With the September 15 deadline looming for the expiration of NHL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement and a threatened player lockout by the League, hockey fans everywhere are getting that sinking feeling they know all too well—at best, a shortened season; at worst no season at all (2004-05 redux). Just like the NFL and NBA last season, negotiations between League Owners and the Players Association center on everything except what matters most—the folks who buy the tickets and make it possible for pro sports to exist—the fans.
Maybe it’s because of NASCAR’s southern roots, but there are no Drivers Unions, no driver or team salary caps (or floors), and no League of Team Owners expecting successful teams to help prop up those floundering. Parity is definitely not the objective at NASCAR. Safe, competitive, exciting races are the mantra for fan support. Fans love the “boys have at it” attitude, and they love a good race…with a spectacular wreck or two as an added bonus—so long as nobody gets hurt.
You never hear a financially struggling Team Owner whine that it’s not fair that Hendrix Motorsports can afford four top drivers. No one expects Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, Dale Jr., Kyle Busch or any other driver to share revenue with NASCAR to help the less affluent teams. Teams and drivers either make it, or they stop racing—or merge with another owner.
Drivers are independent contractors who strike deals with Team owners. Sure, many are multi-year deals, but for every large contract there’s another driver with a one-year deal. Some drivers/teams don’t have sponsors, basically racing on their own resources and hoping for that win that will propel them into a sponsorship or onto a team.
There are no restrictions on salary level, minimum pay, or how long a driver “belongs” to a team after entering an agreement. When Dale Jr. left DEI to join Hendrix Motorsports, DEI did not have the right to match the terms of his new agreement and retain him. There’s no minimum time a driver must race before he/she becomes a Free Agent. They are free agents when the contract ends; either party can decide to renew the relationship or part ways.
Likewise, when drivers behave badly, either on or off the track, sponsors can pull their support, team owners can bench the driver, or cut him loose. That’s why the very talented, but hot-headed Kurt Busch no longer races for Penske and is driving for a team without a sponsor. Sponsors are unwilling to risk their PR image on a driver who crosses the line. Again, there’s no Drivers Union to take up the case, lodge a protest, or make any demands.
Sure, there’ve been attempts from time-to-time to start Drivers Unions, but these were quickly contained by NASCAR sanctions. The most memorable attempt resulted from a secret meeting of some top drivers to form the Professional Drivers Association back in 1969. The first confrontation came when drivers considered the tires provided by Goodyear and Firestone unsafe for the track conditions at the very first race at Talladega. After asking NASCAR to stop the race until proper tires could be developed to handle the 200-plus speeds and NASCAR declined, all but one of the PDA drivers packed their cars and returned home without competing. The PDA “boycott” did not last long. The race took place with last-minute replacement drivers, and the PDA dissolved, with several of the high-profile drivers back on the track at the next race just four days later.
Forty-three years later, no union or Drivers Association exists, although the topic raises its head ever few years. Thanks to the efforts in 1969, NASCAR’s Winner Circle program was initiated, which exists today. Drivers speak more openly about concerns over safety, tire issues and track conditions, and NASCAR does listen.
So if you find yourself depressed come mid-October staring at your TV, hoping to see your NHL team compete, switch channels and give NASCAR a try. It’s the Chase for the Sprint Cup—you won’t be disappointed or have to worry about lockouts or work stoppages. After all, It’s Racing, Baby!
- NHL Collective Bargaining Agreement Deadline (buffalorising.com)
- NHL Lockout: What a Work Stoppage Will Do to the League (bleacherreport.com)
- Fehr: players not surprised by NHL lockout threat (goerie.com)
- Winnipeg Jets send note to fans warning of potential for NHL lockout (o.canada.com)
- Column: NASCAR Needs Kyle Busch to Be Himself (abcnews.go.com)