No one, of course, ever really seriously suggested that NASCAR as not just a sport, but an industry of its own, was immune to tough times. No form of entertainment is truly immune, unless you count liquor stores, and that's only if you call drinking entertainment. It certainly makes for an interesting spectator sport at times, especially during the holiday season.
Two relatively high profile drivers are looking for jobs right now. Elliot Sadler has reportedly been let go from GEM in favor of A.J. Allmendinger. Bobby Labonte, who announced he was leaving Petty some days ago has still not announced where he will be in 2009. One would hope that both drivers find gainful employment for the 2009 season, but times are tough in NASCAR.
Sponsors have suddenly found themselves with much smaller advertising budgets going into the new year. Car manufacturers have had to cut support for racing to the bone in many cases. As of right now, there are apparently only 29 cars that will be fully sponsored in the Sprint Cup series in 2009. This situation makes me wonder if now might be the time for smaller teams to make a few all out pushes to build a car, hire a driver, even for just a one race deal, and try to get the car and crew to the race track. It's beginning to look doubtful that the field will be overpopulated with cars in 2009, at least at a lot of races. Instead of seeing 48 cars battling to fill 43 starting spots, we may see only 39 or 40 teams show up at some tracks next year. If these small teams can pass technical inspection, actually put a car on the track with a qualified driver, and have some form of over the wall crew, they could be racing in 2009. It will take some deep pockets, and hopefully some short term sponsors to make this happen, but this could actually be a boom time for small teams just trying to get a toe hold in the sport.
Thinking along the same lines, this could be a good time for small sponsors to get their names on TV in 2009. Smaller teams might have a better shot at making the field, and even a one race deal with the right team and driver might give a small sponsor more coverage than they ever dreamed would be possible on a national forum. I keep thinking back to a few years ago, when in 2005, a Dodge driven by Kevin Lepage, owned by a Georgia businessman named John Carter, and sponsored by Patron Tequila finished 9th in the Daytona 500. That little deal netted winnings in excess of $300,000, which is not a bad race day for anyone. Storybook endings like this won't happen every race, but all racing is a gamble. You don't know what you got until the green flag drops, and in a lot of ways, advertising has to be the same way. You never know quite what you have until you put it out there for all the world to see. A smaller playing field in NASCAR might mean that some small company, some small race team, and some driver nobody's ever heard of could make a big splash on the national stage.
Sometimes what seems like unfortunate events for many can actually turn into opportunity for others. Racing is obviously a competitive sport, but what many might not realize is that there is competition well beyond the track. Sponsors compete to have their names and products showcased in the best possible places. Crew members compete to get on the best teams. Even writers and journalists have been hit hard by this economic downturn. Mike Mulhern, who wrote for the Winston-Salem Journal for over 30 years had his job eliminated this year. I've not always agreed with Mr. Mulhern's opinions, but I've always had great respect for his writing abilities. I know we'll be seeing much more of Mike's writing in the future, because he's far too good a journalist to keep away from the sport, and much more importantly, his readers.
Also, careful NASCAR junkies will no doubt notice that Yahoo has basically dropped it's full time coverage of NASCAR as well. Though there will be some feature and special articles, we probably won't be reading the day to day happenings in NASCAR in 2009. I wish all the crew at Yahoo who have worked so hard over the years well in all their new endeavors. We'll be seeing more of those guys on other forums soon, I trust.
Though we all face tough times ahead, it is nice to remember that sometimes, for every dark cloud that covers the sky, often a little rainbow appears. Ten years from now, I hope to be reading stories about people who found success beyond their wildest dreams in the middle of such hard times.