By Tommy Praytor
The first sound of thunder coming from Talladega Superspeedway a couple of weeks ago wasn’t cars on the track but the announcement of NASCAR acquiring the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards or what I now call NARCA.
For those of us that think the best thing that could happen to NASCAR is for them to empty out the tower in Daytona Beach of all the pin head, pencil pushers- you know the ones that have never gotten their hands dirty and replace them with people that are racers, the ARCA buyout is like nails on a chalkboard.
Most long time ARCA folks view NASCAR something akin to the Evil Empire or worse. When the book on NASCARs first 100 years is written this period will be looked back on as a dark time for NASCAR.
With that being said let’s take a quick look at how we got here. For those unfamiliar with the long history between the two, the relationship of the France and Marcum Families predates NASCAR and ARCA.
Sixty or seventy years ago both families helped and worked with each other at their events. From that beginning the families have maintained a close working relationship with ARCA remaining the only other sanctioning body allowed to run big tracks like Talladega, Daytona and others.
As for the merger/purchase, one of two things normally happens when the biggest kids on the block start talking. Either they fight or they join forces. In this case ARCA is no match for the NASCAR behemoth, being bought out versus being beat up makes since.
In meetings and calls since the announcement it appears the NARCA ship is still going to be guided by Ron Drager (his Mom was a Marcum). That’s good news for ARCA fans and teams.
Some may say I’m going easy on ARCA but nothing could be farther from the truth. Over the last few seasons no other team owner has been fined, penalized, put on probation or sanctioned more than me, I’ve even been thrown out of the race track for my comments regarding the Series and its officials.
I’ve known Ron Drager for more than 20 years and have been on the receiving end of his ass chewings and vice versa. Nobody gets off light with me. After all my family is all in on this deal too!
Along with our race team I’ve promoted races for both ARCA and NASCAR, see previous comments about the tower at Daytona. Working with Drager was completely different and the results showed.
At the end of the day I believe Drager has the best interest of his racers and people in the forefront of his mind in every decision he makes, including this merger.
When you look at the ARCA chain of command there is not another family member standing there to take the reins if something happens to him. You only have to look back at how he got the job in the first place, it can happen. What will happen to the ship with no Captain?
Also who wants to do what Ron does? He left Talladega on Friday hustled home, got a shower and headed to Flat Rock to take tickets at the back gate on Saturday.
Over the near term it will appear like business as usual. The stalwart tracks in the heartland will remain on the schedule, Salem, Toledo etc, How can you have an ARCA Season without Salem?
What about the future? That’s where I think we run into trouble. Family teams like ours, Basham, Kimmel, Hylton, Peterson and Hixson are already in trouble, with Hixson ending his 20 year run a few weeks ago at Salem.
Rule changes over the last few years have saved the funded teams millions while sky-rocketing cost for those of us on down the line. In my opinion there needs to be a way forward for family teams that have a long term commitment to the Series versus here is my Million Dollars I’m headed to Cup approach.
Having promoted both ARCA and the K & N Series, one of the challenges for the NASCAR K & N series is it’s drivers are a group of kids that fans have absolutely no idea who they are. There are no Praytors, Kimmels, Bahsams, Hylton etc. and at a $40,000 to $60,000 price tag per race there won’t be either.
Race fans have to have someone to cheer for (or against) and ARCA fans love a blue collar, works on their own car story. So far the family teams cries for help have fallen on deaf ears at the ARCA level, you can only imagine what will happen with the guys in the tower in Datyona Beach.
Why are these teams important? You can’t field a full field without medium funded race teams and fans don’t want to see 15 cars race.
More importantly, think of the great characters of racing over the last 50 years. Almost all got to the big time starting with a family operation, Earnhardt, Waltrip, Allison, Marlin I could go on. None of their Daddies could write a check for a million dollars to run a season in ARCA. So how will the new NARCA survive?
There a couple of things NARCA has going for it. First, NASCARs Mike Helton and Jim France, who helped shepherd this deal through are pretty smart. Thank goodness they don’t spend much time in the Tower or listen to the pin heads when they are there.
I believe they recognized NASCARs short comings with the K & N program and will use Drager’s knowledge to pump it up or merge it into ARCA. The latter makes the most sense. I mean how many plastic body series with 15 years olds can we stand?
Also ARCA’s sphere of influence covers a section of the country that is almost void of NASCAR involvement. Smooth move number two by Helton and France.
Additionally, I think Helton and France realized that Drager and his group are getting it done better and cheaper than their group in the tower, hence leaving the NARCA home office in Toledo. Don’t mess with what’s working.
Today’s news that NASCAR may be seeking someone to buy them out is not surprising. I’m not sure what the price tag is gonna be but you can bet it ain’t gonna be a bunch of racers that buys it! Most likely more pencil pushers that belong in the tower in Daytona Beach.
As a car owner it all comes down to who you believe in or can trust. From the short tracks to NASCAR we are all just along for the ride, the powers that be are gonna do what they want. We just hope we can survive it.
For my money I’ll stand behind Drager but that doesn’t mean I won’t be kicking him in the butt if I think he’s wrong.
Tommy Praytor’s racing resume includes: Hosting Inside Alabama Racing for 20 seasons, TV broadcaster, Crew Member/Spotter/PR Person in the Monster Cup, Xfinity, Camping World Truck Series and ARCA Series, Promoter of NASCAR, ARCA and local races and as a driver, car owner.