The NASCAR Drivers Council finally takes place.
On Friday, a press release announced the formation of the Driver Advisory Council. The Council will be made up of current and former pilots and seven pilots will serve as the board of directors for the newly formed group: Kurt Busch, Austin Dillon, Denny Hamlin, Corey LaJoie, Joey Logano, Kyle Petty and Daniel Suarez.
The press release states that the council “is an independent group of eligible members who, through their passion for competition and the sustainability of racing, are committed to further improving the areas of motorsports safety, developing and to improve the sport and maximize opportunities for drivers to succeed both on and off the track.”
This final driver tip was an effort by NASCAR in late 2014 to gather feedback from drivers. It began meeting in 2015 and was a group of eight to 10 drivers who met with NASCAR officials on a quarterly basis primarily to discuss competition issues and rules.
However, this driver advice collapsed at the end of the 2018 season. Since then, NASCAR has solicited driver feedback informally, normally during race weekends when drivers visit NASCAR’s carrier on the track, but sometimes during the week by telephone and e-mail.
Those conversations, however, have not happened since Covid shut down much of the track activity in the sport.
NASCAR officials’ problems getting feedback from drivers were revealed after the results of a crash test involving NASCAR’s Next Gen car from last year has been unveiled. Several drivers said they had little information beyond what NASCAR had released, raising the issue of the sanctioning body’s lack of feedback, either real or perceived.
NASCAR’s Next Gen car will have its payday run with this week’s activities leading up to Sunday’s season opener Daytona 500.
“As a current driver and also a team owner, I now see things from a different perspective and it has made me appreciate the importance of collaboration in the industry,” said current competitor Denny Hamlin. the NASCAR Cup Series and owner of the team. “The new council will provide a unified, collective driver voice to help address all the challenges we face and help achieve common goals that the industry shares.
Jeff Burton, a former NASCAR driver, will lead the effort in conjunction with the board of directors. The veteran leader will serve as director of the council.
“I’ve been blessed with many roles in the sport and I’m thrilled to bring this adventure into the fold,” Burton said. “I am touched and honored that the drivers have asked me to help them in this effort. I believe we have a great sport, and this council has the opportunity to work with the entire industry to make it even better. Personally, I will also continue my work with NBC and bring new information to our viewers at home. This new role on the board will only elevate emissions.
Reports say it was Burton, now an NBC Sports analyst, who began talks to form a new board in December, shortly after NASCAR met with all of its stakeholders to try to address concerns over the new car. .
While the council’s goals will be safety, fan experience and competition, other issues will be addressed, including NASCAR’s ongoing work on diversity.
“Since I started my career in NASCAR, after arriving from my home country of Mexico, I have seen a lot of positive changes,” said Cup driver Daniel Suarez, the only graduate of the program from diversity of NASCAR. “I believe the creation of the Drivers’ Advisory Council will add first-hand perspective and, in my opinion, help create more positive change and accelerate the speed that diversity can have in the sport. This will benefit current sponsors and future, to our current and future fan base, as well as to the teams and the general public. I say this with great sincerity and commitment to supporting this sport, the fans and sponsors we represent.”
The Race Team Alliance (RTA), made up of 14 Cup Series organisations, will support and work alongside the council.
“One of the keys to the success of our sport is the collaboration between all of its stakeholders. Having a formalized group through which pilots can communicate better will be a great asset for all of us. They have chosen the perfect person to lead the Drivers Advisory Council in Jeff Burton and assembled a strong Board of Directors to launch the group with a strong, unified voice,” said Dave Alpern, President of Joe Gibbs Racing and Co-Chairman of the Team Owners Council.
In the past, NASCAR has had a controversial history when it comes to drivers running surfaces. In 1961 driver Curtis Turner attempted to form a drivers union with his business partner Bruton Smith while they were building Charlotte Motor Speedway. They approached the Teamsters Union who helped them organize the Federation of Professional Athletes. NASCAR founder “Big” Bill France resented this and banned any union drivers from racing on NASCAR-sanctioned tracks. The rest of the drivers followed company policy and refused to join the union, except for Turner and Tim Flock.
France kicked Flock and Turner out of NASCAR for life, and Charlotte Motor Speedway went bankrupt just over a year after it opened. In 1969, 11 drivers, led by Richard Petty, formed the Professional Driver’s Association (PDA). Although it was not called a “union”, it had all the elements. This too fell apart when France led a group of non-PDA drivers into Talladega.
This time, as in 2015, NASCAR officials appear to be fully on board with the new board.
“Collaboration is critical to our growth, and we welcome any opportunity to strengthen communication with our drivers,” said Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s executive vice president and director of racing development. “We often look to drivers for input when making decisions that affect the sport, and the Drivers Advisory Council will help streamline that communication. By working together, we will continue to deliver the great NASCAR racing experience that our fans expect and deserve.