The disruptions caused by current shutdowns reach into every corner of the racing industry. RACER.com is sharing stories of how different entities in the sport are tackling these unprecedented challenges in a special series called The Lockdown Diaries.
Without knowing when the seven (so far) postponed NASCAR Cup Series races will be run, Front Row Motorsports is trying to be prepared. The team fields a pair of Fords for Michael McDowell and John Hunter Nemechek.
The organization of 74 employees is still working, although all those who can be at home (i.e., marketing, business, and even engineers) are staying there. Plus, the work week has been shortened to three days spread across the whole week to minimize the number of people in the facility.
“In our case, we needed to get through the West Coast swing, and we were really burning the midnight oil turning around those cars that had gone to Vegas and Fontana, to turn around to go to Homestead and Texas,” FRM general manager Jerry Freeze told RACER. “We were kind of fast-tracking sides, noses and tails and things like that, so (this hiatus) kind of gives us some time to do stuff right.
“There were some updates we weren’t going to have time to build into those cars, but now we can. So, we want to take this opportunity to take the fleet of cars that we have and make them to the absolute best spec we know to build them to, so when we go race again — at least what it seems (likely) to be is race after race after race after race, so it gives us a good opportunity to improve our product.”
Freeze admitted only time would tell what financial impact the break caused by the COVID-19 outbreak will have on teams. If NASCAR does get back to racing and all 36 races are run, then it’s just about cash flow timing.
“I’m not going to lie and tell you it’s not a hardship or a burden to operate a business right now,” Freeze said. “We’re no different than anybody else. We had plans (with) the money that came in from Atlanta and Homestead and Texas was going to help pay the engine bill and tire bill and things like that that are still coming. I don’t know that sponsorship revenue is going to cover everything over these next seven weeks that we have coming, what we’re faced with, so there’s the challenge of how are you going to pay your bills and meet payroll. So, we’ll have to get a little creative with that.
“I’m spending a lot of time working on that right now. Can we move a payment back a little bit just to accommodate it? And I think everybody — the vendors we deal with, the employees we have — certainly everybody’s feeling some kind of alteration in their life, and I think everybody is trying to accommodate how our problem might affect them. We’re all literally in it together. We hope that we’re able to get back racing at Martinsville and still run all those races. If it were to prolong and NASCAR were in a position that you had to eliminate some races, then that becomes a problem. Now there is lost revenue; now there is maybe sponsorship revenue that gets lost because you can’t move the sponsor.”
Front Row would have had two Atlanta-based companies on a car for Atlanta race weekend. It might be hard for Front Row to convince that company it could get the same value at another race if Atlanta were canceled. Freeze is one of those who definitely wants to see each of the postponed races eventually run.
“But it’s a challenge just trying to juggle all the obligations you have to meet when the money that just a week ago we were counting on, at least the race revenue part, all of a sudden is altered,” he said.
And that unknown will be the hardest part for Freeze and others will deal with between now and whenever racing resumes.
“We know that right now, tentatively, we’re planning on being back on the track at Martinsville, but where are these seven races going to be made up?” said Freeze. “We’ve heard rumors that maybe there’s a Wednesday night race in there, so is there a Wednesday night race right after Martinsville? What kind of track is it? Is it another short track race?
“So, not knowing what the schedule is is very concerning. It’s more concerning that you don’t know with absolute certainty that you will be starting again on May the 9th. That’s the biggest concern for sure, and the revenue piece and all that. We’re sitting here, and we know we have a good piece that we were going to take to Richmond, now we’re going to take to Martinsville. Well, what happens if Richmond is now the next week after Martinsville? There’s just a lot of questions of what the schedule is going to be, and therefore what does your car preparation need to be?
“I think some of the rule changes that NASCAR put in place to help the teams with cost through the rest of this season kind of play in our favor a little bit. If we can get all our 12 cars per team as ‘zoomy, zoomy,’ as I always say, as we can when we come back I feel like we should be in a pretty good place on the racetrack. So, I’m excited about that but also very nervous about the time frame getting there for all the (above) reasons.”