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NASCAR & the auto bailout

2008 December 9
by Skip Sauer

This story (from the Detroit Free Press) makes it sound as if NASCAR is dependent on the Big 3 surviving:

Last month, NASCAR chairman Brian France delivered a ban on testing next year at sanctioned tracks in a bid to save money. Over the weekend, the Associated Press said it had obtained a letter written by France to key senators lobbying Congress to support the automakers.

“I’m writing to you as a concerned American who wants what is best for our general country,” France wrote, according to AP. “Of course, the domestic automobile manufacturers play a very important part of the heritage of NASCAR, but, more importantly, it is vital for all of America.”

France added: “For these manufacturers to survive, your assistance is urgently needed. By immediately supporting America’s automobile industry, you can help our nation avoid a devastating economic blow.”

France knows what’s good for the Detroit Three is good for NASCAR.

If thousands of jobs are lost through a collapse of one or more of the automakers, many fewer people will be in a position to attend Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series races next season. Sponsors, already tough to find, would become scarcer. TV might turn away from the sport.

Though France said NASCAR would survive a manufacturers’ fallout, he may be fooling himself. Several people close to the Detroit Three told the Free Press this week that if Washington did not approve the bridge loans, motor sports support could be chopped — not just shaved.

The connection between auto jobs in Michigan and attendance at Talladega seems pretty weak. My sense is that brand loyalty — NASCAR is the marketing king of sport — may be the key factor. It is not uncommon in NASCAR country to see window stickers on a Ford truck that show a punkish-looking boy pissing on the Chevy logo. A strong form of negative brand identity, I submit. If the Ford and Chevy brands are irreparably damaged, will those loyalties transfer to Honda and Toyota?

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