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Economic struggles may bring back old NASCAR

If you have a few minutes and have access to the internet, check out the column on espn.com written by Ed Hinton. For years, Hinton was a motor racing sportswriter for the Tribune Company and recently moved over to write for ESPN’s Web site. Along with David Poole of the Charlotte Observer, Hinton is among the cream of the crop when it comes to NASCAR journalists.

The column, headlined “The Bright Side to Financial Distress? Racing the way it was meant to be,” is a fascinating read to fans of old time racing and old time racers, like me. Before there were agents, handlers, huge TV contracts, and drivers with soft hands there was down and dirty, your next paycheck depends on this race, tough man racing.

With the economic downturn gripping the world, times are going to be tough for NASCAR teams who depend on corporate sponsorship dollars to operate. Getting back to basics and cutting back to the bone would not be such a bad thing, according to Hinton.

Hinton recalls the time in NASCAR when there was no financial support from manufacturers, no big business owners, the drivers had no sponsor appearances or commercials to shoot, and lunches at the track were beanie weenies and Vienna sausages instead of fancy catered affairs.

Drivers like Richard Petty, Cale Yarborough, Bobby Allison, David Pearson, and Junior Johnson worked on their cars during the week, drove to the track just like all the fans, worked on their cars at the track, drove the cars during the race, and then drove home after the race – just like all the fans. And this cycle started again for the next race.

With sponsorship money drying up, there will no doubt be some adjustments made. I would not be shocked to see fewer than 43 cars in some races next season. Teams with three or four cars will shrink to teams with one to two cars. Some teams that we see on Sundays now will disappear. It is just that tough and may get tougher.

Heck, even Dale Earnhardt Jr. is having a tough time attracting sponsor dollars these days. This time last year, Junior was announcing deals with adidas, Sony, and Pepsi. He even branded his own signature candy bar.

After losing Navy as the sponsor of his No 88 Nationwide Series team, JR Motorsports has taken sponsorship dollars from Unilever, the maker of Ragu, Hellmans, and other food items, that were intended for the No 5 team and shift those dollars to the No 88 team. Instead of running two full time teams, only the 88 team of Brad Keselowski will be on the track for every race. The 5 team will run selected events only because of the lack of sponsor dollars.

Without the glamour, the glitz, the huge contracts, and huge race purses, all that will be left are the true racers – the guys on the track because they love driving a car. Will it get that bad, I don’t know. But if it does, Ed Hinton thinks it might not be a bad thing.