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Now that the President of the United States has spoken, maybe it's time for NASCAR men to step to the plate


Bruton Smith's Texas Motor Speedway is mighty impressive....but will the big story here this weekend be what happens on the track, or what's going on behind the scenes in Washington, D.C. and Detroit? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

   FORT WORTH, Texas
   Remember 1971?
   And, uh, remember Win on Sunday, Sell on Monday?
   Looks like the new catchphrase is 'Better sell on Monday, or you won't be racing next Sunday.'
   As the NASCAR tour heads west to Bruton Smith's impressive Texas Motor Speedway and on to the France family's Phoenix International Raceway, the sport of stock car racing is reeling from President Obama's charge right into the middle of Detroit's year-long angst.
   And the story in NASCAR this week isn't about Jimmie Johnson's fender-banging run to victory over Denny Hamlin and Jeff Gordon at Martinsville…and it isn't about Jack Roush's sudden run of 'issues' and the slump his teams have hit…and it isn't about Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s long winless run and the curious lack of performance by the sport's most popular driver over nearly three years now…and it isn't about hard-charging Kyle Busch, who has become the face of NASCAR over the past year for his brilliant driving and irrepressible personality…and it isn't about Kurt Busch's comeback, after a two-year slump.
   No, the story in NASCAR is about what President Obama has planned for GM and Chrysler, about what has just happened in Detroit, with the president of the United States forcing the resignation of the CEO of one of the world's biggest companies, and about what might happen next in Detroit…and then in NASCAR country.
   And it may be time to remember 1971, and the impact on NASCAR following Detroit's pullout from stock car racing after the Go-Go Sixties.
   Teams folded, remember? At one point there was only one full-time team running, Richard Petty's.
   Tracks went bankrupt, a lot of tracks.
   Maybe Obama has a good game plan for rescuing General Motors and Chrysler, maybe not.
   But NASCAR executives better be working on contingency plans….
   The bottom line in Detroit is this – the auto industry, which sold 16 million vehicles in 2007, is on target to sell just nine million this season.
   It may certainly be unfair to blame Obama for whatever he thinks he has to do to repair the damage Detroit effectively has done to itself. But if this Obama repair job includes dumping NASCAR marketing, well, that might not set too well in some quarters.
   And it should be pointed out that GM and Chrysler likely wouldn't be in the fix they're in, if all those potential American car buyers hadn't been losing their own jobs by the hundreds of thousands, and if many of those potential car buyers weren't so worried about losing their homes to foreclosure. Detroit's problems are largely the result of fallout from the Wall Street bankers debacle, than inherent problems in car-building, gas-guzzlers notwithstanding.
   And GM executives have been talking for several years now about how the biggest problem they face in revamping the auto business is the over-riding U.S. healthcare issue…which so far apparently hasn't even come up in this current Detroit-Obama debate.
   If providing decent healthcare in this country weren't such an economic nightmare all the way around, Detroit – and other industries too – would be in much better shape.
   On top of all this, consider that some of NASCAR's biggest players – team owners Smith, Roger Penske and Rick Hendrick – are also some of this country's biggest car dealers. The fate of Smith's own Sonic Automotive empire is up for debate, with car sales slumping.
   So not only is there question about what might happen to the Detroit-NASCAR connection, at least as far as GM and Chrysler are concerned, there is also question about what might happen to NASCAR teams, considering the plight now of NASCAR's car dealers as car dealers, not just as team owners with corporate links to Detroit.
   It is not a pretty picture for the sport.
   Obama made clear his push for a 'greener' Detroit, building and selling more efficient cars.
   So consider this: nearly 60 percent of GM's sales come from high-profit-margin trucks and SUVs, rather than fuel-efficient economy vehicles, what might happen to NASCAR's already beleaguered Truck series? 
    NASCAR's Truck teams, despite putting on great racing, have never drawn great major sponsorship during the 14 years of the series. In the past several months top teams have had to fold, even the tour champion has lost key sponsorship, and the future of the tour itself has been up for debate, despite rising ratings.
   And consider this: if NASCAR, for Detroit, is a marketing vehicle, just what is Detroit trying to market here?
   And why should Obama give a flip about NASCAR as a marketing tool? TV ratings are down, sellouts are now rare….
   NASCAR, of course, could survive without Detroit's support on the technical side. Teams can find parts and pieces to build cars and engines.
   But Detroit's marketing – on TV and in other media – has been key to promoting NASCAR.
   That support may have been taken for granted for too long, by both sides.
   Clearly it seems that it can no longer be just business as usual. Detroit and NASCAR will have to figure out new marketing techniques…assuming that the Obama administration, which is effectively taking a crucial role in the fate of two of the Big Three, even cares about letting Detroit use NASCAR for any marketing at all.
   And where is the reaction from Daytona to all this?
   How is NASCAR CEO Brian France going to weigh in?
   It would seem logical, given Obama's dramatic moves, that France too would want to make some bold moves of his own:
   What to do about the Truck tour?
   How to position NASCAR to support Detroit's looming changes?
   Obama, in Monday's announcements, pointedly mentioned the Chevy Malibu. So where is the Malibu in NASCAR's own lineup?
   The new Chevy Camaro is also potentially key in the Obama-Detroit debate. What are GM's plans for the Camaro in NASCAR; what are NASCAR's plans for the Camaro? So far, all we've seen is a Camaro pace car. And not even E-85 at that.
   NASCAR has been almost in-your-face about fast cars and big engines. Maybe that's right. This is motorsports, not some fuel-economy series.
   The silence out of Daytona is curious.
   It looks like it's time for NASCAR's heavyweights to weigh in on how this sport can help save Detroit. And vice versa.



So, where does NASCAR go from here? Will President Obama let it be simply more business as usual? Or are changes in the wind? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)



Did I miss something? Haven't

Did I miss something? Haven't seen where anyone has asked NASCAR. Wouldn't that be a start?

We're kind of assuming

We're kind of assuming Obamanomics will even be around by 2011 - not a great assumption to make given that his budget proposals are scaring even Democrats because they are so fundamentally unsound, reminiscent of Hillarycare which was DOA after 1994. As for what NASCAR needs to do, it needs to stop pandering to Obamanomics or any other PC lobbying group and relearn what it has always been about - hard-fought competitive racing.

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