A Sponsor Raises An Entirely Different NASCAR Issue

by Jim on September 26, 2013 · 17 comments

“I’ve got one thing I’ve got to say: there’s been a lot of talk about integrity. When the guy who is in charge can say, ‘I can do whatever I want, I’m going to do it and I just did it,’ I wonder about integrity. I’ve got to make sure we can win in this sport."

                            Scott Henderson- President, 5 Hour Energy

On the same day that MLB commissioner Bud Selig announces his retirement, I find myself pondering the leadership of sports governing bodies and the aftermath of NASCAR’s Spingate. Frankly, the leader of Clint Bowyer’s lead sponsor raises a worthwhile question, an elephant in NASCAR’s own parlor for some time now. Questions of integrity and credibility have been nagging NASCAR, even among its leadership, since its inception.

NASCAR founder Big Bill France clearly established himself as supreme commander right from the start. Even in NASCAR’s early days, “actions detrimental to stock car racing” was used as a frequent justification in levying penalties for any number of infractions.

Chinese dictator Mao Tse Tung once said, “Political power grows through the barrel of a gun.” An American manifestation was demonstrated when France squashed driver efforts to unionize in 1961. At a driver’s meeting at Bowman Gray Stadium, France threatened to plow his tracks under and plant corn before he’d accept a union. He added that no known member of the fledgling “Federation of Professional Athletes” could ever work in NASCAR. If that wasn’t enough France was not bashful to add “I have a pistol, and I know how to use it. I‘ve used it before.” In short order, virtually all drivers who said they would join relented. One leader, Fireball Roberts gave up the fight, and was welcomed back by France. Two catalysts at the front of the movement, Tim Flock and Curtis Turner were banned.

Some 50 years later, things haven’t changed much in NASCAR. Persisting rumors of nepotism, favoritism, race fixing, and general capriciousness still follow the governing body. As much as anything, the perception- whether true or not- is that the foxes mind the chicken coop. Some NFL players carp about the power held by commissioner Roger Goodell. He looks like a puppet compared to France. Have you ever heard this rendering of the Golden Rule “He who makes the gold makes the rules?” There are no Marvin Millers to hold up the brass at Daytona Beach.

While NASCAR lacks the checks and balances of others, Henderson realizes that as a sponsor, he is in a unique position of power. About the only recourse owners, drivers and fans have in this sport is with their eyes, their feet and their wallets. Those are some mighty big wallets the sponsors are holding, and you can’t help but get the feeling it may get the attention of France, Helton, Pemberton and Co. in a way you and I can’t.

John Acton once opined “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” The France family and all those appointed as leadership with them hold all the cards. They have a real problem on their hands whether they realize it or not. They can self-appoint all the arbiters and competition czars they want. They can change rules until the cows come home; but because they hold the power, there will always suspicions concerning integrity and credibility, and for every seemingly simple solution, there are new questions raised along with them while essentially one party possesses all the power. It’s like those “zero tolerance” policies at schools designed to keep kids from killing each other, and one gets suspended for bringing a plastic knife to school to spread butter on his bread.

Sometimes we fans decry the power sponsors hold in terms of how the drivers behave when they know the cameras are rolling and complain it neuters them. However it may be those things- the media and the sponsors- that may be able to hold NASCAR accountable in a way the drivers and owners can’t.

In the absence of a union (and I’m not really fond of them myself), and in the absence of accountability by the owners, perhaps a Scott Henderson can say “Look, if you’re going to play by your own rules, ones that you make up as you go along, then I’ll take my millions where certain actions, results in certain predictable results, and there’s little to no question it’s done for the good of the sport than for selfish ends.” If NASCAR knows that those who invest in aren’t turning a blind eye and following along with unquestioned complicity, maybe good can come from bad.


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1 Greg September 27, 2013 at 4:46 am

“I can do whatever I want, I’m going to do it and I just did it”

That also sounds like Michael Waltrips attitude over the # of times MWR was caught doing questionable rule bending

2 Jim September 27, 2013 at 5:21 am

@Greg- There is indeed a track record for “curious” behavior where Mikey is concerned.

3 Mike September 27, 2013 at 5:45 am

OT / Historical tidbit: Lord Acton’s absolute power corrupts absolutely quip orginated in a correspondence with Robert E. Lee after the civil war. The subject of the quip? Abraham Lincoln. See “The Real Lincoln” by Dr. Thomas DiLorenzo.

4 Jim September 27, 2013 at 6:27 am

@Mike- Wow! I had no idea. I know a lot of people attribute this to Thomas Jefferson.

5 md racer September 27, 2013 at 7:28 am

Let’s face it. Everybody’s making ton of money in NASCAR. The new tv contract guarantees the money will still be flowing in. Oh sometimes an owner or driver cries going to the bank but mostly they are laughing on their way. The big thing is that they are going to the bank to deposit, not withdrawal.

What could be better? Somebody else, tv networks, sponsors and fans, is paying the freight. Thirty years ago do you think car owners would put up with wrecking cars in mass numbers like they do at Daytona and Talledega and during green-white-checkered races? No they would not have because the money wasn’t there.

Well the fans are speaking by not attending races and not watching them on tv. And the so called ripple effect is coming into play. ESPN, the biggest sports network by far didn’t even bid for the rights to broadcast and in turn the sponsors are starting to realizeze thy are no longer getting the bang for the buck anymore. How many 38 race sponsors are there?

It’s time for Brian to wake up and smell the roses or the next best seller at the NASCAR book stand will be titles”The Man Respobsible for the Demise of NASCAR”.

6 Jim September 27, 2013 at 7:35 am

@md racer- and when the day comes he feels a pain in his backside from an empty wallet, change will come.

7 Troy September 27, 2013 at 8:18 am

Right on!! but what really surprises me more is that I have read alot the last 3 weeks about this but not one person remembers the 24 dumping the 15 and ruining Bowyers chances at a title last year. I am sure Scott Henderson hasn’t forgot and I am sure MWR had not forgot. If I would have been my team and Nascar didn’t do anything to Gordon last year and I had a chance at putting my car in the case and keeping Gordon out I would have done it also. Remember when they said a Nascar driver never forgets and will usually right the wrong themselves. I believe this was one of those times but of course you cannot mess with the Hendrick cars so now we have 13 in the chase…. Hmmm I wonder why Scott Henderson is upset.

8 Jim September 27, 2013 at 8:58 am

@Troy- a fair point. Its also another reason it would be nice to have some uniformity instead of the “case by case” defense. In the NFL, you know if you lay on a helmet-to-helmet hit, you will be receive this and such penalty. If you do PEDs in baseball, your first violation will cost you 50 games. NASCAR doesn’t have that.

9 Josie September 27, 2013 at 9:33 am

This is a tough one…sometime approaching the early to mid 2000′s NASCAR took a turn from being strictly a sport..to being “entertainment”. (Ok I know..all sports are entertainment but not all entertainment is sports.) Big $$ sponsors, big $$ TV contracts, big $$ paychecks, big $$ teams..fancy tracks, PRE race shows, and the ever loving Chase. Back in the day NASCAR was not as accountable to as many folks who all share a piece of the pie. So the pressure is on. The bottom line IS the bottom line.. And it’s crippling NASCAR. Calls and decisions are being made based on $$$..by the NASCAR Heads, teams, and drivers. NASCAR has always been a dictatorship so I can’t say their calls surprise me. What does surprise me is the sudden outpouring of “foul” from the peanut gallery! It’s ALWAYS been “the France family’s playground”… What has changed to make the fans believe they should have a say?

10 Russ September 27, 2013 at 10:20 am

Perhaps Nascar and those who support it are happy with where the sport is now. By their public statements they seem to be. That is a good thing because its difficult to see and growth in the foreseeable future. It will be difficult to engage fans of, for instance the NFL, with a rule book that is virtually non existent, and conduct by the participants that at times is underhanded or at least not sportsmanlike.
As for the participants in Richmondgate, I think the actions by the sponsors of the various MWR spoke volumes about the respective companies. NAPA taking the high road, Aaron’s predictably the low, and 5 Hour Energy doing the same.
Nascar will continue to be a huge money maker, but for a dwindling number of very rich men.

11 Anne September 27, 2013 at 11:41 am

I appauld the owner of 5 Hour Energy. He is correct, and if I read elsewhere correctly he is on board for 2014 with MWR. Good. Somebody didn’t bow to the mob mentality, very refreshing. Fans forever have been crying about Nascar and its obvious slant towards their big favorite money team. Fans are screaming about being consistent and fair across the board all the time, which is something Nascar does not do. If Brian got out of his bank vault and saw the ray of opportunity (to right his sinking ship) that is staring him in the face as bright as the Daytona sunshine, there might be hope for our beloved sport.

12 baggs September 27, 2013 at 12:53 pm

This entire thing has been amazing. The sheep screamed, like they didn’t know that the master manipulators is NA$CAR itself, and nearly destroyed MWR for doing the same thing that all the “teams” have been up to forever. The teams that screamed the loudest are the ones that are the best at it. This entire mess should be square on the shoulders of the Emperor Brian. He is the one who took what was Racing and turned it into Manipulate Entertainment Event. The kicker is how many times Trues has gotten hosed by the just in time to try and create excitement late show yellow flag. And those rocket scientist in charge still can’t figure out why seats are empty and the faithful don’t even bother to watch on TV. I wonder if this is a Forest Gump moment?

13 Russ September 27, 2013 at 1:06 pm

The most important thing to come out of this was when NBC asked the question “Is Nascar rigged?”.
Say what you like but that question, scared or should have scared, anybody in the Nascar business, from BZF down to the start and park team owners. Because that showed how fragile the sports reputation is.
So they are in full blown damage control now and for the foreseeable future.

14 Tony Geinzer September 27, 2013 at 5:05 pm

I feel 5 Hour Energy is setting themselves up for Detrimental Business Losses and honestly, who wants Kansas Clint if he’s 0 for 13 and 14? I am far from amused and Brian Vickers, who was coconsipritor in this matter, would be a comic and sad heel in this MWR Flee Circus.

15 Overra88ted September 27, 2013 at 6:42 pm

So the 5 -Hour Energy Juice sponsorship stays with RACE FIXING/POINTS SHAVING MWR and Clint (SPIN-OUT) Bowyer for 2014. Figures. 5 Hour Energy is for the ADD crowd, the same newbie fans Brian “Brain Fart” France lusts for.

16 rusty34 September 28, 2013 at 8:13 am

NASCAR likely fears MWR’s majority owner Rob Kaufman who is a self-made multi-billionaire. The problem might be the big multi-team racing companies. How do you effectively enforce rules equally across the board when one of them supplies cars and engines to one fourth of the entire field? Maybe we should have a one team limit and each team has to supply their own engines which is the way it used to be. Instead we have watched the sport become monopolized and overtaken by multi-team mega-money machines.

17 vegasrick September 28, 2013 at 12:11 pm

The new generation of NASCAR fans are so much different from old loyalist the sport built itself on. We called ourselves NASCAR FANS and we all had a favorite driver. Now it’s all about MY driver or MY team and they can do no wrong and NASCAR has been mismanaged for 60+ years blah, blah, blah. If they way things have always been done comes as a shock to you then you’ve earned the title of CLUELESS NASCAR OBSERVER….not a fan.

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