NASCAR, GM, and the average fan: A new low in corporate sponsorship

Jamie Squire

Owners and sponsors of your team might be bad, but at least they never tried to kill you.

The most confusing sport of all for the fan who sort of has a conscience, and who might think about raising a bit of hell if someone associated with the sport was an awful person and/or corporation, is NASCAR. NASCAR fans root for drivers, yes, but they also associate with teams, and with the carmakers who work with those teams. This is why your cousin from Lebanon, Tennessee bolted a "THIS IS CHEVY COUNTRY, LATE AT NIGHT YOU CAN HEAR A FORD RUSTING" license plate to the front of his Corvette Stingray when you were a kid.

Ironically, that very car later sat rusting in the front yard on blocks. This brings us to the topic of GM, a car company whose automobiles are driven by some of the sport's top drivers and teams, including Jimmie Johnson and the rest of the drivers at Hendrick Motorsports. If you've been asleep or paying attention to non-horrible things this year, we can help you catch up with ten minutes of savage John Oliver commentary.

In short, GM made terrible cars, at least 13 people died as a result, and GM responded by lying to the families of those killed by their terrible cars and making awkward, inhuman PR statement after PR statement in response to a growing controversy.

Owners and sponsors in any context are at best the sausage makers of sports. You don't want to see them, much less know how they got into a position to buy a team, put astonishing athletes on it and make the tasty meat you, the sports consumer, devour happily. Generally speaking: The less you have to deal with them as a fan, the better. You do not need to see shots of the Kraft family in the box at Patriots games. You do not need to hear owners' acceptance speeches after winning, or introduce the bowl game as a sponsor, or wheel Michael Vick out in a wheelchair yourself. You don't care as long as the team competes and the owners and sponsors do not embarrass you for your loyalty to their products.*

*See: Donald Sterling.

We as fans do not care, owners and sponsors of the world. You only have the microphone because you have money, the most boring athletic superpower of all. You do not need to talk, nor do you need for announcers-- other grown adults -- to refer to you by the literally patronizing title of "Mr." or "Ms/Mrs." (Hi, Jim Nantz.)

Most of us do a pretty neat job of blanking all that patronage out of the way of our sports. However, that's not really an option here for NASCAR fans, who really are in a truly unique position. They have to recognize that GM subsidiary Chevrolet, largely in partnership with Hendrick Motorsports and their star driver Jimmie Johnson, started a streak in 2005 of Sprint Cup titles, winning eight out of nine championships from 2005 to 2013. They have to recognize that Chevrolet, at the high end of its engineering capabilities, has had a hand in making the finest American race cars of the past decade.

And yet at the same time, they also have to accept that GM -- a major force in the sport whose sales were boosted by that ever-loyal NASCAR consumer audience -- was selling cars more likely to crash and explode on the road than their high-strung racing machines. As bad as the Dan Snyders and Donald Sterlings of the world may be, this is a new low for the corporate overlords of sport. The Clippers and Redskins as products might be so bad they made you want to figuratively die watching them. Unlike GM's products, they never stood a chance of literally killing you.

p.s. While waiting for editing and publishing of this piece, GM announced a recall for 2.42 million more cars. No, really, that just happened.

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