A federal ban on smokeless tobacco advertising by sports teams goes into effect June 22 and will have a major impact on Nashville-based Baker Curb Racing and its immediate NASCAR future.
Red Man Tobacco sponsors the team’s primary No. 27 car, and that form of advertising will be banned.
Team co-owner Gary Baker is scrambling to find a replacement so he can keep the car on the track.
“We knew that ax was potentially hanging over our necks when Red Man came aboard,” Baker, who along with partner Mike Curb will field the No. 27 and No. 43 cars in Saturday’s NASCAR Nationwide race at Nashville Superspeedway, said. “The ax fell in mid-March when President Obama signed an executive order extending the advertising ban on smoking products to include smokeless products.”
Only two races are left – Nashville and Kentucky – before the ban goes into effect. Baker said he is “hopeful and optimistic” that another sponsor can be brought aboard by then.
“If this had hit us at the end of the season I’m confident that we could find another sponsor,” he said. “But coming in mid-season like this makes it a lot harder. I’ve got a couple of irons in the fire and hopefully they’ll work out.”
Baker said the sponsorship setback is especially frustrating because the team has been doing so well this season. Driver Greg Biffle has been in position to win two or three races.
“We’ve got a Super Bowl-caliber team,” Baker said. “We’re fielding cars that are capable of winning races. We’re that close. People who told us we couldn’t race out of Nashville were wrong. It’s doubly frustrating to work so hard, be so close, and then have to be distracted by something like this (sponsor loss).”
Biffle was signed to drive a partial schedule this season.
He will be replaced Saturday by Scott Wimmer. Scott Lagasse will drive the team’s second car in the 7 p.m., ESPN2-televised race.
Biffle is 8th in the standings and Lagasse 16th.
Two of the series’ most dominate drivers – Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick – are skipping the Nashville race to concentrate on their Sprint Cup efforts at Pocono. That offers an opportunity for other drivers to make a move.
“Nashville is always an important race for our team and this one is no different,” Baker said. “Think how impressive a win would look on our resume when we sit down to talk with a potential sponsor. Greg had been doing a great job running up front, and we’re going to give Scott just as good a car. We’ll be a contender.”