DC's "The road to riches?"

THE ROAD TO RICHES? NASCAR Holdings on Thursday announced an agreement to acquire Grand American Road Racing Association. NASCAR Holdings is a legal entity under which Grand-Am, the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing and various...


THE ROAD TO RICHES?

NASCAR Holdings on Thursday announced an agreement to acquire Grand American Road Racing Association. NASCAR Holdings is a legal entity under which Grand-Am, the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing and various other subsidiaries have and soon will operate.

According to the announcement, the two sanctioning bodies will continue to independently operate race events under their respective direction and there will be no change in the management of either as a byproduct of the agreement.

The Grand-Am and NASCAR combination is seen by both groups as a means to facilitate cooperative efforts in brand management, research, marketing and public relations.

"This combination of resources will benefit Grand-Am and NASCAR, their competitors and fans, as the two companies work together to enhance the two sports," NASCAR vice chairman and Grand-Am founder Jim France said.

Grand-Am will retain its name but a new logo is forthcoming (think of the NASCAR logo transformed into reading "GRAND-AM" - at least, that's this writer's guess).

And there it is.

So, with the Grand-Am administration staying precisely the same, what's the big diff anyway?

And, with the current economy in mind, marketing help is something most paddock members need, regardless of series. Eventually the combination should enable better money flow for team owners, drivers and, yes, even a team's crew members.

Think not as to the latter? Go ask a couple or three dozen mechanics, fabricators and shop foremen over in NASCAR's Sprint Cup and discern the kind of lifestyle they've come to enjoy, with food in the refrigerator and an overhead roof at home for those who'd otherwise go racing for free.

In short: those people get paid for doing what they love, mostly facilitated by a team's car bearing a bunch of little but properly placed stickers.

Those stickers, representing contingency money paid to those competitors bearing them, were the brainchild of NASCAR's France family which also gets paid for doing what it loves to do, and thus makes it possible for still others to watch or participate.

It was and still is a family that has been involved in and boosted various motorsports forms - from boat racing to sportscars - just about as far back as the France family has been racing. And, based on a proven 60-year track record, the France family recognizes a very simple principle: it won't earn an income should the chief bottle washer not.

It is right about this time when sportscar "purists" will crank up the old and tired NASCAR damnation machine that will come in a lot of different forms expressed by different, usually threatened, voices.

As stated previously, I've been a sportscar guy since before I can remember.

Yet, one of the first moments frozen in this sportscar fan's mind was his deep disappointment when Henry Ford II pulled the plug on a very successful Ford prototype program, at the time being an action mostly laid at the feet of a ruling sportscar authority that chose to rid sportscar racing of "ugly Americans" and their 7-liter engines (the move also took out Jim Hall and his Chevrolet-powered Chaparrals).

The ban was a shortsighted move on the part of that times' sporting authority but we humans - all humans - are known for doing such things, time and again.

But the move still essentially doomed international prototype racing.

With the retrospection that often only comes with the passage of time, Ford's decision to pull out of prototype racing paralleled a similar later decision to do the same in 1971 when the company's North American operation ended all race support - with money at the heart of the matter (sound faintly familiar?).

The old story goes that nature abhors a vacuum and filling it were a dedicated racing couple straight out of the SCCA, John and Peggy Bishop, who with a substantial assist from Big Bill France (yep, that "France") formed the International Motor Sports Association, or IMSA.

IMSA's GTP-class success, the pinnacle of which - if one bases such on a Rolex 24 At Daytona car count - occurred in 1985 when 31 GTPs competed.

Was 1985 the zenith of the GTP's technological, engine-power or aerodynamic achievements?

Of course not.

However, the 1990-1993 period was considered to be the pinnacle of the "technologically" advanced GTP - during which a total of 49 GTPs would enter the Rolex 24 over four-season's worth of Rolex 24's. An average of barely more than 12 GTPs in each Rolex 24 of that time.

Further, as is generally the case with each racing series' annual "big" race, the Rolex 24 sees the greatest car count. Thus, the car counts fall for most of the rest of a season's races.

Why had the GTP entry list declined to well less than half that of 1985? Those technologically advanced cars cost a ton of money to field and automobile manufacturers were the only capable parties in putting up that sort of cash.

Based on the 1985 GTP car count, IMSA's GTP class started "dying" about nine years before yielding to the newest idea, the World Sports Car, from which the Audi R10 would evolve and is now reportedly on the way out at the end of this season.

Thus, just where is the sportscar industry in the present open-top, WSC-type sportscar's evolutionary cycle? History suggests we're closer to the open-top sportscar cycle's end than its beginning, despite Acura moving up to LMP1 competition. Then again, it may show up with a closed-top car, a la the Peugeot 908.

In the end, it's just impracticable to expect manufacturers to solely, entirely and endlessly foot racing bills. Each will have a goal, meet it and then book it. It is the way it has worked and likely will continue to work.

In the end, the cost of racing has to be covered from somewhere and NASCAR's proven formula - which has gone well down the organizational charts in benefitting a team's personnel - apparently is the way to go.

Decades ago when this writer posed an official role in sportscar racing he once gazed over a field of apparently drunken, near-riotous race spectators undertaking an annualized bonfire ritual: "The Burning of the Couch."

"They probably haven't a clue as to which car is in the lead," this then-official said to longtime co-worker and former SCCA regional director Bob Cassidy.

"I don't have a problem with it," he said. "They buy the tickets that make it possible for us to go racing."

It was immediately recognized as a well-made, well-taken point and - applicable to whoever or whatever makes racing possible - has since been well taken.

If NASCAR wants to help keep sportscar racing alive, well and at the same time indirectly helps me educate, feed the family and keep a roof overhead while doing something I love, such works for me.

Later.
    DC Williams, exclusively for Motorsport.com

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About this article
Series General , Grand-Am , NASCAR
Drivers Henry Ford
Teams Williams