NASCAR to be more aggressive about cutting costs in bad economic times

Updated: November 9, 2008, 4:30 PM ET
By Terry Blount | ESPN.com

AVONDALE, Ariz. -- NASCAR chairman Brian France said Sunday that the sanctioning body will become more aggressive about cutting costs in difficult economic times, but he gave few specifics about how the sanctioning body plans to do it.

[+] EnlargeBrian France
AP Photo/Ross D. FranklinNASCAR chairman Brian France addresses the sport's economic woes before the Cup race at Phoenix on Sunday.

"NASCAR as an industry is not immune," France said. "We have to work very hard to be good partners and work through these challenging times."

France said he and NASCAR president Mike Helton have met recently with executives for all four car manufacturers in the sport -- General Motors, Ford, Chrysler and Toyota -- to discuss the financial problems that are hurting each company.

GM just announced a quarterly loss of $2.5 billion. Ford and Chrysler face similar losses and all three corporations are trying to avoid bankruptcy by asking for help from the federal government.

"We want to understand carefully what they are going through and how it relates back to the [NASCAR] team owners," France said. "We didn't talk about a bankruptcy option. We talked about their issues and how they might get through it. They're all in the same boat, trying to revamp their businesses to get to a better place."

The problems have caused the auto manufacturers to reduce team support and sponsorships throughout NASCAR.

"The manufacturers play a very important role in lots of ways," France said. "They have been a profound part of our history. But we are not going to live or die if one manufacturer has to pull back or pull out. Obviously, we don't want that happen.

"I've been told this directly from each company. One of the things that work best for them is NASCAR. While they may pull back and make cuts, the last thing they want to do is abandon something that works so well."

Manufacturer support is only one of many financial problems that NASCAR is facing. France rarely holds a news conference at races, but he did so at Phoenix International Raceway to address the financial problems in the sport.

Teams are losing sponsorship, and some Sprint Cup operations may be forced to shut down if they fail to work out a merger with another organization.

Dale Earnhardt Inc., Chip Ganassi Racing, Petty Enterprises and Bill Davis Racing all are looking at ways to form mergers or partnerships that will help them survive.

"Some team owners are in dire straits and we understand that," France said. "Most of the country is in dire straits. We can't expect to operate as an island and be oblivious to what's going on."

But France emphasized that NASCAR is not in position to offer any direct bailout.

"Of course we're concerned," he said. "But look. What can we do? They are individual businesses, OK. We have literally hundreds of them in all our series. We're not talking about 20 to 25 traditional teams where some halo line could be established.

"The idea that we can wave a safety net for everybody in our industry & I wish we could, but it's just not practical."

NASCAR teams are independent contractors, not franchises as in other professional sports league like the NFL or the NBA.

But France said NASCAR officials are involved behind the scenes in trying to ensure the teams stay afloat.

"We have talked to some of the team owners about realigning with other teams," France said. "We can play a role in that, but we don't talk about it.

"Mike and I meet with them constantly. With teams that are underfunded, we work with them to find sponsors or find partners. We just don't put that in bright lights every week. We're not going to stand up here every week and announce a progress report."

France emphasized that NASCAR won't make dramatic changes because of the economic woes across the country.

"This is a very big economic downturn, but we're not going to change our business model," he said. "It doesn't mean we won't be more aggressive to cut costs.

"This isn't the first economic struggle we've been through. We've been around 60 years. We went through the energy crisis in 1972, and 9/11 was not that long ago. We are going to be as efficient as we can as a sanctioning body."

Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. He can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.

Terry Blount

ESPN Seattle Seahawks reporter