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Is GM about to open the NASCAR door to Honda? What's the price-point on loyalty?

Maybe General Motors has been taking Dale Earnhardt Jr. for granted? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

   BROOKLYN, Mich.
   General Motors executives appear to be scrambling this week in figuring out how to deal with all the NASCAR teams that carry the Chevrolet Bowtie.
   And GM folks seem at a decided loss for words, or even just any coherent statement about the game plan. If there is a game plan.
   GM might just be winging this.
   GM has been spending about $125 million a year on its various NASCAR programs, according to conventional wisdom.
   That budget will likely get cut by at least 20 percent, maybe 25 percent.
   The tricky part is who gets the cuts.
    And the real tricky part is for GM's field bosses to explain all that face to face with the NASCAR men and women they work with every day.
   No wonder why out here in the trenches there is major league anger mixed with major league angst.
   Is anybody driving this bus?
   Check out what GM officials were saying about NASCAR only a few days ago HERE.
Jeff Burton, currently the lead driver for Richard Childress' four-man Chevy operation, concedes these are tough times: "I know Chevrolet is going to do everything that they can to do the best job that they can in motorsports.  
   "This is an unprecedented time…and in many ways it's a sad time…and in many ways it's an exciting time.
   "Chevrolet having to pull support is a big deal because so many people rely on and they have been such a big part of the series.  
   "I don't know everything I need to know about it to comment 100 percent, but I can just tell you that in my talks with Chevrolet they want to do everything they can to stay involved and be a part of the NASCAR deal. 
    "And I think they are.
   "But they have some tough decisions to make."

   And there is the sense that the GM-NASCAR cuts now being ordered may be larger than anticipated….maybe even larger than necessary, in the marketing sense.
   However consider this:
   GM is now trying to reinvent itself.
   Into 'what' is the question.
   First, GM will be getting smaller.
   But Chevy boss Ed Peper – who ultimately doles out the money to NASCAR – has been pointing this week to some curious issues facing GM: that it has a major 'image' issue on the West Coast and in many places on the East Coast.
   GM may be strong in the heartland of America, but in California and parts West, and in New York and parts East, GM, Chevrolet in particular, isn't seen in the same light as say BMW, Mercedes, Honda, Lexus, and others with more cache.
   So will Peper and Chevrolet look to change the image of that brand, to make it more upscale? And if so, where might NASCAR fit in, if at all.
   Does Jimmie Johnson winning NASCAR races in a pseudo-Impala make doctors and lawyers and other big-city professionals want to rush out and buy an Impala?
   Here's thinking one big change for Chevy-in-NASCAR is for GM's NASCAR version in 2010 to be the Malibu.
   But what's the thinking in NASCAR headquarters on all this?
   Yes, for years this sport got along fairly well with all those independent high-performance after-marketers dealing out the parts and pieces.
   But since Ford jumped back into the game in the mid-1980s, and Chevrolet started putting its own NASCAR cards on the table, the sport has changed.
   Now, with NASCAR having shutdown pre-race testing, the manufacturers' computer simulation programs have become all the more important. (And it's fairly easy to see which NASCAR teams get the good info and which ones don't.)
   General Motors needs a new NASCAR game plan, yes.
   GM's NASCAR teams need new game plans, yes.
   But NASCAR itself needs a new game plan….and there are no indications that Daytona even realizes that yet.
   Think 1972. Just after Ford and Chrysler, who had bankrolled NASCAR's meteoric rise throughout the 1960s, abruptly pulled out of this sport.
   What happened?
   Junior Johnson went to R. J. Reynolds and pitched a team sponsorship….and then Johnson and RJR's Ralph Seagraves suddenly decided the better thing for this sport was not to sponsor a car but rather to sponsor the entire sport – with a brand new marketing campaign.
   Now it took about three or four years for it to start paying off, but once the program caught fire – by attracting (even strong-arming) new non-automotive sponsors into the game – things really started happening.


Jeff Burton: Another Chevy man pondering GM's looming cuts (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


Have NASCAR officials gotten too complacent?
   Did they miss the signposts?
   Have they deliberately carved a separate path from Detroit, with common template bodies that don't fool anyone?
   Have they lost touch with the key players in Detroit?
   Have the NASCAR bosses simply become too arrogant, reading too many of their own press releases about how popular this sport is, and what a great marketing tool it is?
   Here's hoping NASCAR execs aren't too late to the new game.
   Dale Earnhardt Jr., for many the face of this sport, particularly in Detroit, has questions himself.
   First, NASCAR's plans to introduce a new version of the car-of-tomorrow in the Nationwide series is quite suspect, Earnhardt says, in these economic times: "The phasing in of the Nationwide COT will be difficult period, aside from whatever factory support that you have or don't have," Earnhardt points out.
   "I understand that the COT (on the Cup side) is a very safe car, and I'm glad for its safety, and I appreciate its safety. But I wished that car had developed and evolved into a better race car over the period that we've used it.
   "It hasn't progressed into a better race car as quickly as I would have liked.
   "So that makes me apprehensive about the same process occurring in the Nationwide series….let alone that is secondary to the expense that it would cost.
   "You're talking probably two to three or four million dollars just to change over, even if you're currently a Nationwide program. That's expensive; that's a lot of people's entire budget."
   Even in good times Earnhardt says he wouldn't expect Detroit car makers to provide any more than 30 percent of that changeover.
   And since GM is apparently cutting its support for Earnhardt's own JR Motorsports, it's an even bigger issue for him now.
    "I really don't know what each program is (GM with its various NASCAR teams), as far as what assistance Chevrolet was giving them, in dollars or wind tunnel time or whatever," Earnhardt says.
    "But I know we'll still probably have a lot of engineering data back and forth.
    "Chevrolet cares really deeply about this sport, and they still are going to maintain some relationships, and they still want to see Chevrolets win, no matter who is driving them or who owns them. So they'll still offer quite a bit of support on the engineering side.
    "But obviously the financial side of it is entirely going away.
    "The manufacturers have been in and out of the sport many times. And Chevrolet has not gone away; it's just had to adjust to the situation…like everybody else did, with the economy the way it is."
     And that of course leads to the next question, which certainly rivals like Ford and Toyota, maybe even Honda, must be pondering: all NASCAR engineering support being equal, what about the check?
   Hey, that door may be opening.
   What price loyalty?
   Is General Motors about to open the door to losing some of its key players?
   Richard Petty was Mr. Plymouth once, and yet jumped to Ford. And then he jumped to Chevrolet. Then he jumped back to Dodge. Now he may jump to Toyota.
   Dale Earnhardt Sr. was once a Ford man, but Ford let him get away.
   Tony Stewart was a GM man, who went with Toyota…and who is now back with Chevrolet.
   Junior Johnson was a Ford man once, then a Chevy guy, then a Ford man again.
   Remember, this is a sports business.
   You don't think that Ford or Toyota or Honda wouldn't jump at the chance to pick up some of these guys?
   Now wouldn't that be a coup – Dale Earnhardt Jr. in a NASCAR Honda.
   Certainly General Motors has a long, legendary record with the Earnhardt name. But this Earnhardt hasn't won a nose-to-nose, door-to-door dogfight in over three years. Should GM accept part of the blame for not handling this sports property better?
    Earnhardt insists he's been so loyal to Chevrolet that he takes it for granted: "Our relationship with Chevrolet was more just about brand loyalty.
    "I've been with them for so long I don't really think we even negotiated with them on the manufacturer's support.
    "It was just about brand loyalty, because we've been with them so long and they've been such a good company to us."
    But suddenly that big check may not be in the mail.
   At least not from GM.

Bring 'em all in. Honda,

Bring 'em all in. Honda, Hyundai, Mazda, Mercedes, BMW, Jaguar, Nissan, and Audi. Now that Yotota is in, NASCAR should welcome all the foreign manufacturers. There is very little brand loyalty anymore. Most of the Junior fans have his stickers on as many Fords, Dodge's, and Toyota's as they do on a Chevy window. If NASCAR is still seeking diversity, this would be one way to get it.

it's the color of money....

it's the color of money....

The problem with opening the

The problem with opening the flood gates is when these new brands come on board they will want major concessions in order to be immediately competitive because of the cash outlay they will have to make. I'm not totally convinced that Nascar is in a position to make those concessions at this point and maintain current fan base. The idea of "Win on Sunday Sell on Monday" isn't as outmoded as people may think apparently not to the people racing at Le Mans this weekend several said winning races were still critical to selling their product either domestically or imported. I also don't think brand loyalty is lost in the consumer, when you think of Nascar you think of sleek sporty cars more than likely coupes that made statements on the track as well as in the showrooms there isn't a coupe being raced in Nascar now. This variation of a Nascar "race car" more closely resemble a soccer mom car in bland 4 door configuration. Until they start making cars that peek interest and blood pressure in styling in sport packages hanging all the tuner spoilers and air dams on the front of 4 door grocery getters and calling them race cars is like staking Mr. Ed to the Kentucky Derby. There are no end of different sport coupes that are offered by foreign makers trouble is the US makers were so convinced everyone wanted and needed a new SUV they quit making them at that point real stock car racing died in this country.

damned good points....but,

damned good points....but, hey, didnt dodge get a big break when it first showed up...and toyota too? i'm wondering if VW might actually beat Honda into NASCAR...when we just talked with brian about new car makers coming in, he teased about it.....sounds like he's making a pitch.....
but you are 100 percent right about the shape of these nascar cars today -- they stink. give me a real race car.
(i like the Mr. Ed kick!)

Honda is not going to waste

Honda is not going to waste money in NASCAR. In fact it would not surprise anyone if Honda pulls the plug on the IRL spec car racing program.

1. Honda has never sold a V8 car or truck
2. Yota thought they could sell Trucks to the Redneck NASCAR fans, how is that working out? Checked the TURDRA's sales lately?

The Koreans might show up, but don't count on it. Much more likley is Ford will come to its senses and wave bye bye to NASCAR. GM and Chryco are going to get government marching orders to leave soon.

Yota will leave and NASCAR will be back where it was in the 70's and the racing will be better for it.

Honda paid good money to take

Honda paid good money to take NASCAR to Japan three straight years.....i'm still trying to figure out that whole deal. and Honda is a racing company....i think maybe Honda is simply scared to come into this sport and test its mettle.
The V-8 thing? I think it's time NASCAR did something a little more 21st century anyway....fuel injection instead of carbs might be an interesting start....nascar has gotten so caught up in its 20th century engine rules that it's missed the millennium. maybe honda can offer some advice.
Trucks....wow, that's a tough issue all the way around, for NASCAR and Yota (i like that). let me check the sales figures....
nah, ford won't pull out of nascar....why: this is cheap advertising.where else can you get a marketing program that works seven days a week, 10 months a year, for what, $100 million or so?
But I am worried about GM....the crazy stuff that company has done the past week or so shows me those guys right now don't have a clue...or any sense of history and loyalty. But you've got to hand it someone over there -- it's a pretty brave dude to fire an earnhardt....and dumb.

What has happened to

What has happened to NASCAR??? They are turning into IASCAR which is a very sad thing. Since we as taxpayers now own 60% of GM one would think that we could suppost "our" company a little more than most.

i think nascar got a little

i think nascar got a little complacent about everything, and didnt work on a plan b or plan c...and there's no excuse for nascar getting blindsided by gm's moves this week. nascar needs to get back in touch and in tune with Detroit, IMHO.

Honda wants to race against

Honda wants to race against Toyota. When Honda raced Indycars that was met by Toyota. And for all of NASCAR's ineptitude the sport is still big enough that Honda involvement would get attention. Plus the sport needs factory help.

I can tell you from a Honda

I can tell you from a Honda insider stand point, that Honda wants to develop a Sprint Car but does not want to get ino the sport. The Accord would make the perfect car to go after the Fusion, and Impala. I have seen a rough drawing of what one might look like and its dam impressive.

If Honda does come into the

If Honda does come into the sport that that is a sign that the sport is providing more value for manufacturers and sponsors, and that's a good thing.

Anything that helps level the playing field more is good for the sport, because sponsors have a better chance of running up front and getting more value for their dollar. It's just common sense.

Granted, it's ludicrous to expect the France family, Roush, Hendrick, Childress or most any other incredibly wealthy owner to be able to have that perspective. They may claim to understand the situation, but it's nonsense. No offense...it's just a fact.

What have we heard from folks like Chad Knaus? "We're going to spec racing, and that's boring." Nooooo, it's boring for YOU because you are no longer dominating. Spec racing has pretty much saved local dirt tracks (for whatever that's worth now) from earlier extinction.

Level the playing field, have a SERIOUS discussion about decreasing the costs for teams...which decreases the costs for sponsors and provides more value...less sponsors leave...less manufacturers leave...less teams leave...less fans leave.

Honda? consider

consider this:


value added?

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