By John Close
While both the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup and ‘Whatever The Nationwide Series Is Going To Be Called Next Year’ schedules were announced last week, the Truck Series calendar remains in limbo with no full-season plans yet to be divulged.
A few dates – such as a return to Eldora Speedway for another dirt track race on Wednesday, July 23 – have been confirmed on the 2014 Truck Series slate but the rest of the Truck schedule is still up in the air.
That’s also a good way to describe where the division is at these days as the series is struggling to find a balance between artistic and financial success.
While one of the most competitive and enjoyable NASCAR divisions to watch, sponsorship and event payout shortfalls continue to be core issues for teams in the division.
Team costs have skyrocketed in an era where the number of companies able to afford a targeted high-cost NASCAR team themed marketing campaign has shrunk. Based on the number of ‘blank quarter panels’ on the vehicles, it seems like half of the trucks have little or no sponsorship.
To replace the lack of sponsor funds, the financial model for most teams in the division – at least the bigger, more successful ones – is that they are now of the ‘buy–a-ride’ variety. Every seat is basically for sale.
Even the most successful team in the division – Kyle Busch Motorsports – is scrambling for sponsorship or gifted/well-healed driver candidates to fill its seats in 2014. Without either form of funding, KBM could shut down.
As it is, the organization is already laying off people.
Meanwhile, some event purses are little more than half what they were 15 years ago as tracks try to absorb today’s higher costs of hosting event – especially one top heavy with division sanctioning fees.
The purse cutback only makes it worse for the cash-strapped teams when you have events like the one at Talladega this past weekend where just about everybody from fifth through 36th took home some form of mangled/totally destroyed race vehicle.
In case you missed it, several hard, high-speed impact wrecks set the stage for the now normal Talladega three-wide sprint off the final turn for the win. At the checkered flag, it was the winner Johnny Sauter followed by four others who had somehow escaped the massive 20-truck wreck now behind them unscathed.
That’s right – everyone outside of fifth-place crashed. Thankfully, the only serious injury was an apparent broken wrist.
The prize for such bravery – all but one of the ‘finishers’ outside the top-five made less than $15,000 in prize money.
Put those things together – dwindling sponsorship funding, high-operating costs, and limited purses – and it should be no surprise that most teams in the Truck Series lose money.
The financial news isn’t much better for a lot of tracks that host NASCAR Truck Series events – even on days when the racing gods provide perfect weather and good fan counts.
That’s why it will be interesting to see what tracks eventually wind up on the 2014 NASCAR Truck Series schedule – and what teams/drivers will be there when the races are run next year.