Melling Over Economics

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ROCKINGHAM, N.C. – Money makes the world go ‘round, as an old saying goes, and that’s never more true than in the NASCAR Winston Cup garage area.

Money makes the cars go ‘round. But the opposite is true, too. No money, no cars going ‘round.

That’s the situation facing a couple of Winston Cup teams. Andy Petree Racing’s No. 33 doesn’t have a driver or sponsor for 2002. Jim Smith’s Ultra Motorsports’ No. 7 doesn’t have either, but that could change.

Then there’s Melling Racing. They have a driver for next season, Stacy Compton, but no sponsor. And that puts all parties in a unique position. Team owner Mark Melling may have to cut back its schedule if no sponsor is found. Compton may have to go to another team.

All the while, Melling and Compton are trying to compete on auto racing’s most competitive series.

“Surely, everybody’s concerned,” Melling said. “But they’ve been working pretty hard and keeping their head down, knowing if good things happen on the track, then good things will happen in the future for us.”

Compton even went so far as to say the team is working harder in the face of difficult circumstances. That’s admirable, because the rest of this season could be seen as a lame-duck effort. Why work hard now if you’re not going to be around in a few months?

But maybe they’re both right. Maybe they’re fighting for their jobs.

“The driver, the crew chief, they’re putting in a lot of hours,” Melling said. “The cars are good, the cars are competitive. We almost need a win to really grab the attention, and it’s pretty tough to win on this circuit.

“When it comes right down to it, the guys are still working hard. Really, at the end of the season is when most of the crew shuffle happens, so they’re going to work hard until the end of the season regardless.”

When the end of the season comes, Melling and Compton may be facing some difficult decisions. For starters, Melling may have to shut down the team his father bought from the Elliott family in 1982.

“With absolutely no funding at all, we can’t go forever, that’s for sure,” Melling said. “It’s just not a cheap deal. I’d rather just not waste money if nothing at all comes through. But I’m fairly confident some sort of funding – it depends on the level – is going to come through.”

Melling said he was talking to three potential sponsors. Compton joked it was more like “eight or nine – thousand.”

“Finishing the deal is pretty tough hen you’re talking about millions and millions of dollars, especially now,” Compton said. “We’re hoping that with what we’ve done the last couple weeks, we’re going to get some more attention and some more contacts.”

Compton won the pole for the EA Sports 500 at Talladega Superspeedway two weeks ago, and then put a Melling Racing-fielded NASCAR Craftsman Truck on the pole at Phoenix.

“I certainly don’t think a pole and a Top 15 (at Talladega) and another pole (at Phoenix) is going to hurt our efforts any,” Compton said. “We can do this. We can do this if we can get some funding.

“The last six or eight weeks, we’ve run a lot better. Our finishes might not have shown it, but we’ve run a lot better…maybe we’re getting some attention. Maybe some of the people we’ve been talking to our going to take notice, and maybe some people we haven’t talked to will take notice and we’ll get some phone calls and get some sponsorship.”

But with the in-flux economic situation in the United States, money isn’t easy to get.

“There’s a lot of the same people out there looking to do something,” Melling said. “People are real cautious right now, so it’s hard to get anything to fruition. Not too many people are willing to make a large commitment of a sponsorship as they’re laying people off. That doesn’t send the right signals throughout the company.”

Melling has said he could run a full Winston Cup season with $8.5 million. At this point, as long as it adds up to that much, Melling will take it in any increment he can get.

“We’re looking at splitting sponsorship into a couple different packages,” Melling said. “We’re looking at maybe running a few more truck races. I’m not really sure. We’re going to be real flexible.

“Our position is to hunker down for next year, keep racing however we have to. Whether it’s full-time or not, that’s yet to be determined. But (we’ll) weather the storm and get back after it next year if we have to go back to a limited schedule.”

They’ll do it with or without Compton.

“Mark’s told me if anybody else comes alone, I certainly need to go out and look,” Compton said. “We’re putting all of our proposals together with me as a driver. If I could stay with Mark, I’d certainly like to. He’s the best owner I’ve ever worked with. I’d like to stay.”

But…

“I’ve talked to some other people,” Compton said. “But I don’t want to take a bad deal. I want to make sure that whatever I do is the right move. If it’s an excellent truck deal, then that might be the way to go. If it’s a mediocre Busch deal or a mediocre Cup deal, then it might not be the right way to go. I don’t know. I’m looking at everything right now, but I’m trying to make sure we make the right call.”

Right now, Compton isn’t sure where that will be. Neither does Melling. Neither does the crew. All they can do is do all they can – and hope.

“We always said it’s going to take us two years to get this team back on track and up and running,” Compton said. “This team went downhill for several years. Mark has given us the resources to rebuild it and get it back to where it needs to be. We’ve done a great job, (crew chief) Chad (Knaus) has done a great job, and all the guys have done a really good job rebuilding this team.

“A year-and-a-half in, we’re starting to run good, we’re starting to qualify (well). We’re running decent, but now we’re losing our sponsor. If we can get some sponsorship, the team is back on track and is headed in the right direction. We just need some a little more time to get it where it needs to be.”

Time is running out.

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