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Sat, 8 Jan 2000, 02:50 PM

Exide Corporation Pulls Support from Winston Champ
By Ed Dykes

Company Cites Financial Difficulties

MARIETTA, Ga. -- Just one month to the day before the start of the NHRA Winston Drag Racing season, the Exide Corporation has notified Tony Schumacher that it will not provide sponsorship for his Top Fuel Dragster in 2000.

Team owner Don Schumacher received a letter from Exide management on January 3rd informing him of the unexpected decision.

"We were totally surprised by it," Schumacher told us from his office in suburban Chicago. "We had just repainted the car, new graphics, new uniforms, new colors, everything. They (Exide) were even working with NHRA on a having a bigger presence at the races."

"They indicated the decision was based on three factors: their overall financial situation, profitability, and sales in the last quarter of '99."

The Reading, Pa.-based Exide Corporation is the world's largest manufacturer of automotive and industrial lead-acid batteries, with annual revenues of approximately $2.4 billion and operations in 19 countries, but the company has been plagued with legal problems and dismal performance for its stockholders.

A new management team headed by former Chrysler Corp. vice chairman Robert Lutz was brought on board in December, 1998 but to this point has failed to turn the organization around. The company's stock is currently trading at under $8, having declined fairly steadily from $21.50 just one year ago and an all-time high of $57.50 in 1995.

The company also sponsors the Roush Racing NASCAR Winston Cup car driven by Jeff Burton and the NASCAR Craftsman Truck series team of Mike Bliss, and the Exide NASCAR Select battery is the Official Battery of NASCAR. The company had announced plans last fall to take over the title rights sponsorship of NASCAR's Weekly Racing Series in 2000 from Winston, who relinquished the sponsorship after 26 years, but the NASCAR web site lists the race series as still unsponsored.

Schumacher's sponsorship was signed just prior to the arrival of Lutz, who has been openly supportive of the company's presence in NASCAR but largely silent on the subject of their NHRA effort. Schumacher's contract with Exide included the 2000 season, and the team owner and Funny Car legend said he expects that he will be able to negotiate a settlement with the company.

Despite the setback, Schumacher remains upbeat. "When Mike Ditka got fired this week, he said it was just a bump in the road. Well, we have no intention of this being any more than a fork in the road. We accomplished more than we ever expected this past year, and I'm confident that we will put something together."

Schumacher indicated that the team, just back from running at Autofest2000 over New Years weekend, is busy putting together a brand new dragster and will attend both the upcoming test sessions in Arizona, then head for the NHRA season opener in Pomona.

"(Crew chief) Dan Olson is remarkable, we've got a great crew, and Tony does a great job. We fully intend to repeat as the Winston Champion."

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