You may not think of a liberal political blog being a place to discuss issues related to NASCAR but think again. My interest in the sport (yes, I consider it one) dates back to about the mid-90s when Jeff Gordon was appearing on every kid’s show in America. My Dad, who at the time worked for a Pontiac car dealership, eventually decided to give NASCAR a shot and soon enough; my family became fans of it.
As I grew older, my interest heavily waned. I grew tired of what appeared to be the same winners and the growing number of unlikable personalities to emerge as well as some rule changes I disliked heavily. My family was in the same boat but we still halfheartedly followed what was going on and usually checked in each Sunday to monitor how Gordon was doing.
But another weekly storyline I was always interested in is the plight of the independent team owner. For those who don’t follow NASCAR, there are about six or seven teams in the sport. They have the advantages of having multiple cars, bigger shops to build new cars and engines, better technology and more access to testing.
NASCAR was predicated on drivers taking their own cars to the track and racing them but very few of those relics from the past remain. One of those relics is Carl Long of North Carolina.
I took an interest to Carl Long by once seeing him on the race results and wondering who the heck he was. I investigated a bit and discovered that he did everything out of his own shop in North Carolina and operated on a shoestring budget. To get to the next race was a struggle, but Long usually was able to make it to the races as he continued to chase his dream.
There were dalliances with very small teams and teases of bigger things to come. In 2004, at Rockingham Motor Speedway, Carl Long was involved in a spectacular crash that left him fine but damaged his only car. Fans rallied together to donate money to him and he wound up with a slightly faster ride.
For the next five years, Long floated around all three NASCAR series and would be largely out of the spotlight often not qualifying for races or even working behind-the-scenes as a mechanic.
Then in 2009, Long was brought back to the spotlight but this time for an egregious fine. Long was competing in the exhibition “Sprint Showdown” race in 2009 when he was levied a $200,000 fine for his engine being 0.17 cubic inches too big. It is, and remains, a record fine and Long has been unable to fully pay off the fine and thus is unable to race at NASCAR’s highest level. As an example, two years previous, Michael Waltrip was fined $100,000 for a foreign substance in the intake manifold that was reported to allegedly be “jet fuel”. Waltrip, who has sponsorship from NAPA Auto Parts, was able to quickly pay the fine.
The engine did not provide a competitive engine as it overheated early in the exhibition race but even when it was running smoothly; Long was still considerably slower than the top teams. Yet Long was dished out a fine larger than other teams who have violated the rule book.
Is this right? Of course not, but it shows that NASCAR (like all forms of mega corporations) appear to have a class problem. The little guy gets punished when the bigger teams have numerous sponsorships and multimillion dollar contracts to pay off token $25,000 fines for other infractions.
Long is banned from the Sprint Cup Series garage due to his fine and thus it’s harder for the current mechanic (making about $35,000 a year) to find available sponsorship to pay off his fine.