As the U.S. auto industry fights for its life, LGBT autosport and auto buying is gasping too. Gaywheels founder Joe LaMuraglia writes, "While the current situation affects everyone in the country it is taking a disproportionate toll on small businesses, ours included. Auto sales are the lowest in almost 20 years, consumers aren't researching online and automotive companies are cutting back on advertising." With its ad income plummeting, Gaywheels announced its own bailout plan in December -- it is appealing for donations in order to keep going.
Things are no less gloomy in auto racing itself. Ordinarily Jimmie Johnson's third championship would be the big NASCAR story for 2008, but according to NASCAR itself, as 2009 starts its engines, the big story is the economy. A wave of layoffs is going through the 43 teams that formed the backbone of national competition. They employ around 1700 people. An estimated 1200 of those jobs have suddenly evaporated. Five teams are closing down. Others are negotiating survival mergers, notably Richard Petty's team, which ends its 60 years of successful independence. Drivers are being laid off -- including Dario Franchitti, whose move from Indy racing to stock cars was shaky at best. Major sponsors have vanished, including Craftsman. Some speedways are considering whether they can hose the Trucks series.
Desperate to lay the groundwork for a minimally successful 2009 season, NASCAR is cutting the customary 3 days of testing at Daytona, which will save $1 million per car. This in a sport that used to merrily hemorrhage money in hot pursuit of that last iota of technical edge.
Fans are sounding off in comments and blogs. Some insist that the implosion was overdue, and not just because of the recession. They feel that NASCAR has grown away from what politicians would call its "base" -- too overblown, too commercialized, too "cookie cutter," as one commenter put it. Some fans had already been cutting back on travel to races. But it may take more than a big drop in gas prices to get some of them back to the tracks. In their opinion, the paring back to basics might be a good thing for the sport.
With the icons worrying about their jobs, the pinch is even more painful among new faces trying to get onto the tracks. For many months before the bottom dropped out on Wall Street, out gay sports-car driver Evan Darling was looking for sponsors for his shot at pro driving in the Grand Am series. Previously he had been racing as an amateur in SCCA. With a new year and a challenging new season ahead, Evan told me, "I am trying to secure some kind of sponsorship for next year but it looks grim."