November 4, 2009 / 9:14 PM / 10 years ago

Chrysler puts motorsports program under review

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Chrysler has put its motorsports program, which includes NASCAR, under review as part of a restructuring announced on Wednesday, but does not plan to cut spending at this time.

Cars make their way down the front stretch at the start of the Coca-Cola 600 NASCAR race at Lowe's Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina May 25, 2009. REUTERS/Chris Keane

“We’re going to be more focused this time in NASCAR, we’re going from two teams to one team,” Dodge CEO Ralph Gilles said at the company’s headquarters outside Detroit.

However, no cuts for the 2010 racing season are planned at this time, spokesman Dan Reid said. Chrysler cut its NASCAR-related spending this year by about a third by dropping some track sponsorships and reducing race-team expenses.

The latest planned cutbacks by Chrysler were part of a strategic plan outlined by Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne, who also leads Chrysler, which filed for bankruptcy earlier this year.

NASCAR and most motorsports have been hurt this year as fans and corporate backers slashed spending amid the recession.

Chrysler, General Motors Co, Ford Motor Co and Toyota Motor Corp all reduced their spending on NASCAR, including in some cases ending track or race-team sponsorships. On Wednesday, Toyota withdrew from Formula One racing to save an estimated $300 million annually.

At NASCAR’s peak, GM spent as much as $130 million on the sport, Ford less than $100 million and Chrysler less than that, estimated Peter DeLorenzo, publisher of website www.autoextremist.com. Chrysler spent around $50 million in 2008 and cut that to a range of $30 million to $35 million this year, he added.

In putting its motorsports program under review, Gilles said Chrysler thought it was “missing out on the grass-roots motorsports.”

A focus on grass-roots means more of an emphasis on semi-professional and amateur racing where drivers race cars that can be purchased from a showroom as opposed to the custom-made cars used in NASCAR, Reid said.

Chrysler sponsored seven cars this year in the top Sprint Cup race series with Penske Racing and Richard Petty Motorsports. Next year, it will sponsor three Sprint cars and two cars in the lower-level Nationwide Series with Penske, Reid said. The Sprint deal runs through 2012, while the Nationwide one is a multiyear deal.

Chrysler also will remain the official automotive sponsor for two races at the track in Talladega, Alabama, Reid said. It also will continue to sponsor a National Hot Rod Association driver through its Mopar parts business.

Reporting by Ben Klayman, additional reporting by Joe Winterbottom and Scott Malone in Detroit, editing by Matthew Lewis

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