Baker says ‘it’s worse than bad’ for Nationwide Series

Wednesday, January 20, 2010 at 11:03pm

Gary Baker, who once during his driving days at more than 200 mph cracked the concrete at Talladega, says stock car racing has hit a similarly hard economic wall. And he’s unsure when, if ever, it will recover from the jolt.

“I’ve been involved in this sport for 40 years as a driver, track owner, marketing official and team owner,” says Baker, a Nashville attorney and co-owner of Baker Curb Racing. “It’s worse than bad. It’s brutal.”

Baker lost long-term sponsor Kimberly Clark at the end of last season along with veteran driver Jason Keller. Last week he signed Greg Biffle to drive a partial schedule in the Nationwide Series starting next month at Daytona.

He and other Nationwide team owners are struggling to survive in NASCAR’s second-tier series that is being smothered by Sprint Cup interlopers. Cup drivers win all the championships and most of the races. They drain off the prize money and leave Nationwide regulars scratching for crumbs and leftovers.

Biffle’s car will be sponsored by Red Man Moist Snuff, hardly a Fortune 500 company. Baker’s unsure how many races he can run with the limited financing — maybe 10 or 12 of the season’s 34.

Meanwhile, NASCAR continues to twiddle its thumbs while the series collapses before its eyes.

“Anyone can see what the problems are,” says Baker who for years has lobbied to limit Cup-driver entries in Nationwide races. “You bet it’s frustrating.”

The presence of Cup stars boosts Nationwide media coverage and TV ratings and helps sell tickets. But to what avail if it eventually kills the series? Teams like Baker’s are hanging on by their fingernails, struggling to run part-time schedules with dwindling resources.

Baker has seen hard racing times in the past. He owned Fairgrounds Speedway during its glory years but saw the track’s fate sealed when the city let its two Cup races get away in 1984.

He also has been involved in the ups and downs of sports marketing as he has tried to help son Brad get his fledgling racing career off the ground. And he knows that frustration and setbacks are part of the sport, but he’s never seen a climate as grim as the current one.

So why does he press on, spending millions in hopes of finishing 10th on a good day?

“I’ve always been an optimist,” Baker says. “I got it from my dad who taught me to look on the bright side of things. I don’t see much sunshine right now but I’m not ready to give up. There’s always tomorrow.”


5 Comments on this post:

By: TITAN1 on 1/21/10 at 6:12

I have met Gary a few times. My daughters went to school with his kids, very nice guy. For him to complain about the number of cup drivers racing in Nationwide and then to hire one part time shows how hard it is to get sponsorship for a young lesser known driver . Sure it is not the same as a cup team entering their own popular and experienced driver with big time sponsors, but it still hinders a driver like his son, Brad, Chad Chaffin, or Casey Atwood from getting a ride.

By: pnance on 1/21/10 at 9:06

I sure can't speak for him, but it seems Mr. Baker is aggravated more about the large, multi-car teams than he is upset with big-name drivers entering Nationwide races. Based on that assumption, he is exactly right. Every competitor values a "level playing field," and when the multimillion dollar teams use Nationwide as a test track it bullies opportunity from moderate-budget teams working their way up.

By: richgoose on 1/21/10 at 10:53

I became a fan for the first time in February of 1979 watching the Daytona 500. At that time it was one of the most spectacular sporting events that I had seen.

For years afterward I was a stalwart within the ranks of Nascar fans. I knew the number,the driver,the owner and the sponsor.

At some point and I think it started with the restrictor plates the sport began to look more like professional wrestling. (A lot of hype and glitter and not much substance)

I have not watched a race in it's entirety in 3 years. I always watch the last 40 or 50 laps of Daytona and Talladega.

It appears that the management does not acknowledge that NASCAR is ill or they are not sure about the cause or the cure. A good business person with no knowledge of racing could help considerably in helping the Nationwide tour.

First rule is fewer races and no driver from the Big races allowed. A nationwide tour is to be strictly the proving ground for the BIG CIRCUIT.

If it is imperative to do so,find a way to eliminate teams with more than two cars and
restrictor plates. Encourage in some manner racing from lap one throud the final lap whatever that is. Coasting until the last 40 laps should be discouraged.

By: wataboutbob on 1/21/10 at 5:36

They need the big name cup drivers in Nationwide to keep the TV ratings and fan attendance and the resulting sponsorship dollars; without them the struggling teams would have the same problems. There needs to be some limitations on their involvement to give the smaller teams a chance but at the same time make it worth their while to participate . . . a fine line.

NASCAR isn't too good in finding the right balance in their actions. The new wing being tested on the cup cars is a step backwards to make the COT more attractive to the fans and the races more competitive.

By: titan48 on 1/21/10 at 10:27

I would rather watch a good late model and truck race at the Nashville Fairgrounds than any Nascar race promoted these days. Even the street mods are a better show!