“Gentlemen, Start – And Park – Your Engines”

Charlotte, NC – Don’t look now, but the fields are getting smaller in the NASCAR Nationwide and Craftsman Truck Series. Thanks to a slow economy and the ever escalating costs of competition, fewer teams are showing up at the track each week leading to short fields.

This week at Atlanta, only 33 trucks took the green flag instead of the normal 36. Meanwhile, Saturday’s Nationwide race had a full 43-car compliment, but as many as seven of those cars were what are commonly referred to as ‘start and parks.’

Because there are not enough cars and trucks to fill the field, teams are coming to the race track each week to do little more than make a few laps and collect a check. The teams show up with enough people – usually three to five – to get the car or truck ready and through tech. The team then foregoes most of the practice sessions, taking a handful of laps at the end of the last session prior to time trials. They then qualify – usually at the back of the field – and run a couple of laps at the start of the race before parking the car or truck.

Glance at any race rundown and if you see someone completing less than 20 laps, finishing 38th to 43rd and listing the reason out as ‘handling, electrical or vibration,’ they were probably a start and park.

While many teams racing their guts out lose money, the start and parks usually make a nice chunk of change. At Atlanta this weekend, a start and park team in the Nationwide race had about $8,000 in costs. That included the aforementioned entry fee, tires and crew salaries along with travel and hotel costs. With at least $13,000 guaranteed to the 43rd-place finisher at Atlanta this weekend, that’s a profit of about $5,000.

The numbers vary at each race and while it seems like a lot of work to go through to make five grand, the total adds up if you can average that amount of profit throughout the 36-race Nationwide season. In fact, quick math tells you that’s a tidy $180,000 profit just for showing up all year. Additionally, your investment is minimal compared to a full-blown team because you can pretty much do the whole season with one car or truck and one engine as you never race hard enough to break or wreck anything.

Start and parks are nothing new to NASCAR, but it seems like there are more of them than ever this season, especially in the Nationwide Series. NASCAR requires the teams to pay the entry fee, license its crew members, and buy at least one set of tires. The bottom line is it is legal and completely within the rules to do it, but it certainly isn’t racing.

A start and park is purely a business decision some teams make to stay at the race track hoping to catch the eye of a sponsor. Meanwhile, start and part drivers and crew members hope being in the garage area on a regular basis leads to opportunities with teams that are really there to race.

With sponsorship dollars harder than ever to find, the cost of competition rising at dizzying rates and event purse payouts not keeping pace, look for more short fields and more start and parks to continue to be the norm in both the Nationwide and Truck Series the rest of this season.

Tired of Tires –

It was another weekend of tire problems for NASCAR and Goodyear at Atlanta. It’s getting tiresome (no pun intended) banging the drum about insufficient traction and failed tires, but it’s a story that doesn’t seem to want to go away.

This weekend, drivers were openly critical (finally) of the rubber Goodyear brought to the race track. Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. were particularly critical of the tires with only a few drivers like company line poster boy Michael Waltrip taking up for the tire maker.

This time, Goodyear brought an even harder right-side tire and a left-side tire that was different than those used in the two previous tire tests the company conducted at Atlanta last fall.

“I felt like I was going to crash every single lap,” stated Gordon after the race. “I’m exhausted right now. I feel like I’ve run a thousand miles here. That was the hardest day I have ever had at Atlanta, especially for a top-five finish. This car, this tire, at this track was just terrible.”

Meanwhile, Goodyear marketing manager Justin Fantozzi responded that the company was pleased with the tire they produced for the race and that they were continuously looking for a better tire.

“We’re never stagnant, we’ve got a whole crew of engineers back at the shop that you never see, analyzing data and working on next year’s tire,” Fantozzi stated. “But at the end of the day, we always err for safety.”

Tires that don’t grip the track and blow out without warning are not safe Mr. Fantozzi. If that’s what you and Goodyear have been shooting for, you have sorely missed the mark.

“That was the most pathetic racing tire that I’ve ever been on in my professional career,” Stewart said after climbing out of his race car Sunday. “They (Goodyear) exited out of Formula One. They exited out of IRL. They exited out of World of Outlaws and there is a reason for that. Goodyear can’t build a tire that is worth a crap. If I were Goodyear, I would be really embarrassed about what they brought here. I guarantee you Hoosier of Firestone or somebody can come in and do a lot better job than what they are doing right now.”

Amen, brother.

The 24 Hours of Atlanta –

So you think you want to be a NASCAR official? You might think again after you review what it takes to be a part of this elite crew of individuals.

On Friday, NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series officials left their hotel at 5:45 a.m. to head for Atlanta Motor Speedway and the running of the American Commercial Lines 200. Arriving at the track at 6:30, the team of approximately 25 individuals had a brief meeting before swinging open the garage gates to the teams a 7 a.m.

After waiting out a rain storm that washed out the morning’s first practice session, the officials conducted a one-hour practice before heading to their inspection stations to re-tech all 33 trucks prior to qualifying. The 4:45 p.m. qualifying session went off without a hitch as did the 200-mile event which took the green flag at 9 p.m.

While everyone got to go home once the race was completed, the NCTS officials were busy tearing down the Top-5 finishers as well as dismantling and loading all the equipment used to facilitate the event. Shortly after 2 a.m., the officials closed up shop and made the 45-minute drive back to their hotel calling it a day around 3 a.m.

In case you’re not doing the math, that’s pretty much a 24-hour day. Days like this on race weekend are common for officials in both the NASCAR Nationwide and Craftsman Truck Series – especially where one-day shows are involved like those at Atlanta this weekend.

The dedication and time these individuals dedicate to the sport goes unnoticed for the most part because that’s pretty much the way they want it. The drivers and crews are the stars of ‘the show,’ but it’s the officials who make sure it comes off with the least amount of trouble or interruption. Here’s saluting their efforts at Atlanta this past weekend – and every weekend. Without them, there wouldn’t be a ‘show.’

You’ve got it, Toyota!

Kyle Busch’s win in Sunday’s Kobalt 500 marked a first for Toyota in NASCAR’s top division, It was the first time a ‘foreign’ brand has won in the premiere NASCAR series since 1954 when Al Keller piloted a Jaguar to a victory in a 100-mile road course event at the Linden, NJ airport.

Congratulations to all the folks at Toyota for their accomplishment this weekend.

Share Button