I hadn’t experienced anything like it since Dale Earnhardt died.

I spent back-to-back November weekends with NASCAR and NHRA and came away with this realization: The last time one issue overshadowed everything, everywhere, was when the seven-time Cup champion was killed on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500.

More than seven years later, I found the mood to be equally dark at the Sprint Cup semifinal at Phoenix International Raceway and the Powerade championship finale at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona. Every other sentence seemed to be about our wrecked economy and its rumbling effects on the Business of Racing.

Sponsorship dollars – racing’s real fuel – are in shorter supply than nitro ever was last season. In NASCAR, there’s been a flight to quality, with companies such as General Mills and Caterpillar and UPS fleeing mid-level teams for the championship contenders at Roush Fenway and Richard Childress Racing. Rideless J.J. Yeley told me it would take “only” $12 million to put him into a full-season ride at Dale Earnhardt Inc. (now merged with Ganassi/Sabates), down maybe $8 mil from what it would have cost a year ago. No takers as of this writing.

At Pomona, the Monster and Rockstar energy drink Funny Cars ran for the last time. So did Old Spice on Mike Neff’s Ford Mustang. Doug Herbert found out the Snap-on colors would be off his Top Fueler while Steve Johnson told me he expected to have some support from the tool company on his Suzuki, but didn’t know at what level. With DHL halting express deliveries within the U.S., it’s difficult to imagine how it will be back on Connie Kalitta’s cars, B2B connections notwithstanding. 

(Don Schumacher did announce BrakeSafe Rear-End Collision Avoidance System as co-primary for Matt Hagan’s Dodge Charger.)

Less money = cost cutting = fewer jobs. Tommy Johnson Jr., for one, although wife Melanie Troxel said she’s good-to-go in Funny Car.

The question is how to make racing less expensive.

NASCAR announced a testing ban at all its sanctioned tracks and Chairman Brian France admitted to the media in Phoenix that “NASCAR, as an industry, is not immune” to our national financial fiasco. You better believe it, with the CEOs of General Motors, Ford and Chrysler waving a tin cup in front of Congress. To save a reported $7 million, Buick ended its endorsement deal with the world’s most famous athlete, Tiger Woods. Even mighty Toyota, winner of around 75 significant American races in 2008, is cutting its motorsports budget by about 10 percent.