NASCAR Succeeds ….. Where Others Fail

February 15, 2008 |

We’re now just three days away from the official start of the 2008 NASCAR – Sprint Cup Season.

Yesterday, I took a swipe at the sport and called them “out” for idly standing by while some prominent stars continue to break the rules. However, of more consequence, I admonished Brian France and his cronies for their lack of truthful disclosure on an array of topics. A day later, I feel the same way …..

That said, I still feel NASCAR transcends other professional sports sanctioning bodies in vitally important areas. Funny ….. for the longest time, this sport has been unfairly branded with informal monikers, like “hillbillies” ….. “rednecks” ….. “hucklebucks” ….. and other less than complimentary terms.

Yet, NASCAR employs some of the most qualified and astute individuals to “run the store” on a daily basis. This sport is still prospering – although, it’s wave of popularity crested a couple years ago. They’re turning a HUGE profit at racetracks around the country, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

I think a primary reason for their success is NASCAR has learned from the mistakes and/or vulnerabilities of other sports, without living through the same hardships. There is a recipe for success found in being able to accomplish such a feat.

What am I talking about ….. exactly? Well, look at some of the factors that have crippled and tarnished the reputations of the NFL, NBA and MLB. There’s “drug usage” (performance enhancing and recreational drugs), “labor strife” and “criminal conduct” to name a few. Below, I’ll address each of these issues.

It’s no secret that each major sports sanctioning body has had to deal with embarrassing situations regarding drug use. In fact, it probably can’t get any worse than it is in baseball right now – from a perspective of “performance enhancing substances.” Yet, recreational drugs have taken their toll, as well.

Each season, players from the professional baseball, football and basketball worlds can be found serving suspensions or rehabbing from dependence. I’m not judging anyone ….. drugs and addiction are a social dilemma. However, NASCAR’S “zero tolerance” stance on drug usage is arguably more effective than the policies of other sports leagues.

There’s several factors to consider here. But, NASCAR rarely has to deal with anyone for drug use. And, if they do ….. the ramifications are swift and severe. Just ask Shane Hmiel and Aaron Fike, who are both suspended indefinitely. There’s probably a number of factors to consider in NASCAR’S true enforcement of a “zero-tolerance” standard.

The most important regards safety. NASCAR is simply unwilling to broker the safety of other drivers, while allowing Fike to drive a 3,500-pound missile, in 200 mile-per-hour circles ….. with a history of heroin usage. They’ve got EVERY driver in their corner, too. You would be, right?

Another important factor is NASCAR is sponsor-savvy ….. and livingly dependent upon corporate support. While the 100,000+ fans pay a bulk of the bills, each week ….. Coca-Cola, Lowes, Budweiser, Shell, Pepsi, Home Depot and many others are forking over ridiculous amounts of cash, too. And, they will not allow their public image to be soiled by drug use. Fair or not ….. it’s the truth.

As for “labor strife,” it’s fair to say work stoppages have adversely affected all major sports leagues. Once again, Major League Baseball is a prime example of the recurring damage to be endured. I hear sports fans ….. on my show and others ….. claiming they haven’t bought a ticket since the ’94 strike.

NASCAR fans can rejoice – there won’t be a driver’s strike anytime soon. NASCAR drivers are forbidden from forming a union or organizing in a collective effort. I’m not going to be a hypocrite and bad-mouth bargaining units ….. I belonged to one throughout my law enforcement career. However, it’s arguable to suggest “player’s unions” have damaged professional sports leagues.

While these unions roadblock investigations into incidents of performance enhancing substance abuse and fight for the signing bonuses of thugs in jail ….. NASCAR drivers and teams continue to get rich the old fashioned way ….. they earn it. The France family started and owns NASCAR – if you wanna play in their sandbox – there will be no unions. To date, it’s worked ….. and everyone’s making money.

Finally, “criminal conduct” has poisoned the reputations of so many athletes and their respective franchises. Fair or not, there’s a reason why corporate sponsors with sports appeal (like Nike) won’t touch some of the high-profile names in sports entertainment.

If an athlete has been arrested or charged with a crime, it serves as an embarrassment for sponsors, and endorsements are usually sacrificed. There’s many living examples to consider in regard to this dilemma. However, knowing that there will be financial ruin if an endorser is embarrassed is probably a logical reason for NASCAR drivers to live law-abiding lives.

I’m sure most of them have been tempted to pay a late-night visit to a strip club, or stick those keys in the ignition when they’ve had a few drinks. Yet, they KNOW such indiscretions are simply “bad for business.” Thus, I’d bet most NASCAR drivers are obliged to ask themselves, “what will my sponsor do if I get caught?”

So, this issue really takes care of itself. There really are few problems for NASCAR to address. More often than not, corporate sponsors police the prospect of criminal conduct ….. or poor judgment. The sobering truth is if Jimmie Johnson does something stupid, it embarrasses Lowes – their name is across the front of his uniform and they’re writing the biggest check.

Ahh, well, this is just how I see it. But, there’s gotta be a logical reason behind NASCAR’S pleasure of not dealing with the seediness that engulfs many other pro sports leagues.

Three days to go ….. we’ll talk racing from here on …..