Tuesday, December 2, 2008

NASCAR's Rick Hendrick: Don't punish Big 3, assist them


NASCAR team boss and veteran car dealer Rick Hendrick believes domestic automakers are making big strides in building better and more fuel-efficient products and have done so the past seven or eight years.

Hendrick, owner of multichampionship-winning Hendrick Motorsports and the Hendrick Automotive Group, which sells American-made vehicles and Toyota and BMW products, is disturbed with some lawmakers in Washington he thinks are ignorant of the quality and safety features of cars, trucks and sport-utility vehicles being produced by the Detroit Three.

As CEOs of General Motors, Ford and Chrysler present second-round business plans to Congress today in their case for $25 billion in loans, Hendrick urges a civil exchange of facts and figures and not the stinging barbs aimed at Rick Wagoner (GM), Alan Mulally (Ford) and Bob Nardelli (Chrysler) by several senators last month during the House Financial Services Committee meeting.

"I was embarrassed ... ashamed at their treatment," said Hendrick, whose driver, Jimmie Johnson, won his third consecutive Sprint Cup title in the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet this season. "They (the lawmakers) wanted to unload on them. They wanted to grandstand, smack them around. They didn't want the facts. They didn't give credit for the better quality and reliability already being built into American-made cars and substantiated by Consumer Reports and J.D. Power."

Hendrick has been in touch with lawmakers in Washington, he says, and is confident there are people there who are aware of the economic impact the Detroit Three has on America and who are prepared to work on a bailout. He also e-mailed Wagoner, whom he has known for many years, after the automakers' first trip to D.C. and the hostile reception they received.

"I said to Rick, 'You're a better man than me,' " Hendrick recalled. "I would have told the committee, 'Kiss my butt,' and walked out."

Hendrick wants plans "discussed with an open mind" this time, he says. He also hopes the Detroit Three executives will present time lines for getting the job done in restructuring the industry and lay down concessions and cost cuts that are attainable.

"Both sides have to work out what is good for the country," said Hendrick. "Not what's good just for the state ... the party ... the company."

Hendrick also has discussed the industry crisis with fellow Cup team owners Jack Roush (Roush Fenway Racing) and Joe Gibbs (Joe Gibbs Racing), among other NASCAR leaders. Hendrick said all are willing to help manufacturers continue to participate in the sport by conducting testing on race weekends instead of at non-sanctioned tracks, and by shortening race weekends.

"When you figure in travel, accommodations, parts, tires, track rental -- you could save the (NASCAR) garage area $30 million a year," Hendrick said.

In defending the Detroit Three and urging a commonsense approach to working through the problems in Washington this week, Hendrick concluded:

"If Congress can give AIG and Citigroup $150 billion in the middle of the night, how can we not work on giving the Detroit automakers a bridge loan? Instead of trying to punish them, assist them. It's in our fabric: the American people -- you and me -- we need the auto industry and its manufacturing base."

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