Coming Soon: A NASCAR Power Play

helton france

“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.”
-Lord Acton

Like two Old West gunslingers, NASCAR and NASCAR team owners are poised with guns loaded ten paces apart down on Main Street. Both parties are talking as if there is nothing to see here, but no one is buying it. The question now is not a matter of “if,” but a matter of “when.”

There once was a day that Big Bill France could administer his diplomacy from behind the barrel of a gun. Back in a day when many of the owners were the drivers, and the money being fought over was a lot less, such movements towards organization could be put down. In 1960, Curtis Turner and Tim Flock were given indefinite suspensions, and later in the decade, Richard Petty’s move towards a driver’s union was quickly quelled. This time, times have changed, and be assured (though I need not tell you) that Brian France is not his grandfather’s NASCAR czar.

Race Team Alliance chairman Rob Kauffman can say this is not a union all he wants, and in the strictest sense of defining unions, that’s true- after all, the owners are management. The idea of pooling funds to get a break on hotel rooms may very well be that “low hanging fruit” that Roger Penske speaks of, and while that will help teams with costs on some level, let us not kid ourselves into thinking that is the end of the matter.

From Day One, NASCAR has functioned as a benevolent (and sometimes not so much) dictatorship. The idea of all that power (and money) concentrated into one source of power is never a good thing (see quote above.) If all goes well, one may turn a blind eye to it. All is not well, and even Mr. Magoo can see that. Here’s the thing about dictatorships, particularly in a society where freedom and opportunity are cherished, they won’t last. The wheels of progress sometimes turn slowly, but they do turn.

It may be rightly said that NASCAR holds the cards. An alternative within this kind of racing doesn’t exist on this scale. NASCAR’s sister company International Speedway Corporation owns a vast majority of the tracks. NASCAR has the ball and owns the playground. With that said, NASCAR teams are no longer comprised of farmers and bootleggers. Who is to say that can’t buy their own ball and construct their own playground? Oh, it would be a monstrous undertaking, and yet don’t think that hasn’t been bandied about in secret places.

This will be an interesting drama to follow. If all was well, RTA wouldn’t exist. While fans may question their intelligence, the players involved are not stupid and they are not poor. There are a lot of experienced racing minds in this collective: Penske, Richard Childress, and Chip Ganassi to name a few. Affairs won’t become ugly easily, but the status quo has changed, and both sides know what that can mean.

The gunslingers are lined up, the trigger fingers not yet itchy. The Race Team Alliance can tend to any number of smaller matters, all while keep such matters as television revenue clearly within view. Because there’s money and power involved, it’s just a matter of time.