A leaner NASCAR gets ready to return to racing
NASCAR returns to action this week as a leaner industry, as the pandemic has accelerated plans to streamline all of its operations, from staffing to scheduling.
The Cup Series is scheduled to return to action, minus fans, on May 17, at Darlington Raceway in South Carolina.
Since April, the sanctioning body has shed at least 140 jobs. Sources told Sports Business Journal that the first round involved 69 positions and the second round, announced last week, was even larger.
Some of those layoffs had already been expected following last year’s $2 billion merger of NASCAR and track operator International Speedway Corp. But the shutdown brought by the current outbreak pushed those plans further and heightened NASCAR’s need to decrease its budget.
NASCAR said it has “worked for several months following the merger to centralize its operations as part of an evolved model that will position the sport for long-term growth.” It said its “commitment to this process, particularly during these incredibly challenging times, has required that difficult near-term decisions be made in the interest of the future long-term health and success of the sport.”
After years of building up an increasingly large workforce well into the hundreds of people, NASCAR Chairman and CEO Jim France is starting to dial back that structure and turn the sport into more of a nimble operation, albeit one that executives believe can operate just as well.
Departments such as ticketing and social media are largely being centralized — meaning that the people selling fans tickets and sending messages to them on platforms like Twitter and Facebook will now be people based at NASCAR’s central headquarters. Those who did such tasks at its tracks were either laid off or reassigned.
With the realization that some of its tracks will start to be used less than ever for NASCAR racing, the sanctioning body has also gutted the staffs at a couple of venues.
Nearly all employees at Iowa Speedway and Chicagoland Speedway were let go during the latest layoffs, and the plan is to have workers from nearby Kansas Speedway help run Iowa’s facility on race days. Chicagoland’s future was less clear, as it has been mentioned for more than a year as a venue that NASCAR may eventually stop going to as part of a land sale.
As reported by SBJ in March, NASCAR signed a deal with Hillwood to redevelop surplus land across its 13,000 owned acres. NASCAR insists that the deal is not about selling the tracks themselves, but rumors in the industry persist.
This comes as NASCAR also plans out a new era for where it will race starting in 2021, including the possibility of non-NASCAR owned venues and even street circuits, after years of largely racing at its own oval circuits and road courses.
NASCAR had been considering for years a plan to hold midweek races and was looking to do so in 2021, but the pandemic pushed that concept to 2020 so that the sport could hold more events. NASCAR will hold two midweek Cup Series races this month, the first being Wednesday night, May 20, on FS1 from Darlington, and the other being the following Wednesday, May 27, from Charlotte Motor Speedway.
In the first round of layoffs, the jobs that NASCAR eliminated spanned the gamut from low-level workers to more senior business staffers. But it appeared that few to no C-suite executives were affected during the most recent cuts.
Even with a conservative estimate that the average salary for 100 laid off employees was $50,000 annually, NASCAR would have shaved $5 million out of its budget.
A couple of weeks after the first round of layoffs, NASCAR sent a note to remaining employees saying that it was introducing a voluntary departure program with enhanced severance packages for those with 10 or more years of consecutive tenure at NASCAR or ISC. This appeared to suggest that France felt he needed to cut out more of the budget.
While it was unclear how many employees took the voluntary package, the second round of layoffs came just a few weeks later.
Similar to NASCAR, Speedway Motorsports has laid off 180 people during the shutdown, with all of its eight venues affected. In comparison, NASCAR owns 14 tracks.
While SMI’s exact streamlining plan is unclear, it is also going through a period of determining which tracks have a long-term future in NASCAR.
There are also more short-term concerns in mind. For example, Sonoma Raceway may go all of 2020 without a major racing event because it no longer hosts IndyCar Series races and its annual NASCAR weekend in June is in serious doubt due to the pandemic and restrictions in California. That has decreased the need for staffing at that location.