2011-01-13 / Sports

Junior Johnson Starting Team For Son

By Gerald Hodges

“I don’t want my son driving a race car. I don’t even want a race car on my place,” Junior Johnson told me several years ago during a visit to his farm,

But the NASCAR Hall of Famer has done an about face. This past week, he announced he was launching a race team that he hopes will propel his son, 17-year-old Robert, up to the Sprint Cup Series.

The elder Johnson, who was enshrined in NASCAR’s Hall of Fame as a member of its inaugural 2010 class of inductees, will run Junior Johnson Racing from shops on his 278-acre estate in Hamptonville, N.C.

Keith Barnwell, JJR’s executive vice president and general manager told nascar.com, “We’re going to run the full K&N Pro Series East and maybe the West Series’ finale at Phoenix. “On some of our off-weekends, we’ll be running some UARA and Whelen All-American Series late model races.”

Johnson has hired two veteran mechanics with K& N Series experience, Craig Hermann and Robbie Harrison, to work on the operation. Barnwell said some Toyota stock cars have been purchased from the Red Bull Racing Team and that he and Johnson were in the process of making a final decision on what manufacturer they would align themselves with.

Preseason thunder coming

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will take to the new asphalt at Daytona International Speedway in a threeday test session, known as NASCAR Preseason Thunder, Thursday, Jan. 20, through Saturday, Jan. 22.

Daytona 500 champions Jamie McMurray, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. are among the drivers that will appear.

In addition to viewing the on-track activity from the Sprint FANZONE, fans can watch each day’s testing at no cost from a section of the Oldfield Grandstands near Turn 4.

Drivers currently scheduled to make appearances on Thursday, Jan. 20, beginning at 6 p.m. are Dale Earnhardt Jr., Brad Keselowski, David Ragan, Kurt Busch, Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin, Kasey Kahne, Mark Martin, Martin Truex Jr. and Regan Smith.

Scheduled to appear on Friday, Jan. 21, during the 5- 7 p.m. session are Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer, David Reutimann, Casey Mears, Jeff Burton, Jimmie Johnson, Joey Logano, Kevin Conway, Kyle Busch, Paul Menard and Ryan Newman. In the 7- 9 p.m. session, drivers scheduled to appear are Tony Stewart, AJ Allmendinger, Brian Vickers, Greg Biffle, Jamie McMurray, Jeff Gordon, Juan Pablo Montoya, Marcos Ambrose and Matt Kenseth.

Lastly, race fans will be able to camp in the infield of Daytona International Speedway for free with their admission ticket during the three-day test inside turns 3 and 4. Sites will be provided on a first-come, first-serve basis. Gates to the infield will open Thursday, Jan. 20, at 8:00 a.m.

Activities planned for both days include interactive driver question and answer sessions on the main stage, show cars, displays, music, and photo opportunity with the Harley J. Earl Daytona 500 trophy

Moving NASCAR forward

Several years ago Bruton Smith owner of Charlotte Motor Speedway, used a speedway wrecker to block a network television truck filled with transmitting equipment. It was an attempt to force the network to mention Lowe’s, the track sponsor.

Smith’s actions were brought about after the TV people told him Lowe’s had refused to buy airtime during the race. The strategy by Smith was designed to force the networks to get his track sponsor some TV coverage.

It didn’t work. The network didn’t back down, and Lowe’s was forced to buy advertising time during the race.

Portions of the following article were reported on nascar.com. I think it is very important that fans understand what is happening off the track.

Historically, tracks sold title sponsorships independently and then handed partners over to networks that sold a supporting ad buy. If a title partner passed on buying TV time, a network would sell a presenting sponsorship for the race broadcast to another corporation and limit or even eliminate on-air references to the track’s title partner.

But the challenging ad market following the recent recession, upended the every-man-for-himself approach that resulted in such a fragmented sponsorship landscape. As a result, tracks and networks have begun to collaborate more to pitch 2011 title sponsorships for Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck series races. Track and media executives say the joint sales pitch underscores the new, more unified effort.

“In the past, our needs were different, so we approached the marketplace differently,” said Neil Mulcahy, Fox’s executive vice president for sports sales. “As NASCAR has evolved to what it is today, economic realities dictate that we become more creative in our approach so we can build packages that include the more diverse array of assets that people are now looking for.”

Economic realities.

It’s all part of the NASCAR money-game.

Title sponsorships for Sprint Cup events aren’t cheap. Tracks typically sell naming rights to a race for $1.5 million to $3 million. Networks then sell media packages that can cost as much as $3 million. Advertisers must buy both to get regional and national exposure.

It’s a win-win situation for both the track, NASCAR and networks. Oh yes, in case you didn’t know, NASCAR gets a cut of the track’s reveune.

That disjointed sales process can be costly at times, said Devron Jeffers, Texas Motor Speedway director of sales.

“We’ve lost sponsorships in some cases because a company can’t come to terms with the network,” Jeffers said. “It’s important now more than ever that we join forces because we have the same clients and have to consider our clients’ interests first now more than ever.”

In 2011, the most likely opportunity for tracks and networks to work together will be around the Nationwide Series because those title sponsorships and supporting media cost less than Sprint Cup offers, said Andrew Feit, ESPN senior director of sports management. ESPN met with representatives from ISC and Speedway Motorsports Inc. in December in Las Vegas to outline a framework for working together, and Feit is confident that will result in joint Nationwide sales efforts this year.

“There was once a line in the sand where we were going to get our track money and TV needed to worry about theirs,” Mulcahey said. “As the money has tightened up, everyone is going, ‘We have to work together.’ Because entitlements are our prized asset, this is the future.”

Racing trivia question: Who won the first Daytona 500?

Last week’s question: Who was the driver that won three Cup championships while driving for Junior Johnson? Answer. Darrell Waltrip.

You may contact the Racing Reporter at: hodges@race500.com.

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