Economic slowdown has Cup drivers rethinking their spending habits
Average Joe ain't the only one feeling the economic pinch. From jet-pooling to selling their motorized toys, millionaire Sprint Cup drivers are looking for ways to curb their spending, too, writes David Newton.
Updated: December 22, 2008, 12:54 PM ETBy David Newton | ESPN.com
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Five private planes were stacked on the runway of the small airport in Statesville, N.C., earlier this year for Denny Hamlin and four other Sprint Cup drivers to make the trip to Eldora Speedway in Ohio for Tony Stewart's annual celebrity race.Each plane had two people aboard."It was the craziest thing I saw all year," Hamlin recalled. "We're all leaving at the same time for the same place. We all need to start using our head a little more."
Many are. Tough economic conditions have caught the attention of race fans who struggle to pay bills and buy tickets to events. They also have caught the attention of the millionaire drivers the fans idolize.Greg Biffle has sold his helicopter and plans to cut back on vacation plans during the offseason. He and his four Roush Fenway Racing teammates have discussed jet-pooling to appearances such as the January fanfest in Daytona Beach, Fla., instead of flying individually.Kurt Busch and other drivers plan to fly commercially to more places. Hamlin doesn't plan to buy a new car, as he typically does, and has stopped purchasing $1,000 sports jackets.Others have put off buying a new motor home that becomes their track home on race weekends."It's stupid what we spend on motor homes and planes," four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon said. "Do we need that? No, but things have been good for us. The sport has been good. I've had success. I'm living this way because things have been very good."Obviously, we're having to cut back. I have to cut back, too."And these are guys who can afford luxuries. Forbes magazine ranks Gordon 37th among in this year's Celebrity 100, with an annual income, including endorsements, of $32 million."Don't pay attention to what Forbes puts in there," Gordon said with a laugh. "They add a lot of extra numbers in there."The economy, however, is no laughing matter to Gordon or any other driver. They might be more sensitive than most athletes because of the direct corporate and manufacturer support necessary to compete. They understand that if sponsors pull out or reduce the amount they pay to have their name plastered on the cars, the trickle-down effect will come to them in terms of how much is spent on competition or what owners are willing to pay in their next contract negotiation.They know that if General Motors, Ford or Chrysler goes under or withdraws financial support that performance could suffer. "This is not a laughing matter," Gordon said after the season-ending banquet in New York. "It's tough times. It's something to be very serious about. We not only have to pay attention to raising money and finding companies out there to do that with, but we also have to watch our costs and not be exuberant."Organizations already are. Petty Enterprises laid off approximately 65 people in the past few weeks and is seeking to merge with Gillett Evernham Motorsports in order to survive.Dale Earnhardt Inc. and Chip Ganassi Racing had to merge into a four-car team, eliminating three teams and more than 100 jobs.The legendary Wood Brothers have eliminated 22 employees and plan to run in only 12 of 36 races in 2009.
David Newton/ESPN.comGreg Biffle, a licensed helicopter pilot since May 2006, sold his chopper and is looking at other ways to trim his budget.
The plane is a necessity 60 or 70 percent of the time. Then you've got it, so you might as well use it. But there are short trips that I probably could drive to and save money. I'm probably a little wasteful with my plane.
-- Carl Edwards