Holiday Fireworks

An off week for Champ Car, and we’re planning a brief vacation from the track and the broadcast booth. But as the NASCAR Cup and Busch teams hit Daytona along with Grand Am for the halfway race in the season it’s obvious that more significant changes are ahead as the industry heads into 2006.

This week already Valvoline has announced its move from MB2 Motorsports at the end of the season, likely to partner with Ray Evernham’s company in fielding a third Cup team out of their Statesville, NC garages. It’s been a profitable week for Evernham’s bunch, what with the earlier announcement that Allstate Insurance will become a major associate sponsor on the red Dodges.

Just yesterday Bank of America, the nation’s largest banking institution, made its long-delayed debut in our sport, agreeing to back Lowe’s Motor Speedway’s fall Cup date and become a marketing partner across several of Speedway Motorsports’ tracks. While the amount of B of A’s investment is small in comparison to some of their other initiatives, they have been a big part of Charlotte’s move to attact the NASCAR Hall of Fame project. It’s another clear indication of the power of motorsports marketing and the NASCAR brand in particular.

But maybe the most significant move of the week was Toyota’s confirmation that they
are out of the IRL after 2006. The rumor mill had them making that determination right
after Indy, with the pullout supposedly slated for the end of the current year. There have
been rumblings that NASCAR has slowed Toyota’s apparent drive to jump to Busch Series racing as a prelude to a Cup effort; the 2006 effective date of Toyota’s announcement could indicate that that’s what took place.

In any case it appears more likely than ever that Toyota will be out of US open-wheel racing in 18 months, and will move those marketing dollars to NASCAR competition.

That change suggests that Honda may well also decide to move on from the IRL. Honda normally doesn’t like to race alone, and unless the League can convince Chevy to keep bringing its improving Cosworth motors to the track, that’s just where the IRL will be after next season. There are plenty of observers who believe that all this augurs well for a reunification of the IRL and Champ Car, but I doubt it. Champ Car continues to gather steam and has an assured supply of Ford-badged Cosworth motors which will apparently continue as the tour’s engine post-2006. The two series are on much different business plans these days and it appears to me that the gap is just too wide to close.

We could write for weeks about the other rumors and rumblings happening across the sport/industry. Suffice it to say that there are several more surprises in the works concerning drivers, tracks, teams, and corporations that’ll be revealed in the weeks and months ahead. It’s looking more and more as if the racing landscape will be shifting significantly before the first green flag flies next January at Daytona and at the Chili Bowl.

Maybe the best part of all this for those of us who still find our senses heightening when the engines fire and the green drops, the best racing of the year’s still to come. Knoxville, the Brickyard, Champ Car in Toronto, the Belleville Midget Nationals, the US Nationals at IRP…the list is long and electrifying. As we celebrate America’s independence again this weekend, just recall the greatness of our sport…and the greatness of the country where we enjoy it.

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Monster Energy NASCAR Cup, 2005

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