Monday, January 23, 2023

Musings From the Weekend: Names Go Away

Sébastien Ogier made some rally history with his ninth Rallye Monte-Carlo victory, breaking a tie with Sébastien Loeb for the event record. It was also Ogier's 56th World Rally Championship victory. The LMHd cars took to the track in their first official sessions. Red Bull has three academy drivers named Enzo. A.J. Foyt Racing and IndyCar showed some ignorance and it could come back to bite them. Some race car drivers attended a basketball game. Travis Pastrana will attempt to qualify for the Daytona 500. The final IndyCar seats for the 2023 season have been filled. Here is a rundown of what got me thinking.

Names Go Away
One name will be missing from the NASCAR grid this season when cars first circle the temporary oval at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. That name will also not be at the Daytona 500 nor Fontana nor any of the other tracks on the 2023 schedule. It is not that the person is gone, but the world of NASCAR keeps spinning, and change is normal, even if it is arguably the most famous family in NASCAR.

The Petty name has been on the grid since the very first race in NASCAR history. Petty Enterprises made its debut as a tea on August 7, 1949 in Occoneechee Speedway in Hillsborough, North Caroina, the third race in NASCAR Cup Series history. Outside of a brief period when Chrysler was boycotting in the 1960s, a Petty owned car has been there. A Petty family member will still be involved in ownership, but no team name will have "Petty" on the transporters parked in the garage areas. No Petty team name will be said over the airwaves. 

From Petty Enterprises to Richard Petty Motorsports to Petty GMS Racing, the name has been there, but with Jimmie Johnson joining the organization as a co-owner, the organization has changed its identity, no longer tied to the family that has been there through it all or any family at all. Legacy Motor Club will be on the track, recognizing the history of its co-owners while creating a new identity for a race team in the 21st century. 

It will take some adjusting to the absence of the name Petty in a race team. When the family has been fielding cars since the very first NASCAR race, this is notable shift, especially as the NASCAR Cup Series is about to commence its 75th season. But change is natural, and the Petty name leaving NASCAR in a official competing capaacity was bound to happen someday. 

Nothing lasts forever, and plenty of historic names that were once engrained in the identity of different forms of motorsports are no longer there, NASCAR included.

There was once a time it was unthinkable the names Junior Johnson, Bud Moore, DiGard and Holman-Moody would not be on the NASCAR grid. We are approaching 30 years since any of those teams entered a Cup race. NASCAR continued onward. It will continue without Petty. A day will come when Hendrick Motorsports is not out there, Team Penske is missing and Richard Childress Racing is absent. It is natural. 

Motorsports is not like another team sports. These teams are not tied to a community and spread around the country. They are not rallying points for generations to share in the corners of Green Bay, Pittsburgh and Los Angeles. These are more mom-&-pop shops though they may be worth millions of dollars. An individual or a small group start a team, build up the company and either succeed or fail. Those that succeed are around for decades. Families become accustomed to the team's presence, but its presence and its identity is dependent on who owns it. Some families move on. Children become interested in something other than what dad created. It is closed down or sold on, and that new owner will make it his own. Some will keep an identity if it recognizable, but it most cases it will change. 

Not even the Petty name could live forever on a race team. It is almost better that way. In a few instances has a team name outlived its etymology. McLaren is one of the fewest examples. It normally works for manufactures. Ferrari, Ford, Maserati, Chevrolet, Lamborghini. Teams are not so lucky. 

This change is ok. There have been plenty of historic names that are no longer featured in their respectable motorsports discipline. Lou Moore was the first car owner to win five Indianapolis 500s, and Moore's name hasn't been on a grid in 70 years. Patrick Racing had three great decades in IndyCar and is no longer around. Newman-Haas Racing won over 100 times in IndyCar and its last race was in 2011. There hasn't been a Brabham entry in Formula One in over 30 years. Tyrell's final race was in 1998. Both won world championship. Neither survived the test of time. 

It is a loss, but it is not the end. Motorsports has survived countless of notable names leaving when they otherwise seemed to be immortal. There will come a day where Andretti, Earnhardt, Ganassi and Williams are no longer around. But other names arise. Other names fill the history books. Each generation has its own great team. The team names that last decades are the rare few. 

The 21st century is a different period for motorsports. Team names are becoming more vague, more detached from one person or a group of people. Trackhouse, Legacy, these teams are trying to build an identity beyond a name. Teams are no longer teams. The goal is to become a franchise, something that can last without feeling dated, and more importantly, be sold on with team recognition increasing the value of the organization. It could feel impersonal, but that is the point. Teams want to be more than a person or a family. They want to have staying power the same way the names Packers, Dodgers, Yankees, Canadiens and Celtics continue to resonate. 

Only time will tell how motorsports adapt to these changing times and whether the likes of Trackhouse and Legacy are trendsetters or if teams will continue to be tied to a man or family. For over a century, a race team has been a personal thing, a possession, a point of pride. But as series continue to diversify and attempt to become more attractive to new investments, the concept of team identity could look drastically different in the coming years. 

Petty is gone as a team name. It lasted nearly 75 years. It litters the NASCAR history book and it will never be forgotten. That power is greater than being on the actual grid. Other names are around and they will take on special meaning to the next generation of fans. The sport continues onward.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Sébastien Ogier, but did you know...

Eli Tomac won the Supercross race from San Diego, his second consecutive victory.

Charlie Wurz (race one and three) and Callum Hedge (race two) split the Formula Regional Oceania races from Teretonga Park.

Coming Up This Weekend
The 61st 24 Hours of Daytona.
Race of Champions will take place in Sweden.
Formula E has its second round, a doubleheader in Saudi Arabia.
Supercross returns to Anaheim. 
Formula Regional Oceania will be at Manfeild.