because what some of them really wanted to do was discuss cutting the wages of the guys whose backs they've built their empires on.

Cry me a river Mr. Hendrick.

And Mike? Any idea who's idea this meeting was? My best guess is Hendrick but....And thanks again, keep up the good work.

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