Whom Shall We Recruit to Buy NASCAR and Rebuild the Sport We Love?
There’s no need to wait for the next round of declining attendance and television ratings numbers. There’s no need to see which sponsor holds the next “sayonara” news conference. There’s no use holding our collective breath for the turnaround.
It ain’t gonna happen. At least not with NASCAR’s current leadership. With sincere apologies to the late Jimmy Breslin, what we have now is “The Gang that Couldn’t Shoot Straight,” and another week isn’t going to miraculously change that.
So if NASCAR is considering looking for a buyer, let’s find one. Quickly.
I have a model to follow: the newspaper business. It’s been in a swoon longer than our favorite sport and seems even less likely to reverse its fortunes, but some smart people disagree, or at least they’re spending money as if they do. My examples:
The Richmond Times-Dispatch. My hometown paper once was owned by the Bryan family’s Richmond Newspapers, Inc., which seemed dedicated to the historic purpose of the business (albeit in way that was pretty far to the right on the political spectrum), but then it morphed into Media General, which was more interested in making money, which meant expanding into other areas and then jettisoning the T-D when “an informed electorate” was no longer the same as “an informed electorate that makes us lots of dough.” The buyer was a subsidiary of Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway empire, which means the paper is now owned – more or less – by one of the world’s most successful businessman.
The Washington Post. Like the Times-Dispatch, the Post has suffered from declining circulation and advertising revenue. Owned until five years ago by the Graham family (if you saw the movie “The Post” last year, you know more about them). The company was sold to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who not surprisingly seems intent on increasing the focus on digital products. Labor relations have been strained lately, but Graham family leadership obviously was nearing an end, so some kind of change was inevitable, and for the newspaper business, Bezos certainly will think outside the box.
These are both unfinished stories, and it’s not certain that newspapers can be saved regardless of who’s in charge, but at least those now at the helm have enviable track records and the ability to bring new energy and ideas.
So one paper moved from the Bryans to Buffet and the other from the Grahams to Bezos; where shall we go from the Frances?
(A qualifier before we start: I want somebody who has plenty of money to keep everything going while we look for solutions, so that entrepreneur who started a great new company in St. Louis probably isn’t our choice. We’re looking for BILLION$.)
Just for fun, let’s start with the two figures mentioned above. Buffet would be a great choice except that he’ll be 88 next month, and that might not be the best age to take on something like NASCAR. He delegates very well, but he usually doesn’t take on companies that need help desperately, so we might not want to consider him further.
At this point, we might also include Meryl Streep, since she portrayed Kathryn Graham in “The Post.” I don’t think she’s had an acting role involving racing, but she can convince us that she’s anybody she portrays, so she could convince us she’s the czar of NASCAR, and that alone might be an improvement.
Bezos might be a really neat choice, except that he appears to have little or no interest in things automotive. His birth father ran a bicycle shop, but his stepfather was the greater influence on his life. Besides, he has a rocket company, Blue Origin, that he hopes will offer commercial space flights soon, so NASCAR probably would be too pedestrian.
So who’s left? Well, there’s Elon Musk, if you want NASCAR to switch to electric vehicles. I don’t. There’s Mark Zuckerberg, but every time Facebook changes something it makes everybody mad, so he’d be like another France. There are Larry Page and Sergey Brin of Google, but Brin’s been interested in driverless cars (gasp!), and we might not want to encourage that… yet.
Thanks, Elon, but we’re not quite ready for these on the high banks, yet.
Don’t even think about Bill Gates.
I’m intrigued by the prospect of Richard Branson, who has owned a Formula One team and been involved in racing/speed activities in boats and hot air balloons (he’s yet another entrepreneur with a commercial space/rocket company, too). He might not be rich enough, though.
But Oprah Winfrey has plenty of money. OK, I know, there’s no reason at all to think she’d be interested, but she’s as successful as they come, and she’s done well at picking good people to get things done for her. Besides, NASCAR is probably one of the few areas (and WWE isn’t on the market, as far as I know) where she’s not at the top already, so it would be a challenge. As one of the world’s best interviewers, she could even bring out the interesting personality traits of those young development program drivers who seem like smiling cardboard cutouts now.
I tried really hard to find a picture of Oprah Winfrey with a race car. This is as close as I got.
How about this: a partnership between Bezos and Winfrey. He’s the tech guy and she brings the soft skills. Between them, they could run NASCAR with pocket change. Hey, Brian, somebody in your circle has got to have their phone numbers; this could be big.
And if they need any help, I might be available.
Frank’s Loose Lug Nuts
My legal team (yeah, right) wants me to clarify that my use of the book title, The Gang that Couldn’t Shoot Straight, in reference to NASCAR’s brain trust in no way was intended to suggest that I think they’re gangsters. Also, my editorial team wants it known that I had to look up whether to use “whom” or “who” in the heading for this article.
I’ll note quickly another strong finish for “earned-his-way-to-the-top” racer Ryan Preece in the Loudon Xfinity race, well ahead of a number of younger-but-better-connected/funded “development” drivers. When will they learn? I’m happy Christopher Bell won that event, since he’s also proven himself on his way up.
Loudon was something of a homecoming for Ryan Preece, so his third-place in the Xfinity race had to feel good, better than his wreck in the latter stages of the modified race.
Thanks to Racing-Reference.info, I was able to read with pleasure that Kenny Wallace had won something called the 2018 IWK 250 Presented by Steve Lewis Auto Body at Riverside International Speedway, a 250-lap race at a one-third mile track in Antigonish, Nova Scotia. A full field of 28 Canadians and one other U.S. racer contested him for the win – six other cars failed to qualify. Way to go, Herman.
It was also cool to see that a Dodge won the pole.
It’s the cars, stupid! Look no farther than the Loudon modified race to see that the right cars can still put on exciting races at any track. Granted, there were eight cautions eating up 26 of the race’s 100 laps, but there were 21 lead changes, including four in the final six-lap green-flag run. The Monster/Cup race was considered a rip-roarer with half that many lead changes, a couple the result of leader pit stops under caution. If we could scrap everything related to current Monster/Cup rules, we could have racing like the mods had on Sundays.
Local Racing Note: Lance Dewease, a sprint car racer from Fayetteville, Pa., outdueled nine-time World of Outlaws champ Donnie Schatz to win the Outlaws race at Williams Grove Speedway on July 20, and in doing so he became the winningest driver in track history, scoring his 91st victory.
To say the fans went wild would be an understatement.
Dewease is 52, which means he’d have been pushed out of a Monster/Cup ride years ago, but talent still counts in these races, and Lance has been showing his talent since his first Grove win 26 years ago. He broke a tie for the top spot with Fred Rahmer, whose son Freddie had beaten the outlaws at Lincoln Speedway the night before in Dad’s car but who was unable to make the feature at Williams Grove.
I remember around 15 years ago when Rahmer, Dewease and Donnie Krietz Jr. (now Dewease’s car owner) were passing the top spot in career wins back and forth, and Rahmer predicted that Lance would eventually end up #1 because, “he’s the youngest.”
The elder Rahmer remains Lincoln Speedway’s all-time top winner with 168 victories. If my math is correct, son Freddie has 162 to go if he’s going to catch up, but at age 22 (I think that’s right), he’s gotten a good start, since Dad didn’t start racing sprints until he was several years older.
Lance Dewease (88) and Fred Rahmer (77) doing battle nearly 20 years ago. (I hope the caption I saw is correct here, because I’m pretty sure both drivers raced both cars over the years.)