Bill Oursler: Roll The Credits
These are unique times. Never in modern history have we faced a global
economic crisis such as we face today, and never have we in motorsport
been so uncertain of our future, especially in light of the plight the world wide
automotive industry faces as a result of that crisis. To put it in its most blunt
terms, the car business depends on credit no matter what part of the earth in
which it is conducted.
Therefore, without credit the car business is out of business, and today there
is no credit.
And, because the upper echelons of the motorsport industry can’t exist
without the manufacturer investment they currently enjoy, then racing is in
trouble. No matter how justified car makers might be in their support of the
business, it is nearly impossible for them to make their case for doing so
when they are laying off workers, closing plants and asking for governmental
bailouts. It just ain’t gonna happen folks.
Then again, it might.
It might if racing changes its ways and understands that if it is going to
accept financial support, it is going to have give back something of value in
return. Fortunately there is a new face in the picture which could bring a just
such a new attitude to the international scene: American Nick Craw, who was
recently elected as the FIA’s Deputy President for Sport. Craw’s election to
the post is a major break with tradition in that he is an American, not a
European in what has been a Euro-centric organization. Still, there are good
reasons for turning to Craw at a time when the antics of FIA President Max
Mosley have brought not only controversy, but disrepute to the FIA and the
sport it governs.
A longtime member of the establishment, Craw is a politician, having served
in the White House in the Nixon administration as the Director of the Peace
Corps. He further honed his skills in that area during his 17 year stint as
president of the Sports Car Club of America not only controlling its often
disparate factions, but enlarging its presence both in terms of membership
and its importance within the sport during his tenure. Even so, Craw is not
just another bureaucrat. Rather he is a race driver with championship
credentials in single seaters as well as prototypes and GT cars, having run
his own teams and having been employed by factories as well.
Most important of all, though is the fact that the pragmatic Craw has
demonstrated throughout his adult life an ability to keep his ego in check and
contain any lingering sense of arrogance, something not true with Mosley in
recent times. And that friends and neighbors brings us to the heart of the
issue: Will Craw be able to oversee the FIA’s competition arena, or will he be
relegated to something of a figure head under the tandem of Messrs. Mosley
and Bernie Ecclestone?
Clearly the FIA has seen its influence lessen in the past several years as
manufacturers have put increasingly huge amounts of cash into racing, not
just Formula One, but also on the sports car side as well where the
L’Automobile Club du L’Ouest (ACO) has charted its own course, thus given
cars makers leverage they didn’t have before to pressure the FIA to see
things their way when it comes to the drafting of the regulations. That latter
fact is evidenced by the new FIA GT scriptures which are far more what the
manufacturers wanted than what the FIA had intended to impose on the
participants. Perhaps equally telling is that while F-1 has Mercedes, BMW,
Ferrari, Honda and Toyota, the line up of factory involvement on the sports car
side has its own heavy hitters such as Volkswagen through its Audi brand,
Peugeot, as well as Porsche, Honda, GM with Corvette, and even to a certain
The reality check here of course is that the size and breadth of Formula One
in terms of its audience, and thus its prestige is far grater than that enjoyed
by the sports car set. But, that equation could well be different in the future
for while F-1 is trying to go “green,” the sports car universe already is heavily
involved in the technologies that will not only shape the automotive industry of
the future, but will insure its survival. Equally important here is another fact:
sports cars, even prototypes relate far more to what people purchase in the
showroom and drive on the street. Formula One may be a dream, but the
sports car scene is reality, and if reality can be served in a sauce of pizzazz
then the playing field could well tilt in favor the bi-fendered community.
Still, with the economies of the world the way they are, all this, not to
mention the long term survival of motorsport will require enlightened
leadership rather than leadership imbued with self importance and self
interest. Nicolas Craw is far from a perfect individual, but then who is?
Regardless, Craw could be exactly the kind of new blood to guide the FIA
through these difficult times and help it regain the place it once held within
the sport that many believe is necessary for its, and even the industry’s,