ANALYSIS: What the Race Team Alliance means for NASCAR
JUL 07, 2014 6:45p ET
When news broke shortly before 10 a.m. that the nine largest NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams were collaborating to form something known as the Race Team Alliance, it shocked many of the sport's insiders.
The NASCAR garage is perpetually rife with rumors, gossip and speculation, but this was a complete bombshell, the best-kept NASCAR secret in a very long time.
And the nine teams involved include several bitter rivals, with team owners who compete just as fiercely for sponsors and personnel off the track as they do for race victories on the track. It's not exactly an unholy alliance, but it is an unlikely one, to say the least.
NASCAR's response to the RTA announcement, which read, in part, "We are aware of the alliance concept the team owners have announced, but have very few specifics on its structure or purpose. It is apparently still in development and we're still learning about the details so it would be inappropriate to comment right now," seemed to indicate the sanctioning body may have been surprised as well.
Michael Waltrip Racing co-owner Rob Kauffman has been appointed the leader of the group, and he was the one who throughout Monday spoke publicly to news outlets, including FOXSports 1's "NASCAR Race Hub."
In his public comments, Kauffman hit on a number of points: The RTA does not intend to be controversial or confrontational with NASCAR; the RTA is looking at ways to collaborate and both raise revenues for the teams and reduce costs; the RTA wants to help grow the sport; and the RTA most definitely is not a union.
Kauffman also made it clear that the RTA is in its infancy and its specific action steps and plans are still being developed.
The key point, though, might be what Kauffman said on "Race Hub."
In an interview with Steve Byrnes of FOX Sports 1, Kauffman said NASCAR fans should view the RTA as a positive.
"To the extent the teams are more secure in their long-term future and have better business models, I think it just makes the sport stronger, where you can really afford to invest for the long-term, and not just survive year-to-year," Kauffman told Byrnes. "I think there are a lot of positives there."
And therein lies the challenge for all team owners: There is absolutely no economic security for owners in this sport. For any given team, its health is almost entirely linked to sponsorship deals. Even the best, most well-funded teams can lose one of two key sponsors and be on the edge of economic collapse.
In June 2008, New England investment firm Boston Ventures paid a reported $60 million to acquire Petty Enterprises and the Richard Petty Driving Experience. Petty, of course, has a record 200 race victories and seven championships as a driver, and is a charismatic and exceedingly popular personality.
But with no sponsors for 2009, Petty Enterprises shuttered its doors at the end of '08, barely six months after being sold to Boston Ventures.
Likewise, Dale Earnhardt Inc., the team founded by NASCAR's only other seven-time champion, "merged" with Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates at the end of 2008, but in reality, the merger was in name only, as Ganassi fielded the teams from that point forward. Prior to the start of this season, the Earnhardt name disappeared from the Ganassi operation entirely.
Against a backdrop where even some of the sport's most successful teams didn't make it or have severe problems, collaborating for the overall health of all seems on the surface of it to make all the sense in the world.
Of course, the devil is in the details and we know almost none of those details now -- for that matter, NASCAR says it doesn't, either, and the RTA hasn't laid out its full agenda yet.
For sure, the RTA wants to start saving some dollars on travel, parts and testing. Will it press NASCAR for some type of franchising -- which the sanctioning body has always opposed -- or a bigger cut of television money with a new $8.2 billion package set to kick in next year? That remains to be seen.
That said, this story is one that will draw a tremendous amount of attention as it develops in the days ahead. Stay tuned, this one is just getting started.