RPM Survives And NASCAR Should Be Grateful

That Richard Petty Motorsports has survived and will continue to compete on the Sprint Cup Series is a very good thing for NASCAR.

It’s simple, really. NASCAR needs Richard Petty. He is an icon who has, for decades, been the sanctioning body’s most able statesman and most visible, recognized figure. Over his long career, and afterward, his singular willingness to give time to fans, charity and the sport have helped create a positive aura over stock car racing, which was once considered a hooligan sport.

Petty remains a role model for all professional athletes.
It would have been sad, even tragic, to see him play a diminished role in NASCAR – or disappear entirely – because of the collapse of the team that bears his name.

As the 2010 season came to a close it was widely reported that RPM faced extinction. It could not pay its bills, or at best, paid them late. It didn’t know if it could field its four cars from race to race.

When the season ended there were serious doubts that RPM could continue.
The situation was created because billionaire owner George Gillett, who fashioned a “merger” to create RPM after sponsor less Petty Enterprises shut down on Jan. 1, 2009, sustained financial duress – which is an understatement. He spent a lot of money, got strapped, defaulted on loans and didn’t get the income he expected from other sources. Simply put, when money goes out and doesn’t come back in, things go bad in a hurry.

As the reports of demise swirled, Petty stood his ground. He said he was going to be in NASCAR until it kicked him out. He said he would seek new investors to keep his team going.

They were found.
Petty announced that RPM’s racing assets were sold to an investment group comprised of himself, Medallion Financial Corp. and DGB Investments.
Petty will actively oversee the team’s day-to-day operations. Robbie Loomis and Sammy Johns retain their managerial roles and the team will field two cars with drivers A.J. Allmendinger and Marcos Ambrose.

The purchase amount wasn’t revealed, of course, but it was reported that Petty and the investment firms put in millions of dollars.
They must have, indeed, because a whopping $100 million in debt was wiped out. That’s the most significant information to come out of all this. It means RPM can start the 2011 season on level ground.

Sure beats worrying if cars can make it race-to-race.
But it never should have come to all of this. Outside billionaires, investment firms, lack of sponsorship, debt and near collapse should never have been part of the Petty story.

In an ideal world, the racing organization known as Petty Enterprises, founded by family patriarch Lee Petty at the dawn of NASCAR, should still exist in Level Cross, N.C., free of sponsorship issues.

It should still compete at a high level, perhaps one as close as that during its zenith, when Lee won three championships and Richard won seven and 200 races. Petty Enterprises was widely recognized as one of the best teams in NASCAR. It should have remained so.

In an ideal world, Kyle Petty, Richard’s son, should have spent his career with Petty Enterprises and not competed with other teams for years, separated by family and professional differences. He should have won many races for his father’s organization and eventually become its CEO.

In an ideal world, Kyle, today, should be directing the team from the Level Cross shops and his son Adam should still be with us and be the team’s principal driver – and an established star.

Richard, today, should be savoring it all.
But an ideal world does not exist.

However, in this real world, things are decidedly better for RPM and its venerated owner. They enter 2011 with relief, promise – and a long road ahead.

For that, NASCAR, and its fans, should be very thankful.

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Hendrick’s Bold Move May Be The Best One Yet

The best NASCAR Sprint Cup teams never rest on their accomplishments, no matter how great they may be.

They strive to improve; to rectify problems big and small. Many times they do and that’s why they continue to be successful and rank among the best.

Case in point: Hendrick Motorsports.

Today, it is considered as the top team in NASCAR. It has won a historic five consecutive championships with driver Jimmie Johnson. It has 10 titles overall, the most of any team since “official” stock car racing began in 1949.

In American professional sports, Hendrick is one of only four teams to win five consecutive championships. The others are the Boston Celtics, New York Yankees and Montreal Canadiens.

Even with all of its achievements – and more – team owner Rick Hendrick firmly believes his organization can get better.

There are a few things that concerned him. Two of his teams did not make the Chase for the Sprint Cup in 2010 after three of them did a year earlier.

During the 10-race playoff Johnson seemed vulnerable. He had to come from behind to earn the championship at Homestead.

Jeff Gordon, ninth in the final standings, did not win a race. Neither did Mark Martin, who slumped to 13th in points, nor Dale Earnhardt Jr., who drifted to 21st in points.

As you know, Hendrick’s bold move has been a massive crew chief change. Martin now has Lance McGrew. Gordon is paired with Alan Gustafson. Earnhardt Jr. has been teamed with Steve Letarte.

The tandem of Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus remains intact – as it should.

Hendrick said the changes will improve his organization across the board. He added that, while a championship was won in 2010, his four teams weren’t where they needed to be.

He insisted that the changes were not made solely to raise Earnhardt Jr.’s sagging fortunes.

Maybe not, but the feeling here is that Hendrick has made another change that might, just might, give Earnhardt Jr. his best opportunity to return to winning form – something he desperately needs to do.

The No. 5 and No. 24 cars of Martin and four-time champion Gordon will be fielded out of the same facility that will be known as the 5/24 shop.

The No. 48 and No. 88 cars of Johnson and Earnhardt Jr. will be fielded out of the 48/88 shop. Gordon’s No. 24 team had previously been united with Johnson’s No. 48.

The 48/88 union is, in one man’s opinion, a stroke of genius. This pairs Earnhardt Jr. not only with Letarte, certainly a proven leader in his years with Gordon, but also with Knaus – a crew chief who has already earned a solid reputation as the man who directed Johnson to five titles and all of his 53 career victories.

Knaus’ influence could prove tremendous. He is a no-nonsense perfectionist who has demanded much of Johnson and will do so with Earnhardt Jr., with the goal of getting the driver physically fit and mentally ready. There will be no coddling.

Hendrick split Earnhardt Jr. and crew chief Tony Eury Jr. and brought McGrew aboard in mid-2009. That didn’t work. Nor did a restructure of the 5/88 shop in 2010, which gave Earnhardt Jr. several of the key personnel that helped Martin finish second in points a year earlier.

Something else needed to be done.

Hendrick is not about to directly unite Knaus with Earnhardt Jr. because that would disrupt the highly successful association Knaus has with Johnson. If it works – and boy does it work – why change it?

But he’s done the next best thing. He’s put Knaus in a position, with the able assistance of Letarte, to positively influence Earnhardt Jr., both personally and professionally.

When Earnhardt Jr. joined Hendrick in 2007 the team owner said that making the driver a champion would be a huge challenge. He also said that if Earnhardt Jr. won it would be expected. If he didn’t fans would believe that Hendrick was not providing him with the best equipment and personnel.

The feeling here is that Hendrick has made the boldest and most promising changes yet.

In fact, the crew chief and team swaps could benefit the entire Hendrick organization.

But if it all does not help Earnhardt Jr., well, what then?

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The Respected Mr. Burton May Go To Washington But Only In His Own Good Time

One thing that is easily acknowledged about Jeff Burton is that he is a highly competitive, successful NASCAR Sprint Cup driver. He has 21 career victories.

The native of South Boston, Va., who competes for Richard Childress Racing, will tell you he hoped his 2010 season could have been better. After firmly establishing himself in the top 10 in points during the year, through the Chase for the Sprint Cup he slumped to 12th in the final standings.

For the season he didn’t win and had six finishes among the top five and 15 among the top 10 – good, but he expected more.

No matter. That is all about Burton the competitor and has nothing to do with Burton the man.

See, another thing that is easily acknowledged about Burton is that he is NASCAR’s most able statesman and diplomat. His opinions are valued because they are logical and based on solid reasoning. He has earned respect throughout the garage area. His candor has long since made him a media magnet.

It’s been said, more than once, that Burton would make an excellent public servant. He thinks so too. He once said that Senator Jeff Burton has a nice ring to it.

But if indeed Mr. Burton goes to Washington, it’s not going to happen for a long time.

“Whenever I’ve talked about it, I’ve always wanted to make it clear that it’s a long way off,” said the 43-year-old Burton. “We’re talking about 20 years from now. I love what I am doing and there are goals I want to achieve while I’m in NASCAR.”

Burton certainly views NASCAR as his livelihood. But he also has a unique perspective on it – one that helps define his status.

“I really don’t view being a part of NASCAR as any different from being part of a community,” said Burton. “You have to understand that you are going to spend a lot of time with the people in NASCAR and if you want to earn their respect, you have to respect them.

“You have to understand that you have to do your part and you have to understand that there are going to be disagreements and the way you handle them is important. To me that just is being part of a community. It’s not politics, which is a word I think is overused.”

During his career Burton has had his share of disagreements. But, as he said, it’s all part of being a member of a community. And he likes it that way.

“I like to be involved in what I’m doing,” said Burton. “I don’t like to sit on the sidelines. I’m going to be involved all the way and that includes with other drivers and NASCAR itself.”

Involvement does include arguments.

“I really enjoy debate,” said Burton. “I like for someone to disagree with me and make some arguments that make me think. When it comes to the things I care about, like racing, well, I want to hear opinions. The things I don’t care about I don’t even want to hear about them.

“I value people’s opinions and I don’t take it personal when they disagree with me. In so doing, I believe being around the people I have in NASCAR has made me a better person.”

It’s a given that the majority of the garage area is staunchly Republican. But Burton says that politics goes well beyond being a member of a party and following its lines. The issues should be judged separately on their faults and merits.

“The deal is that it has to be issue by issue, there’s no doubt about that,” he said. “I’ve always considered myself a conservative – I’m definitely a fiscal conservative – but over the last five, six or seven years I have tried to look at the issues for what they are, make some decisions and not care about what color jersey I’m supposed to have on.

“The problem with a lot of politics is that it’s thought that once you vote for a guy people think you can no longer disagree with him. That’s not the case. You can and, if you feel the need to do so, you should.

“It’s the same in NASCAR. You have to look at the issues and make some decisions. And you can disagree.”

While Burton enjoys debate, the opinions of others and maintains politics is best served one issue at a time – and not necessarily along party lines – he is firmly entrenched in the overall American ideal.

“We live in a free country,” he said. “Our freedoms apply to everyone and, for some people, that’s difficult to accept.

“But in this country you can’t walk a fence. You can say you want about freedoms but you can never say you want them only for yourself.

“That’s not how it works.”

If, years from now, if Mr. Burton indeed goes to Washington, it appears he will serve very well.

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NASCAR’s Johnson Outduels Hamlin and Harvick

Sprint Cup driver Jimmie Johnson and Formula One driver, Michael Schumacher have a lot in common. Multiple championships and a mastery over placing themselves at the center. Michele Rahal of The Motorsports Channel and http://www.motorsportsunplugged.com suggests that both have a method.


Steve Waid Biography

Senior Editor: Steve Waid….

Welcome to motorsportsunplugged.com. I’m Steve Waid, a so-called “grizzled veteran” motorsports journalist. I like the “veteran” part but am not so sure about the “grizzled.”

This site is indeed about motorsports, but it’s not so much about the news or issues of the day – but certainly they will be here. It’s about commentary and personal opinions that offer a view of the issues from several perspectives. You’ll read and see pro and con here. It’s about special, in-depth features that give you more knowledge about the people in racing – who they are and what they think. It’s about providing you with insights that might educate you or even challenge your own beliefs.

You don’t have to agree with what you read or see. In fact, any site that is based on commentary and opinion relies upon, and should relish, response from its visitors. Consider motorsportsunplugged.com your place to do just that.

As for me, well, I started covering motorsports in 1972 when I began my newspaper career at the Martinsville (Va.) Bulletin. I then spent 10 yearsas the motorsports writer for the Roanoke Times & World-News before joining what was then Grand National Scene, a small NASCAR weekly, in 1981.

I later became publisher of what became known as NASCAR Scene, which became the leading motorsports publication in the country, and its sister publication, the monthly magazine NASCAR Illustrated. I remained with both until January 2010 when I retired after Scene ceased publication.

Somehow I fooled enough folks to earn numerous state sports writing awards and several more from the National Motorsports Press Association for motorsports coverage, feature and column writing. I was proud to earn the George Cunningham Award as NMPA Writer of the Year and even prouder to be the recipient of the Henry T. McLemore Award for outstanding lifetime contributions to motorsports.

Somehow I survived several assassination attempts to serve as president of the NMPA for 12 years and later wrote, as co-author with Tom Higgins, the long-time, award-winning motorsports writer for the Charlotte Observer, the biography of NASCAR legendary driver/team owner Junior Johnson, entitled “Junior Johnson, Brave In Life.”

I’ve also frightened viewers with my countenance on such TV shows as “NASCAR This Morning” on Fox Sports and several others. And I’ve worked on many syndicated radio shows with many of today’s top motorsports personalities.

I’m happy to say that when it comes to motorsports journalism, I’m still at it.
But that’s not what’s most important.

Having you as a regular visitor to motorsportsunplugged.com is fantastic. This site is designed to be informative and entertaining of course. But it is also designed to stimulate; to provide a source of interesting – and sometimes controversial – commentary, opinion and more.

And, believe me, your thoughts count for so very much and are always welcome.


Not Everyone Likes A Dynasty, But That’s What We Have Now

What NASCAR has is a dynasty.

Jimmie Johnson has now won an unprecedented five consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup championships and, in so doing, has clearly indicated he and his Hendrick Motorsports team have risen above all others.

The argument can be made that Johnson and the Hendrick team did that a couple of years ago when they won a third straight title, and then emphasized it with their fourth last year.

But, now, no one should question that the No. 48 bunch is the most elite and successful in NASCAR – clearly head and shoulders above the rest.

Dynasties are nothing new in professional sports. Over the decades there have been teams and organizations that have experienced routine, continuous success and have established benchmarks others could equal.

There were the New York Yankees of the 1950s, the Boston Celtics and the Green Bay Packers of the 1960s, the UCLA Bruins of the ‘60s and 1970s, the Pittsburgh Steelers of the ‘70s and even Michael Schumacher’s string of seven straight F1 championships in later years.

There are several other examples, but I trust you get the idea.

NASCAR has also had its dynasties, such as Petty Enterprises through the ‘60s and ‘70s, Junior Johnson and Associates in the ‘70s (with which Cale Yarborough won three consecutive titles) and, arguably, Richard Childress Racing and driver Dale Earnhardt through the 1980s and part of the 1990s – and even Jeff Gordon and Hendrick through the latter ‘90s.

But what separates these drivers and teams from Johnson and Hendrick is that none of them, or any other, has matched their singular achievement of five titles in a row.

In any sport a dynasty is created by success that is based upon several things. Among them are the quality of the team or organization’s upper level leadership, the resources – financial or otherwise – that it has and uses wisely, the talent of its field managers, employees and players and its ability to adapt to any and all changes.

If any one of these qualities is lacking, the chances are strong that an organization might be successful from time to time but will never establish itself as a dynasty.

For example, the Yankees spend more money for talent than any other Major League Baseball team. They haven’t come close to becoming the dynasty they were in years past.

Presently Hendrick Motorsports has all these qualities. Its resources, leadership and talent have made it a powerhouse organization for years now, with 10 championships to prove it – five for Johnson, four for Gordon and one for Terry Labonte.

The No. 48 team blends these qualities into itself. It feeds from Hendrick management and resources and adds its own talent. Chad Knaus, for all his past shenanigans, is an excellent crew chief whose chemistry with Johnson is undeniable.

There should no longer be an argument that Johnson has evolved into one of NASCAR’s greatest drivers.

Their support from shop personnel and pit crewmen has been excellent.

OK, so the crew was swapped out for Gordon’s during the Chase for the Sprint Cup. That’s a good example of the No. 48 team making a change when its leadership – Knaus – thought it was warranted. The team used the resources available to it.

The problem with dynasties is that most sports fans don’t like them.

Their opinion is that a team that wins so often can make any sport boring. Folks want to see it knocked off the pedestal to be replaced by another, and, in so doing, make things more interesting and refreshing.

Believe me, the dynasties of the Yankees, Celtics, UCLA, Packers and Steelers were not universally loved.

So it is that Johnson isn’t either. In fact, the bet here is that a majority of fans would have preferred to see either Denny Hamlin or Kevin Harvick knock him off the roost.

But they didn’t. So, Johnson’s place in NASCAR history is not only established, it stands alone.

There is one other thing about sports dynasties.

They do not last forever. They come to an end. Sooner or later, the mighty will fall.

And so will Johnson and the No. 48 team.

The only question now is – when?

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Nothing, Not Even A Lost Leg, Dims NASCAR Artist Sam Bass’ Optimism

Sam Bass, the first artist to be officially licensed by NASCAR, isn’t the kind of guy to let things get him down. It makes no difference if it’s a bad economy or a missing leg.

Most race fans know Bass. If not, they have certainly seen his work, which is pretty darn hard to miss. For over 30 years his talent has created posters, prints, corporate racing logos, program covers, team graphics, retail merchandise, race car design and even custom guitars.  “I love this sport,” said Bass. “I love everything graphically and artistically in it. When I started doing this 30 years ago, I wanted to do everything I could.”, he added, “I’ve designed probably 400 paint schemes for cars over the years. I’ve done Jeff Gordon’s cars ever since he came into the sport. That’s pretty cool.”

Bass has done the covers for Charlotte Motor Speedway’s programs for years and in October he designed one for the 64th consecutive time. As for custom guitars, they arose out of Bass’ love of music and an opportunity.

“I got the chance to design the race winner’s guitar at Nashville in 2002 and that really opened doors for me,” said Bass. “I did two custom guitars that will be played at this year’s NASCAR Awards Ceremony in Las Vegas.”

Fans can see – and buy – Bass’ work at his gallery, located on Morehead Rd. in Harrisburg, N.C., just across the street from CMS. “I’m proud to say we’ve been in our building for 10 years now,” said Bass. “But I can tell you that our 10th year has been the hardest we’ve ever had. That’s just a reality.”

Sam Bass Illustrated & Design, like virtually every other business, has been a victim of the down economy. “Let’s put it this way,” said Bass. “If you have to put five dollars’ worth of gas into your car and you might also want a five-dollar Sam Bass poster, you’re going to buy the gas so you can get to work.” Bass realizes his business is just one of many in the racing industry that has suffered in the economic downturn. What his company is going through is the same for tracks, teams, sponsors and fans.

“When I came into racing, it was booming,” said Bass. “But the sport has come to an economic standstill over the last few years. “It’s trickle-down economics. If teams are having a hard time attracting sponsors, well, that affects things like their hospitality programs and ticket buys at tracks. Then they think they might not need special paint schemes or posters for their hospitality tents. That ultimately affects my business.”

Bass also said that dwindling race attendance contributes to the situation, not just for speedways, but also for all in the racing business. “If there are one-third fewer fans going to the race tracks, that means there are one-third fewer people to whom we can sell,” said Bass. “It impacts you. You are dealing with 66 percent of the people you used to. And it’s the same for everybody in the sport.”

But, true to his optimistic nature, Bass feels the economy will right itself. “I think ultimately everything is going to get better,” he said. “But this readjustment, no matter how long it takes, is going to be hard. We’ve had enough to cover it. For us, it’s not about profit any more. It’s about surviving and we’ve been able to do that.”

Bass himself is a survivor.

There was a time when he could have been undone by disease and, perhaps, been able to work no longer – or worse. Instead, he made tough decisions that cost him his left leg. He gave it up willingly in an effort to restore himself to full health and lead a much better life. “I’ve been a diabetic for 20 years and I think it’s been much longer than that,” said Bass. “I was never diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes because as a kid my blood sugar levels were in line.

“But now that I think back, I remember episodes as a kid and teenager that might have been diabetes-related.”

In 2005, Bass sustained a foot injury that became infected. It was a lingering malady and he tried to overcome it through six surgeries and five bone removals. “In 2008 it got to the point where I realized that five percent of my body was killing the other 95 percent,” said Bass. “So I made the decision to have left leg amputated below the knee.” Bass went into the hospital over Thanksgiving of 2008. After the surgery he was told that he would receive a prosthetic leg and be ready to go to Daytona in eight weeks.

Ever the optimist, Bass would have none of it. “I told the doctor I had to be in Nashville for the ‘Sound and Speed’ event in five weeks,” he said. “I made it my personal goal to be up and ready to go in that time. Five weeks later I was climbing three flights of stairs in Nashville.”

Bass has never regretted his decision.

“I knew I would be able to walk without pain,” he said. “I would able to plan, to get things done and not have them interrupted by going to doctors because I had to constantly take care of an injury.” Bass has spoken to many people who endured what he did prior to the amputation. And they have listened. “After talking to them they come back and tell me they were sitting on the fence about it,” he said. “But after hearing me they go ahead and have it done and say it’s the best thing they’ve ever done. That’s powerful.”

Bass runs three miles a day. He feels better than he ever has.

“Life goes on,” he said. “It’s all good.

“I can honestly tell you that after 30 years in this business I hope I have another 30 left.”

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Welcome Back

It’s a rare occasion when the opportunity arises to collaborate with someone whom one can not only call a friend, but a mentor as well. Steve Waid is that person. His writing skills, his insight and unselfish ability to guide and advise those of us in the media industry with a unique style of management are rare. I consider myself one of the lucky few to call him friend and mentor.

This new venture for Steve is a labor of love in a sport that he clearly loves and pays careful attention to be fair but yet tell the reader, or viewer, yes you will soon see him on video, what he thinks. Welcome to the Ventumedia family Steve.  I’m honored to be a part of what this award winning author is accomplishing.

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The Dogfight: Three Way NASCAR Battle

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase is tighter than it’s been since it was created. Michele Rahal of The Motorsports Channel and www.themotorsportschannel.com breaks down the series going into NASCAR’s fastest track, Texas. Harvick, Johnson and Hamlin can’t hold back.


Hamlin VS Jimmie Johnson

Jimmie Johnson lost the lead in the Sprint Cup championship Chase to Denny Hamlin with two races to go in the NASCAR season. Michele Rahal of The Motorsports Channel and www.themotorsportschannel.com breaks down the latest news on Kyle Busch and Richard Petty.


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