ARCA’s run as an independent stock car sanctioning body is officially over.
NASCAR announced it had purchased the series Friday morning at Talladega. ARCA, which was founded in 1953, will continue to operate as it is currently through the 2019 season. NASCAR will take over control in 2020.
While ARCA is a small player on the stock car racing landscape the decision means NASCAR will now have a monopoly on stock car racing in the United States.
“I think from an ARCA perspective, I liken it to we’re a small, independently owned company,” ARCA president Ron Drager said Friday. “Our world continues to get more and more complicated and complex. There are times when I feel like I’m a little rowboat out in the middle of the ocean. The ocean liners go by, and they rock the boat. A big storm comes along, and it rocks the boat. So far, we haven’t turned over. I want to be on a bigger boat.”
The Titanic was a large boat and is proof that a bigger boat isn’t always better. Right now, NASCAR is a bit like the Titanic. It’s a behemoth, but there are structural flaws that need to be addressed. And while the boat may have operated at capacity 10 years ago, it’s currently making regular trips with about half as many passengers.
Is that really a boat ARCA wants to be on? Let’s take a look at some of the potential aspects of the deal.
What does it mean now?
It doesn’t mean anything in the present. ARCA’s schedule for 2018 is set and it seems like the 2019 schedule won’t change either. The big question comes in two seasons, when it’s conceivable that NASCAR will move some ARCA races around and pair them with Camping World Truck Series and Xfinity Series races.
What is ARCA’s current status on the racing totem pole?
ARCA serves as a Single-A version of stock car racing if you consider NASCAR’s Cup Series to be the equivalent of Major League Baseball. ARCA is a proving ground for young drivers starting their attempted climb up the NASCAR ladder and a playground for many teams operated by lifelong racers who don’t have the financial resources to race in either of NASCAR’s top three series.
ARCA currently races at seven tracks that host Cup Series races as well as dirt tracks and small paved ovals that don’t have a chance at hosting a NASCAR series race. The series has more track diversity than any of NASCAR’s top-three series.
What does this do to the K&N East and West Series?
That’s a big unknown. NASCAR has promoted the K&N Pro Series East and Pro Series West as regional series on a similar level to ARCA — a step below the Camping World Truck Series. Many young drivers branded as “NASCAR Next” compete in the K&N Series.
But the K&N Series have a big exposure problem. The races aren’t aired live on television and are typically shown on a week delay on NBC Sports Network. Every ARCA race is televised live, whether it’s on a Fox Sports cable channel or MavTV. ARCA has more exposure than any of the K&N Series do and it’ll be fascinating to see if NASCAR keeps the ARCA branding or the K&N branding in any potential merger. We’re not sure if it’s feasible to have ARCA and two similar regional series operating under the same umbrella.
“We have a great deal of respect for what goes on in the K&N East and West,” Drager said. “There are quality race teams, drivers and racecars. Our racecars are pretty closely aligned right now. We certainly see a way forward to work together.”
This is another unknown. The brief press conference to announce the deal Friday morning didn’t give many clues as to why NASCAR is making the purchase. Was this something NASCAR instigated? Does ARCA need an investor?
It’s plausible to wonder if NASCAR is making the purchase for self-preservation purposes. ARCA isn’t a true competitor to NASCAR by any means, but having ARCA under the NASCAR umbrella removes the last remaining possible competition to NASCAR’s stock car monopoly. Remember, NASCAR executives get oddly defensive whenever there’s positivity directed towards IndyCar despite NASCAR’s far greater overall reach.
We can understand why NASCAR would feel it needs to have a monopoly. There’s no way to sugarcoat how badly television ratings and at-track attendance are cratering, no matter how many people try to spin any bit of non-bad news for the sport as a massive positive.
But NASCAR has a lot of problems of its own, especially in the Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series. It’s virtually impossible to break even when running a team without significant sponsorship in any of NASCAR’s top three series. And if you want to be competitive, you gotta have deep pockets, whether those pockets are your own or your sponsor’s.
Fixing competitive imbalance issues in the Xfinity and Truck Series seems like it should be a bigger priority than going out and acquiring another imperfect series. Hopefully this isn’t a move for quantity over quality.
With ARCA in the fold, NASCAR suddenly has another series that it can sell the television rights to. That’s important as television ratings decline because NASCAR’s next television contract won’t nearly be as large if the slide continues. More things to sell ostensibly means more money to get from broadcast providers. You can bet Fox and NBC are having serious buyer’s remorse about the billions they shelled out to broadcast NASCAR through 2024.
2020 is shaping up to be a MASSIVE year for the sport
NASCAR previously announced that it would potentially reformat the way it sells title sponsorships starting in the 2020 season. Current Cup Series title sponsor Monster signed a one-year extension through the 2019 season and NASCAR said it’s “unlikely” Monster will continue in that role in 2020 and beyond.
Instead, the sport could potentially have multiple companies as big sponsors and the sponsorships would be bundled with television and track contracts.
2020 is also the final year of NASCAR’s current five-year schedule contract with its tracks. The contract signed before the 2016 season locks in all tracks currently on the Cup schedule through the 2020 season. That makes changing the schedule to add more short tracks and road courses basically impossible until 2021. Case in point, the 2019 schedule looks exactly like the 2018 schedule does.
We wrote at the time of the Monster extension that NASCAR was once again banking on the prospects of a murky future. The timing of the ARCA takeover further reinforces that. NASCAR is currently stuck in neutral on a steep hill and it’s doing all it can to get back in drive once the car gets to the bottom. But there’s no telling how far away the bottom actually is.
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.