In a stunning move, the Obama White House announced today that GM and Chrysler must end their involvement in NASCAR stock car racing at the end of this season to remain eligible to receive additional financial aid from the government.
“Automakers used to operate on the principle of ‘win on Sunday, sell on Monday,’ but the Auto Task Force’s research just doesn’t validate that as true,” said the statement from President Obama. “NASCAR is a racing series that regulates down to the smallest detail of the cars, where a car badged a Chevrolet or Dodge differs only marginally from a Ford or a Toyota. There’s no technological development to speak of.”
“In order to receive the government's money, corporations must demonstrate they will spend it wisely. Racing has been said to improve on-road technology, but frankly, NASCAR almost flaunts its standing among the lowest-tech forms of motorsport. NASCAR is not proven to drive advancements that transfer from the racetrack to the road, and this nation’s way forward does not hinge on decades-old technology. We need new, and we need innovation."
This comes at a time when automakers around the world, most notably Audi and Honda, have curtailed their racing operations, and when NASCAR has already felt the pinch in the form of reduced team spending. Withdrawing from America’s most popular automobile racing series should save more than $250 million between GM and Chrysler, a significant amount in light of the billions both car makers are getting from the government.
The president realizes this is at best a controversial call, especially in states such as Virginia and North Carolina, where NASCAR is wildly popular. But a White House source who spoke on the condition of anonymity said that Obama only carried a couple of those states anyway, and then only by the thinnest of margins. The statement continues:
“This is an obvious cut to make, but it is not an easy one. This administration is not ignoring the tremendous sentimental value and emotional appeal NASCAR holds for so many Americans. But now is not the time for sentiment and nostalgia; now is a time for decisive financial action. If our automotive industry is to emerge from this recession intact, then these difficult decisions must be made.”
Management at the Motorsports divisions of Chevrolet and Dodge are hoping that the move is only temporary, and they expect to resume racing in NASCAR as soon as they feel their corporations' obligation to the federal government has been paid in full.
NASCAR officials, meanwhile, have released no official statements in reaction to the president's directive, but sources say series president Mike Helton and team managers are are considering the option of letting other manufacturers fill the slots vacated by Chevrolet and Dodge. Given the company’s recent interest in motorsports and the steady cash-flow and V-8 engine provided by its new Genesis model, some speculate that NASCAR will invite Hyundai to into NASCAR's "good old boys" fraternity. “Toyota tore down the wall for foreign manufacturers in our sport, ” a NASCAR source says. “First they got their foot in the door through the Craftsman Truck series, and now they are very competitive in Cup racing.”
The departure of the Chevrolet and Dodge brands would leave Ford the lone domestic icon against a pair of Asian makes in America’s most popular racing series. Many wonder, however, how long NASCAR could remain at the top of America's racing heap without two of its most storied participants.