Dodge President & CEO Gilles Addresses Company's Exit From NASCAR
Dodge's decision to leave NASCAR following the '12 Sprint Cup season was based on finding “no NASCAR organization that could compete at the level that it wanted,” according to Bob Pockrass of SPORTING NEWS. Dodge President & CEO Ralph Gilles said, “We didn’t want this day to come but it has.” He added that the decision was made Friday to “stop development on its 2013 car.” Pockrass noted Dodge had won 55 Sprint Cup Series races since it re-entered the sport in '01, after first exiting NASCAR in '77. Despite its success on the track, the automaker “could not find a contending team willing to switch manufacturers nor could it find any smaller teams or new owners who could run Dodge cars at a competitive level.” Penske Racing, which announced in March it was leaving Dodge for Ford, had been the only “full-time competitor" for Dodge since '10. Dodge officials “had talks with Richard Petty Motorsports, Front Row Motorsports and other NASCAR teams about switching to Dodge.” The automaker also considered “backing a move to NASCAR by IndyCar Series team Andretti Autosport.” Gilles said, “We don’t want to just show up when we go racing. We want to win. It was a difficult deal.” Gilles "wouldn’t rule out Dodge returning to the sport in the future.” However, he said it would be "quite a significant effort" for the company to return (SPORTINGNEWS.com, 8/7). Sources said that there were questions whether Dodge’s parent company, Fiat, “has any passion for NASCAR, leading to Penske's decision to leave for Ford and, ultimately, Dodge's decision to leave the sport altogether” (ESPN.com, 8/7). NASCAR Chair & CEO Brian France said, “They made a business decision not to return in 2013, as they did in 1977 before returning in 2001. We wish them well and hope they again will choose to return to NASCAR at a later date” (NASCAR).
DIMINISHING RETURNS: In a Q&A with THATSRACIN.com, Gilles addressed where, if at all, Dodge might increase its motorsports presence. Gilles: “We are happy with our size right now. We actually, at the beginning of this year, invested in NASCAR even more heavily. We actually tripled our track side activation, our web content, our media support and also PR support of NASCAR.” He added, “We are about where we want it to be. We also have introduced RallyCross and ALMS (American Le Mans Series). But again, it's not a matter of taking NASCAR budget and reappropriating it. They were separate budgets to start with; so it's really a matter of going and racing at the level and quality that we are accustomed to, not necessarily budget management.” Gilles said of ROI's role in the company's decision, "We are investing more than ever before in terms of track side. We have actually been measuring the data and been very pleased with the amount of leads that we get midway during the races. So that part of it was working well.” Gilles: “Any motorsport, it's difficult to measure ROI. It's how do you extract the best from it as a PR exercise and market exercise.” Gilles said, “We went from activating six races to over 22 races, which means full displays, car lines; a lot of money was spent on having a bigger presence. So unfortunately, the house of cards kind of fell apart” (THATSRACIN.com, 8/7).
WORD ON THE STREET: SPEED analysts weighed in on the impact of Dodge exiting NASCAR. Dave Despain said, "Symbolically this is a very big deal; it comes at a very bad time; and it's a kick in the gut to loyal Dodge fans.” Mike Joy: “Any manufacturer brings technology and support dollars that help strengthen their teams, and absent Dodge, we might have had fewer viable teams in the sport than we have right now.” Tom Jensen: “The significance of Dodge’s exit is largely symbolic. Dodge has been the fourth dog in the race for a number of years now.” Former NASCAR driver Kyle Petty said, “For Dodge to leave now is significant. Sponsorship is down on a lot of cars. Teams running in the back and middle of the field are struggling to find finances and manufacturer support, so with only three manufacturers next year and those three probably entrenched with their current teams, Dodge leaving widens the gap between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots.’” Larry McReynolds: “Anytime a major sponsor of any kind, whether a manufacturer, primary team sponsor or series sponsor packs up and goes home, it doesn’t look good for NASCAR. I don’t think the particular manufacturer’s departure will have much of an impact on the fan base” (SPEEDTV.com, 8/7). USA TODAY’s Nate Ryan writes, “The impact on on-track competition will be minimal." But it "will hurt the prospects of midpack teams that were seeking to join the elite via a manufacturer-driven jolt of cash and technical support” (USA TODAY, 8/8).