Fast Take via FYI WIRZ By Dwight Drum
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FYI WIRZ: NASCAR Sprint Cup is still an old jump for young drivers
Twenty years ago the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) was not the corporate and marketing giant it is now. Popularity began surging about 15 years ago when TV coverage expanded and fans multiplied across the U.S. More and better sponsorships arrived in the garage while costs surged and teams grew in number and size.
The France family business brought in new faces—capable media, legal, financial and executive personnel—to steer the marketing super tanker into bigger productive seas.
The business of racing grew around the attributes of drivers so that a typical driver had to be part dare-devil and part showman. That reality brought on the smooth public demeanor displayed by champion quality racer, Jeff Gordon and others.
Older drivers left and younger drivers moved up.
FYI WIRZ is the select presentation of motorsports topics by Dwight Drum @ Racetake.com. Quotes derived from press conference questions by Dwight Drum
Five-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson commented on the progression upward to NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
“It's always going to be a tough thing,” Johnson said. “It doesn't matter if it's NASCAR, open wheel, all forms of motorsports. It's expensive to race, and it's tough to get noticed, and I think that dynamic has been there from day one. It's tough. Regardless of the era, it is just tough to get noticed.”
Fast forward to today and observe the same marketing juggernaut struggling to maintain attendance as the U.S. economy sputtered and jobs disappeared.
“To have the funds, in today's world, it's just tough,” Johnson said. “I keep thinking through different scenarios. I've worked as hard as I could to be recognized and to network through all forms of motorsports and it played out. I'm not saying you have to bring money to the table to make it happen, but you've got to be out there and in front of everyone.”
NASCAR driver Kurt Busch understands the NASCAR dynamic well.
“I think that the way it was 10-to-12-years ago, there were rides out there with quality sponsors looking for those young drivers with all the potential in front of them,” Busch said. “Drivers were thrown into some rides and expected to swim with the sharks. If you could swim, you’d made it. If you didn’t, you really don’t hear their names anymore.”
Turbulent economic conditions and the subsequent shrinking of the sponsor pool sent an ugly ripple through corporate-driven NASCAR teams causing budget adjustments and more—fewer open seats for aspiring Cup drivers.
Busch summed up the present garage economic scenario.
“Now, it’s tough for new guys to get in because there’s not the quality rides available,” Busch. "There aren’t teams willing to take the risk of putting them in there because there’s not the funding coming in like there was before.”
Kurt’s brother, Kyle Busch, literally grew up in the NASCAR series before cameras and compared his experience to young guys today.
“I think they’ve got it a little bit rough,” Busch said. “I feel for those guys. It’s hard for guys to solidify themselves in this sport if they don’t win and if they’re not capable of winning. You might see a few of these guys get some strong finishes, run well and get some chances to win too to solidify themselves and get their opportunity too.”
Driver Landon Cassill, 22, is one young driver who survived development rides only to struggle to get a secure seat in the Cup level. His 2011 Daytona Nationwide third-place finish helped him get a full-time ride in NSCS.
“It’s just so tough right now,” Cassill said. “There is so much competition and there are so few rides out there. I’m extremely blessed to get this opportunity. It puts the owners at the advantage to do what they want to do and mold the team and the drivers the way they want to mold them. You go out there and go fast and take advantage of an opportunity and the rest just falls into place. It’s just get in that car and doing the best you can do.”
Cody Coughlin of Team JEGS is only 15-years-old, but he has solid financial racing support from his family's business JEGS. JEGS and JEGS.com cater to the after market performance industry. The second generation family business is a contingency sponsor in NASCAR. JEGS also sponsors Kevin Harvick’s No. 2 NCWTS truck for the New Hampshire race in September. Coughlin is fortunate to have Cassill as a coach when he’s not behind the wheel of his NSCS car.
Cody Coughlin commented on his role as aspiring stock car driver from a family of drag racers.
“It’s for the business,” Coughlin said. “That’s not the reason I chose circle track racing, but it also helps.”
Coughlin has set his sights high.
“I’ve watched Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart,” Coughlin said. “I’ve always wanted to be like those guys. Right now it's all about getting seat time and learning how to race. If things progress the right way and an opportunity happens it would be a dream come true. No own knows who the next big name is until it happens."
Kasey Kahne summed up the current situation much in the way others access the NASCAR world right now.
“You never know until someone gets to Cup if they're going to take to it or not,” Kahne said. “It's a much different car, engine, than the truck or Nationwide car. Sometimes it takes a little bit of time.
“It is a tough time to figure out, to make that jump. When you do make it, you have to take full advantage. You have to be prepared and be ready because you don't always get a lot of time. And you need to make the best out of it.”
The world economy has changed but not everything has changed with it. Not many will get the opportunity to make a Sprint Cup jump and only a few will survive.
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