What’s With the New Spire Cup Team?
The news that Spire Sports & Entertainment, a motorsports consulting, talent management and marketing/promotions firm, had bought Furniture Row Racing’s Cup Series charter and would operate its own team next year is the oddest duck so far in the 2018-19 “silly season.”
These guys seem to know their chocolate bars. They represent quite a few top drivers and have had a strong record placing their younger racers in vacant seats. Kyle Larson, Ross Chastain, Justin Haley and Todd Gilliland are among the horses in their stable, along with Indy racer James Hinchcliffe. They also have worked with several major teams, including Hendrick and Ganassi (as well as Furniture Row).
Next year, Spire client driver Ross Chastain will run Xfinity for Spire client owner Chip Ganassi with Spire client sponsor DC Solar onboard – will he also drive Cup #77?
I’m kind of doubting any of the Spire principals are as old as me, but as smart as they seem to be, they must know that the track record for new teams isn’t one continuous success story, and they also have to know and understand the obstacles NASCAR faces, so it seems to me there’s just this one over-riding question:
What the hell were you guys thinking?
Me? I’m thinking about Red Bull Racing (2 wins in 324 starts over 4 years), Ray Evernham Racing (13 wins in 492 starts over 7 years), Michael Waltrip Racing (7 wins in 783 starts over 9+ years) and others that came to town riding high-hopes news releases but left never quite having become the biggest thing since sliced bread. (Weirdly, one apparent principal at Spire and maybe with the new team is Ty Norris, who was involved with Waltrip in public relations and was the spotter caught in the middle of the “team orders” scandal at Richmond that marked the beginning of the end for MWR.)
Whatever Team Red Bull did as “the next big thing” in Cup racing, Spire Motorsports had better try something else
With Spire’s connections, one has to assume that sponsorships will be forthcoming, so there will be enough money here to put this team in another universe from StarCom, Cup racing’s most recent new team. But Red Bull, Evernham and Waltrip had plenty of money, too, and their records show limited success relative to initial high hopes. How is Spire going to do it differently and succeed?
I’m guessing that one clue is in Spire’s repeated use of the word “partnerships.” I’m not saying this team will be outsourced, but it wouldn’t surprise me to have more of the critical stuff done by established “partners” than has been the case elsewhere. How else could a one-car team survive these days?
I wish them well. These are genuine racing people. Co-owners Jeff Dickerson and T.J. Puchyr have considerable experience with Cup, Xfinity and K&N/Gander teams, as of course does Norris. But they clearly have a challenge ahead. Barney Visser’s Furniture Row has been the only new team to really succeed in this millennium, and as successful as the Spire guys appear to be, I wonder if they have the personal resources Visser had when he began – remember that he soldiered on for a decade before his team really found success – can Spire do that?
For the sake of Spire Motorsports, let’s hope that NASCAR charters can pass mojo from one team to another
If whatever they try works, you’ll probably see some changes in the way the charter system operates as a result.
(For a more comprehensive look at Spire and what its principals are saying about all this, check out this article from Jeff Gluck.
Frank’s Loose Lug Nuts
An earlier “new team” failure story that came to mind was the so-called “Tabasco fiasco,” which actually was two teams, first the Bob Hancher/International Sports Management operation with Todd Bodine and others driving, and then the Tim Beverly racing effort that rather spectacularly failed to resurrect Darrell Waltrip’s career. Together they spent Tabasco’s sponsorship money for a season that turned out so badly the sponsor fled the sport, never to return.
Beverly, a wealthy businessman (aircraft sales), purchased Waltrip’s own team and the ISM operation in mid-1998 and managed to hold onto the already disgruntled Tabasco, which had been drawn to the then ever-expanding NASCAR world. Waltrip drove the #35 at Indy, where he posted a lead-lap 13th place finish. That would be his best finish, and Watkins Glen the next week would be his last lead-lap finish (25th).
When the Cup tour got to Richmond, where I was working race weekends in the infield media center, Darrell had to take a champion’s provisional to make the field, and he finished two laps back in 18th, one of the team’s better showings.
After the race, as we were cleaning up, I found an unopened box that turned out to be full of 1/8-ounce mini-bottles of Tabasco Sauce with race team info on the back of the label. Somebody apparently had forgotten to pass them out to the media crowd. I still have one or two.
For the record, Tabasco headed back to Avery Island after the ’98 season, and media members had to do without their mini-hot sauce bottles. Beverly ran for two more years, with Rich Bickle and David Green taking turns behind the wheel in ’99, and Johnny Benson getting the call in 2000, when he actually posted a 2nd-place finish at Bristol, only to have sponsor Lycos.com (remember them?) skedaddle a few weeks later, after which the team folded. Still, that was an all-star “career” compared to the Hancher/ISM team’s lifespan of less than half a season.
In our minds, we’re all successful NASCAR car owners.