NASCAR Veterans Face Thin Ice in Downturn: Today's Racing, Part Two

Janelle JalbertCorrespondent INovember 11, 2009

FORT WORTH, TX - NOVEMBER 07:  Mark Martin, driver of the #5 CARQUEST/Kellogg's Chevrolet, sits in his car during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Dickies 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on November 7, 2009 in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

While NASCAR nation has celebrated veteran drivers like Mark Martin and Ron Hornaday Jr. throughout the 2009 season, these drivers continue to be more the exception than the rule, especially in trying economic times.  It was widely discussed during the run Martin had in the 01 Army Chevy at DEI, that the Army was concerned about Martin’s age – despite his level of fitness – being a negative factor for recruitment efforts. 

This season, one of the suspected delays in announcing the 2010 plans of Talladega winner, Jamie McMurray, is a disconnect between the No. 1 car sponsor, Bass Pro Shops, and McMurray’s image/lifestyle.  It is rumored that the sponsor would like to move to Ryan Newman’s ride, likely due to Newman’s outdoor lifestyle and strong ties with Tony Stewart from his open wheel endeavors.

It has become a sponsor’s market as more teams chase smaller pools of sponsorship money.  The days of a single sponsor car or truck ended before the economy went into free fall in 2008.  The top cars and trucks in each series feature at least two to three primary sponsors per season, even when one sponsor has more name association for the team.  Dupont, Home Depot, Lowe’s and alike have split sponsorship duties as the cost of doing business in Cup has jumped. 

Trends in the Nationwide Series have followed suit with the series leaders, Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards showing multiple sponsors each season.

Hornaday may be close to running away with the CWTS title, but he has also had to woo multiple sponsors including CoPart, Georgia Book, Longhorn, and the VFW.  Former series champion, Todd Bodine, faced parking his truck as the economy impacted the financial outlook of key sponsor, Lumber Liquidators.

Conventional wisdom, with regard to sponsorships, has been that up-and-comers often have difficulty landing sponsorship deals because of the potentially unpredictable finishes a rookie can have.  However, in this economy and business climate, where relationship marketing is a key buzzword, the younger driver may have a distinct advantage over a veteran.

At a time when Electronic Arts let the license lapse with NASCAR for future video games, in favor of developing a line of youth-oriented MMA products, drawing the attention of younger generations is critical for the continued success of the top three series in NASCAR.  Younger fans tend to gravitate in their following towards peers, rather than veterans.  As a result, established drivers may be facing a quicker exit than in times past.

In sports, more so than almost any other profession, it is a young person’s game.  However, one of the draws of stock car/truck racing at the top levels is the notion - misplaced or not - that anyone can envisage themselves in the driver’s seat. 

If the CWTS fails to remain a place for veteran drivers to land and race a few extra years, it could mean the loss of interest among fans who typically have the most buying power, those over 35.  For those who enjoy racing, without the four hours of pre-race hype seen in Cup, the truck series has provided action that has been focused more on racing than personality.  With one of the best aspects of that racing being the chance to watch young drivers evolve while racing the wily veterans.  Hopefully, a short-term economic trend does not change the long-term face of the special niche of NASCAR racing known as the Camping World Truck Series.   

Veteran vs rookie NCWTS reflects racing today: Part one