NASCAR president Mike Helton made the first public comments Friday concerning the announcement earlier in the week that several of the top teams in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series have formed an alliance. Current teams who are the executive members of the RTA include Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates, Hendrick Motor Sports, Joe Gibbs Racing, Michael Waltrip Racing, Richard Childress Racing, Richard Petty Motor Sports, Roush Fenway Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing and Team Penske.
The stated purpose of the organization is to “create an open forum for the teams to explore areas of common interest and to work collaboratively on initiatives to help preserve, promote, and grow the sport of stock car racing.”
NASCAR has typically resisted any sort of organization among its teams or drivers. Most famously in 1969, the drivers formed a union known as the Professional Drivers Association (PDA). Members of the PDA boycotted the inaugural race at Talladega in 1969; the race ran with no issues after NASCAR chairman and founder William “Big Bill” France put was able to put together a field that had no star drivers on it. The PDA disbanded shortly after.
It was the second time the drivers tried to unionize. In 1961 NASCAR pioneer Curtis Turner along with the Teamsters Union tried to organize drivers; France destroyed any thoughts of a union and banned Turner for “life” a sentence that lasted only four years.
Friday Helton spoke to the media on the RTA as NASCAR prepares for this weekend’s activity at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. He said that the team owners and NASCAR have a great deal in common and every reason to work together and that, for now, NASCAR will “stay our course.”
“We have great respect for our stakeholders, so any perception there could be animosity based on this topic is incorrect,” said Helton.
“Part of our method of operation over the last six decades,” he added. “Is to make decisions by listening to a lot of individual stakeholders in the garage area. Every car owner in here has a voice – crew members, drivers, crew chiefs. We take that input and make what we think are the best decisions that are good for the whole sport. We will continue to operate that way. Our intention is to build NASCAR collectively.”
Helton also said that looking at the stated purpose of the RTA it seems that NASCAR and the RTA are working towards the same goal.
“We take very serious our responsibility to make decisions in this sport, in the garage area, for the race tracks and the other partners that we have,” Helton said. “Part of that responsibility is to have a sport that has a great product at great race tracks for our fans – and the owners have been very clear that that is their intention, too. So, we stand together, very clearly, on that.”
Drivers said they had heard little prior to the RTA announcement Monday.
“We were briefed on it at the beginning of the week that the announcement would be coming out,” six time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson said. “That was the first that I had heard of it.”
Johnson said that he, like other drivers, will be monitoring the situation in the future as it pertains to the RTA,
“Absolutely,” Johnson said. “I think there are a lot of people; it doesn’t matter if you are an owner or a driver, NASCAR, or a fan, everybody wants to see this sport succeed and grow. Everybody is paying attention to whatever alliances maybe put together or opinions that someone may have or the direction NASCAR wants to take things in. Absolutely, I love this sport and want the best for it and paying attention to what others do that care for this sport as well.”
Johnson opened the door for the possibility that drivers could next to form some sort of alliance.
“That opportunity is definitely there,” Johnson said. “I don’t know where others stand and feel with it. I haven’t put any thought into it myself. I guess in some ways Pandora’s Box has been opened with this topic and discussion. We will see where it leads. “
The Hendrick Motorsports driver was quick to add that the RTA, and any future such alliance will only help the sport.
“The way I see this is everybody cares for our sport and people are trying to be more organized to help lead and direct our sport in all ways,” he said. “We will see what the future holds and I feel like there is a positive outcome.”
Overall Johnson seemed conciliatory when talking about the RTA and the future.
“This is a good thing,” he said. “I don’t feel like this is going to drive separation or a split. And I don’t even know where that separation or split would take place. The things that have been discussed through the RTA, it’s all about saving costs. It’s all about driving costs down I don’t see how that’s a bad thing. I know the conversation is owners against NASCAR, but NASCAR is trying to help bring costs down. So is the RTA. I think everybody is working the same direction.”