NASCAR officials refused to allow the use of cooling boxes, so teams jerry-rigged a system that created a dangerous on-track situation for the drivers. (Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images)
Charlotte, N.C. ó There is no clearer example of the disconnect between NASCAR and its teams then the fight this year over the procedures to cool cars down during qualifying.
NASCAR officials refused to allow the use of cooling boxes, so teams jerry-rigged a system that created a dangerous on-track situation for the drivers.
Series leaders summoned the crew chiefs from every Sprint Cup organization to hash out a solution. The teams were almost unanimously in favor of using the cooling boxes, but NASCAR officials on that conference call in March wouldnít budge. They were OK with using fans, but smaller teams were against having to go buy them.
Exasperated, NASCAR officials reminded the participants on the call the engine manufacturers were against the use of cooling boxes. Two of the top engine builders in NASCAR immediately denied that claim, and one said nobody from the leadership had talked with them.
The call had turned comical. In the end, NASCAR officials allowed the cooling boxes in a small victory for the teams.
The Race Team Alliance, at its core, hopes to prevent those fights going forward.
Announced two weeks ago, the RTA was described as ďa collaborative business associationĒ that for the first time creates ďa single entity to engage with stakeholders on creative ways to market and experience the power of the sportís teams and drivers.Ē
Michael Waltrip Racing co-owner Rob Kauffman is the elected chair of the RTA. He has talked of banding the RTA teams together for purchasing power, creating travel partners and finding a common insurer.
The RTA is not, Kauffman insists, a union. And if the goal is to seize a larger share of the TV money, thatís not a topic any members of the RTA are openly discussing.
ďThatís a big obvious issue thatís out there that the teams really have no influence or control over,Ē Kauffman said of the $8 billion in TV money that is split with the tracks (65 percent), teams (25 percent) and NASCAR (10 percent). ďWeíre going to focus on stuff we can do. If someone wants to discuss any big-picture issues, weíre happy to discuss and engage in a constructive way.Ē
NASCAR officials have made it clear they arenít talking to the RTA about anything.
Despite NASCAR president Mike Heltonís dismissal of any animosity between the sides, the RTA was informed all communication must go through NASCAR attorneys. International Speedway Corp. issued the same command.
Sure, it is NASCARís court and nobody has to play NASCARís game.
But itís the only game in town for high-performance, profitable racing, and being part of the show means playing by NASCARís rules.