- Last Updated on Wednesday, 03 June 2009 17:57
- Published on Wednesday, 03 June 2009 17:57
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The American automobile industry and the peoples' love affair with their cars that gave birth to the sport of auto racing has taken a blow to the chest that will leave it radically changed.
We’re Americans and American iron can’t be beat. More horse power. Longer, lower, wider. Zero to sixty in ever quicker numbers. Hundreds of thousands of young boys grew up loving cars and aspiring to work at good paying jobs in the factories of GM, Ford, and Chrysler.
Lifetime job security, sure of a stable middle class life with a secure retirement waiting in their later years. What was not to like?
The slogan was, “What’s good for GM is good for America.” For nearly sixty years NASCAR rode this love affair and the American way of life with uncanny skill.
Then came the economic collapse.
The bottom fell out of the nation’s economy. Unemployment is soaring to record levels. Car sales tanked. Chrysler and General Motors continue to exist only with massive government bailouts. In the current living green environment, restrictions being put on the automobiles of the future will change the industry forever. The electric, hybrids, do not bode well for the love affair previous generations felt for their automobiles.
NASCAR lives on discretionary income and corporate promotional budgets - two categories that have taken major hits. Race attendance is way off, TV ratings are down.
Race teams, from the top teams like Joe Gibbs Racing and Hendrick Motorsports to the smallest struggling teams have made major cuts, and continue to look for ways to stretch the dollar.
Last Tuesday, NASCAR took the unprecedented step of calling the race team owners and drivers to a town hall-type meeting at NASCAR’s research and development center. A lot was discussed about how to increase race attendance and the TV ratings. Lots of words, lots of talk.
There are many things wrong with today’s NASCAR racing: too many caution flags, many contrived to keep the fields artificially bunched up; gimmicks like the “Lucky Dog rule” and the “Chase for the Championship;” inconsistent starting times for the races; the “Car of Tomorrow” that looks nothing like anything we drive on the road and stifles the creativity from some of the most talented engineers and mechanics in the country.
No, at the end of the day the solution for what ails the sport fell squarely on the shoulders of a slim 34 year-old native of Kannapolis, N.C. Dale Earnhardt Jr. must win.
Earnhardt is far and away the most popular figure in the sport. He brings fans to the track. He drives TV ratings. Trouble is Dale Jr. has not won a race since Michigan last June. “NASCAR needs Dale to run well because he’s got a tremendous following,” said Rick Hendrick owner of Hendrick Motorsports.
Last Thursday Hendrick announced a shakeup of Jr.’s race team. Crew Chief Tony Eury Jr. was removed and replaced on an interim basis by Lance McGrew. Rex Stump, one of Hendrick’s top engineers, was assigned to work directly with Earnhardt’s No. 88 team.
Hendrick said, “We’re pulling out all the stops. We’re going to do everything we can to get this team to where it needs to be, and I think the thing that I want to say is: it’s hard to put your finger on what the problem is or was. We just feel that with all the frustration, we need a fresh start.”
Asked if he felt more pressure as a result of the shakeup to his crew, Dale Jr. said, “I feel like there'll always be pressure on me I guess. I’m all right with that. I’ve always had pressure on me and I don’t mind. You get pressure from every direction. Media puts a lot of pressure on you because you guys talk about it so much. We have a microscope on us and everybody that has ever worked on that race team understands that.
"Sometimes it’s a good thing, sometimes it’s bad. We have to understand that going in and know that those are the stakes when you show up to the race track, you better be able to live up to everybody’s expectations.”
It is worth noting that throughout Dale Jr.’s career, his two Busch Series Championships and 18 Cup wins, a Eury, either Tony Sr. or Tony Jr. has been in his pit for all but one of his race wins, but with or without the Eurys, Junior must win.