LOUDON, N.H. (AP) — NASCAR President Mike Helton said Friday there is no animosity from the governing body toward the recently formed, nine-team Race Team Alliance that will collaborate on initiatives and issues facing auto racing.
The goals of the RTA include lowering costs for NASCAR teams and creating one voice on issues facing the teams.
Helton downplayed the immediate significance of the new faction, saying NASCAR will "continue to do business the way we've done business."
"They've made clear their intentions are to grow the sport and make the sport stronger through their ownerships, and we have respect for what they do in their business models," Helton said at New Hampshire Motorspeedway, "but the other thing is, the way we do our form of motorsports has worked. We continue to add assets and values to create and grow the sport. We'll continue to do that and also continue to do that with the input of as many people as we can do individually."
Helton said he did have notice from the RTA that it was forming.
The RTA currently includes Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates, Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, Michael Waltrip Racing, Richard Childress Racing, Richard Petty Motor Sports, Roush Fenway Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing and Team Penske. Michael Waltrip Racing co-owner Rob Kauffman was elected chairman of the RTA, which was formally announced Monday.
Kauffman said the top goal of the RTA, which is operating with bylaws and an executive committee, was to bring in the remaining Sprint Cup teams that are not currently members. Also high on the agenda are cost-saving initiatives related to travel and parts, and communicating with one voice to NASCAR when it comes to team ideas on testing.
But some in the sport believe the RTA will ultimately want so much more, from a larger share of the cut in a TV deal to pulling some sort of power play when it comes to larger issues facing NASCAR. What's the end game for the most powerful owners in NASCAR?
"I don't know anything about it that's good for what we do," track owner Bruton Smith said. "I don't know why anybody that is invested in this sport that would want to do something to damage our sport. I don't see anything that's going to be good for the sport. Nothing."
The Loudon, New Hampshire, track is one of eight owned by Smith's company, Speedway Motorsports Inc.
"I'll be standing shoulder to shoulder with NASCAR on this one," Smith said. "I know (the RTA is) not going to like it."
Smith also took a playful jab at Kauffman, saying he didn't know anything about the Michael Waltrip Racing owner who invested in 2007.
"What does he do?" Smith asked.
He could be the chairman of a group that changes the face of NASCAR.
Not everyone was worried about a doomsday scenario. Six-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson said he was excited the owners unified to provide "a clear, concise voice" for the industry.
"I just don't see any downside in the owners working closer together and sharing what's important to them," Johnson said. "I don't see anything wrong with that. ... This could be beneficial in a lot of ways."
Kauffman insisted this week the RTA was not a union. Johnson said the alliance showed the opportunity was there for drivers to take similar action.
"I guess in some ways Pandora's box has been opened with this. We'll see where it leads," Johnson said. "This is a good thing. I don't feel like this it's going to drive a separation or a split. I don't even know where a separation or a split would take place."
NASCAR drivers have made only one serious attempt at organized labor. Richard Petty formed the Professional Drivers Association and drivers pulled off a boycott of the 1969 race at Talladega Superspeedway because they deemed it unsafe. The group fizzled not long after.
Kauffman said this week the RTA also will discuss health care and benefits for employees.
The formation of the RTA comes as NASCAR enters next season with a new $8.2 billion television package. Teams currently get a portion of the money from the TV package, but Kauffman said renegotiating the teams' cut was not on the current agenda.
With little known about the RTA and all of its plans, Smith said it was bad news for the sport, though he didn't specify how.
"I think here again, if you're NASCAR or Speedway Motorsports, show me one thing that's going to help the sport," Smith said. "I'm not seeing anything that's going to help the sport."
Helton said everyone needed to exercise caution before forming an opinion on the RTA.
"We've got more people involved from NASCAR today than ever to listen to the different disciplines in the garage and hear them so that we can make the best decisions that we can for everybody," he said.
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- Bruton Smith