Historically, NASCAR’s ruling France family has been against the formation of unions in its beloved sport. And the sanctioning body has definitely put its proverbial foot down.
In the early 1960s, NASCAR star Curtis Turner teamed up with famed Teamsters leader Jimmy Hoffa in an attempt to start up the Federation of Proefessional Athletes to offer such things as pensions and insurance to drivers. End result: “Big Bill” France threatened drivers who may be considering joining said union. Turner and Tim Flock didn’t head the “warning” and, therefore, were suspended for life from NASCAR competition. Turner’s suspension was eventually lifted.
Later in the 1960s, drivers tried to team up again, this time forming the Professional Drivers Association. Richard Petty was the leader this time around. This time, there were no lifetime suspensions, but that popular point was made by NASCAR to the drivers involved, “You need NASCAR more than NASCAR needs you.”
Here’s how said point was made:
This latest union boycotted the first-ever NASCAR premier level race to be held at the then-new Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway. The tires just couldn’t withstand the high speeds, and as a result, would come a part quickly and often. The unionized drivers decided that was unsafe, so they boycotted that first race at Talladega.
Not to be pressued by the drivers in his sport, France held the race, anyway, with cars and drivers from the Grand American Series. I’m sure Richard Brickhouse didn’t mine, as he went on to claim his only Grand National (now-Sprint Cup Series) win in that race.
In the long run, I guess Richard Childress is probably glad things went down the way they did, too. Childress was one of Grand National drivers called up to run to top level race that weekend. And even though Childress didn’t win, he did take hom the biggest purse of his career, to that point, and used that money to start up a top-tier program. Decades later, we now have what we’ve come to know as NASCAR powerhouse Richard Childress Racing.
I guess, at least indirectly, if it weren’t for that unionized boycott of Talladega, we wouldn’t have RCR, at least not the RCR we know today. Heck, who even knows how Dale Earnhardt’s career would’ve turned out if it hadn’t been for that first race at Talladega in 1969. No, Earnhardt wasn’t a NASCAR driver then; he was still running the North Carolina short tracks back then. But remember, six of Earnhardt’s seven titles came in RCR equipment.
By the way, the Professional Drivers Association disbanded.
Why all this talk about NASCAR unions now? On Monday, there was an announcement that nine multi-car race teams, including Richard Chilress Racing, has formed a group called the Race Team Alliance. Is this another union? Judge for yourself.
According to group chair Rob Kauffman of Michael Waltrip Racing, the group’s mission is to work together and provide a single voice. Kind of sounds like a union to me.
But I’m not so sure action will be taken by NASCAR against this group quite so aggressivley. According to Kauffman’s statement, the group aims to work to “increase revenue, spend more efficiently,” yada yada. To me, at least right now in its early stages, this is just some kind of business move to help with sponsorship, technical stuff, etc.
But could it grow into something more? Will it ever defy NASCAR? Time will tell, I guess.
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