Ginn could follow Stacy's sad path out of NASCAR

Ginn could follow Stacy's sad path out of NASCAR

Ginn could follow Stacy's sad path out of NASCAR 

Current Nextel Cup owner Bobby Ginn has never met J.D. Stacy. These are two men that couldn't pick each other out of a lineup; but as perfect strangers, they're doing an incredible job of mirroring each others' careers in the sport. The way things are going, the two men may soon find themselves linked forever in a chapter of NASCAR history neither one is happy to put their name on.

It's the chapter of wealthy owners who self-destructed.

Ginn hasn't quite reached that level of catastrophe yet, but things certainly appear to be heading towards a downhill slide. The sport's surprise team from earlier this season shocked the racing world this week by announcing 30 layoffs and shutting down its Busch Series operation, a team which had been running solidly in the top 10 in points behind the performance of promising youngster Regan Smith. Rumor has it one of Ginn's three Nextel Cup cars is next on the chopping block, with the No. 13 or No. 14 Chevrolets driven by Joe Nemechek and Sterling Marlin, respectively, going up for auction to the highest bidder. Rumor has it Evernham Motorsports, Dale Earnhardt, Inc. and Newman/Haas from Champ Car are among some of the organizations looking to buy in to a team that at one time looked to be the next top-tier team on the circuit. Now, other than Mark Martin and Smith's No. 01 Chevrolet -- which had the U.S. Army re-sign for another year of sponsorship -- nothing appears safe to return next year within an organization that was looking to expand from three to four cars just a few short months ago.

According to the team, at least two major sponsorships have fallen through this season -- the biggest of which was a 24-race deal for Panasonic to sponsor Marlin's No. 14. In the interim, Ginn has been using millions of his own money to sponsor his fledgling organization -- cash which only mounts in the face of increasing costs to remain competitive with the top dogs.

It's that type of cash Stacy was more than willing to spend when he launched an assault on the NASCAR world in the late 1970s and early '80s. A Kentucky coal magnate, Stacy quickly decided to turn his wealth in NASCAR's direction. Determined to become a major player in what was then the Winston Cup series, Stacy sponsored a record seven cars in the '82 Daytona 500, gracing the quarterpanels of such NASCAR legends as Dave Marcis, Benny Parsons, and Terry Labonte. In the meantime, he put Tim Richmond behind the wheel of his own No. 2 Chevrolet, with plans to dominate the series through pure sponsorship dollars.

In the beginning, the plan looked promising -- Marcis' Stacy-sponsored Chevrolet made it to Victory Lane in just the second race of the year at Richmond. But then it all went south from there -- turns out that was one of just two Stacy-sponsored victories to happen all season long. Before Stacy knew what hit him, the spending caught up with the income -- and his bank account turned from black to red. By the end of that year, Stacy's seven-car sponsorship had devolved to just two -- one of which was for his own car -- and he had unpaid bills and angry owners chasing him down from several abandoned organizations. It took just one more year for Stacy to be out of the sport completely, selling off his operation amidst debt and embarrassment for spending too much too quickly.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to make the claim that Ginn's in the exact same boat. Claiming he's got a five-year plan to win a championship, the rich man's first offseason started out with a bang -- he lured Martin away from Roush after 19 years to run a limited schedule in his cars. The 48-year-old responded by nearly winning the Daytona 500 en route to scoring four top-10 finishes to start off the year, a streak which had him leading the points race before he sat out Bristol in March. In the meantime, both Marlin's and Nemechek's teams -- forced to qualify in on speed -- wound up sitting pretty in the top 35 in owner points by the end of Race 5. Clearly, Ginn looked like a man on a mission -- and that mission was well on its way to being accomplished.

But just as Ginn looked ready to achieve his goals, he readjusted priorities -- changing course from the Earth to the moon. His ego inflated, the man immediately turned his attention to two of NASCAR's hottest free agents -- Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Kyle Busch. Claiming he had a reasonable shot to land the sport's most popular driver, Ginn went after Junior hard and heavy but never received any serious interest -- and while he was out, the sponsors bailed, leaving the three teams he had in a mode of monetary neglect. Going from celebrated underdog to the team that wasn't good enough, the competition level of all Ginn's teams started suffering -- after all, how would you react when your owner's out looking for someone else? Instead of working with what he had in front of him, Ginn became guilty of going after "the next big thing" -- instead of realizing how close he was to being "the next big thing" already.

Now Ginn's staring at two sponsorless vehicles and millions of dollars in bills. It's not that the man hasn't dealt with mounting debt before -- in fact, he's had a history of making millions only to lose it all. There was a company in South Carolina who once made bumper stickers that read, "Honk if Bobby Ginn owes you money!" after the real estate developer had plenty of money go down the tubes back in the late 1990s. Bound and determined to work his way back up the ladder, Ginn righted his wrongs and made millions again, through not just investments but sponsorships in golf tournaments, among other ventures.

The man's going to need that type of business savvy -- and then some -- to turn back the clock of an organization clearly headed from chic to passé. But if he doesn't act soon, Ginn will merely be nothing more than another passing phase -- and capable veterans Martin, Nemechek, and Marlin will be the ones who suffer the most.

sportsillustrated.cnn.com

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