Economic Woes Hit NASCAR

Sarah Rothschild, sports reporter for the Miami Herald, talks about how the faltering economy is leading to layoffs and cutbacks in NASCAR auto racing.

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ANDREA SEABROOK, host:

Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines.

(Soundbite of car engine starting)

SEABROOK: OK. Turn them off, guys. Turn them off. Gas is too expensive. The NASCAR season ends tomorrow with one final race at the Homestead Miami Speedway. For the last decade, NASCAR has been burning rubber in the sporting world, the hottest thing around.

Then came this year. The country's economic problems reached deep into the NASCAR nation, and now, they're forcing some major changes. Sarah Rothschild is reporting on NASCAR's economic woes for the Miami Herald, and she's at the Homestead Speedway right now. Hi there.

Ms. SARAH ROTHSCHILD (Reporter, Miami Herald): Hi, how are you doing?

SEABROOK: Good. So I hear there's a shake-up this week because some of these teams are really strapped for cash?

Ms. ROTHSCHILD: Teams are struggling to get sponsorship and may have to fold after the season, which could mean laying off hundreds of employees across NASCAR's top three series. NASCAR also announced that they would be banning testing at all NASCAR-sanctioned tracks in 2009, which means that these teams that had spent millions of dollars each year trying to gather as much data as they can to try to find an edge over the competition won't be able to do it. So, this is really a big story here this weekend. Of course, we've got the championship, but everyone is talking about the economy, the lay offs, and just the uncertainties surrounding the sport right now.

SEABROOK: I hear there are rumors of layoffs on Monday. What can you tell me about that?

Ms. ROTHSCHILD: Right now, the number being thrown around in the garage that I'm hearing is that it could be over 700 people that lose jobs in NASCAR's top-three series. You've got hundreds of people employed by each team. And if a team doesn't have sponsorship and then can't compete, they can't employ all these people.

SEABROOK: Are you saying that the sponsors, those corporate sponsors like Home Depot and Valvoline and Budweiser, you know, you see the patches all over their race suits and their cars. They're pulling out?

Ms. ROTHSCHILD: You're not seeing companies like Budweiser or Office Depot pulling out. But there's so many teams that you need - you need a lot of sponsors. And some of the other teams that aren't the top teams in the sport are having trouble finding sponsorship.

For example, Texaco/Havoline, which had been in the sport for over two decades, is no longer going to be in the sport next year. And you've seen a lot of these big companies really cut back on their budgets, and that affects NASCAR, too, even though it had been kind of the hot place for these companies to align themselves.

SEABROOK: Sarah, I can guess that another thing that might be a problem in tight times for everyone, ticket sales. How's that going?

Ms. ROTHSCHILD: Right now, you're seeing a lot of empty seats at NASCAR races. Last month in Atlanta, they had 40,000 empty seats. Now, granted, the track holds about 120,000, but you can't help but notice all the empty seats.

When you see that, you're really seeing how the economy is affecting fans because they cannot afford to spend hundreds of dollars to stay at hotels, which often time require, you know, three or four-night minimums. Plus then, you've got to pay for tickets and parking and food. So it really adds up, and some of these tracks are not discounting tickets.

SEABROOK: What's the cheapest ticket for the race tomorrow?

Ms. ROTHSCHILD: It's $55.

SEABROOK: Wow, that's expensive. So does all of this put the entire sport in peril then?

Ms. ROTHSCHILD: I wouldn't say peril. NASCAR really enjoyed unprecedented growth in the last decade or two, and I don't think we're going to see the end of NASCAR. I don't think the situation is that bad.

Some of these team owners have said that, you know, there's always been a lot of waste. They spend money to spend money because they know that, you know, the other teams are doing it, too. So it's kind of a let's-keep-up-with-the-Joneses mentality. And right now, you're seeing that change. I think we're going to see a different NASCAR.

SEABROOK: Sarah Rothschild reports for the Miami Herald. I spoke to her from the Homestead Miami Speedway. They'll be hosting the last race in NASCAR 2008 Season tomorrow. Thanks so much, Sarah Rothschild.

Ms. ROTHSCHILD: Thank you.

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