Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Ray Evernham is not ready to quit NASCAR

Ray Evernham said that rumors of his retirement from NASCAR were greatly exaggerated.

After selling part of his business to the Gillett group (GEM) Evernham, Jeff Gordon’s former crew chief who started his own team full-time with Dodge in 2001, admitted that racing is not fun any longer in an interview during the Sprint NASCAR Media Tour in Concord.

“Honestly, no, I wasn’t having fun,” he said, adding “it wasn’t just because of the (team’s poor) performance. There was a lot going on, over the last few years, that took the fun out of it for me because I love racing. Some of the fun had gone away, but, there’s a lot of great people in the sport and I want to spend time with those people and maybe being away from the negative people will help a little bit.”

Remaining in NASCAR’s top series was a battle he explained “it was a constant fight to keep people, to keep sponsors, to keep relationships in a in a highly competitive world not all things don’t always go well.

Being in the constant limelight, constant media where you can not live a normal life; it wears on you,” he said referring to press coverage of his personal life. “The competition on the track is the easy part,” he said with a smile, but weary look in his eyes.

Evernham said that since it took three people to take over his previous job, he was working too hard to accomplish his goals. For now he’ll remain an “owner” but have the freedom to chose what role he’ll continue with at Gillett Evernham Motorsports.

Back to the basics, but when and how?

It did not come as a shock that there were no earthshaking announcements coming out from NASCAR officials yesterday, but what was shocking is that it took so long for series’ leaders to admit they’ve dropped the ball and overlooked the fans who brought the stock car circuit to its’ preeminent position in auto racing in the United States.

While the series is not in crisis, declining attendance and lower television ratings are good indicators that it’s time to change stock car racing’s main focus.

For one moment consider that any business, because NASCAR can call itself a sport, but it is a business, must continue to grow to continue to exist. On the other hand, those at the helm lost sight of a simple business rule: It’s more expensive to get new customers than keep existing ones. And, in losing existing customers the organization also overlooked the grassroot fans.

Prime time Saturday night Cup racing is a stunning sight on television, but, it puts a crimp on attendance at the short tracks that are the spawning grounds of young talent. In Concord we were told that the local promoters need to put up a big screen of the Sprint Cup event while the locals are racing. That sounds like a mixed message if there ever was one.

Hiring big, and not-so-big, open wheel names adds a touch of glamour to the series but, contradicts the idea of a farm system. Saturday Nationwide races, with big name Cup drivers, may help the bottom line of some race tracks, yet it hinders developmental teams and upcoming drivers.

The series can not have it both ways, if it is truly going back to basics first it must take the development, short track, Nationwide and Truck series more seriously and not look for short- term fixes.

If NASCAR is truly going back to basics it will take more than lip service to make things better. Too much is at stake to continue chasing the glitter instead of the gold.