NASCAR grew into what it is today because of the success of people with the last names of Waltrip, Earnhardt and Gordon.
If this season is any indication, the future of NASCAR might rest on the financial spreadsheets of individuals with names unfamiliar to race fans – names such as Gillett, Henry and Moorad.
Hardly a week goes by without word that another Nextel Cup Series team is considering a partner or outside investor, or contemplating a merger. The bottom line: To become or remain competitive in NASCAR’s biggest series requires a large infusion of cash.
While the allure of NASCAR was forged on the track by the likes of Darrell Waltrip, the late Dale Earnhardt and four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon, the ability of the sport to continue to produce such icons might require an increasing number of outside investors such as George Gillett, John Henry and Jeff Moorad.
Although race fans might not be familiar with them, they will soon recognize their impact.
Gillett, owner of the Montreal Canadiens and co-owner of the Liverpool Football Club, recently purchased majority interest in the three-car Cup team owned by Ray Evernham.
His arrival has paid big dividends for his new organization as he helped land sponsor Budweiser for driver Kasey Kahne.
Henry, principal owner of the Boston Red Sox, this year became a 50 percent owner of Roush Racing and its five-car Cup stable.
Moorad, CEO of the Arizona Diamondbacks baseball team, and Tom Garfinkel, the chief operating officer of the Diamondbacks, recently bought majority interest in Hall of Fame Racing, a satellite team of Joe Gibbs Racing.
There are more coming.
Dallas businessman Tom Hicks, owner of the Texas Rangers baseball team and Dallas Stars hockey team, has been looking into investing in a NASCAR team.
Michael Waltrip Racing and Petty Enterprises also have expressed interest recently in taking on outside investors.
Is this a ripe time for investing in NASCAR?
The sport has seen its TV ratings hit a slump this season, but it typically remains the most-watched sporting event when the NFL is not in season. NASCAR fans are also among the most loyal to advertisers.
“We believe in NASCAR and like its long-term business future and are thrilled to be a part of this exciting and growing industry,” said Mike Dee, chief operating officer of the Red Sox.
In Gillett’s case, his involvement was more of an evolution. He and his family are longtime fans of the sport.
“When you sit at our dinner table, our dinner table conversation is not about stocks and bonds and Wall Street, it’s about horsepower and cams and making cars go fast,” Gillett said.
“I think each one of us may have a different motivation. All I can tell you is that if there was one word that represents the Gillett family’s interest in the sports that were in, it’s ‘authentic.’
“I knew the Frances – mama and papa – in the mid 1970s. We talked about business, about building tracks, about having teams then. But for whatever reason, we didn’t go forward.”
Gillett said he began talking to owner Richard Childress about three to four years ago about partnering, and Childress was the one who pointed him to Evernham.
“There is no unique event that led us to NASCAR,” Gillett said.
The partnerships have appeared successful thus far to all involved.
Henry and his Red Sox have engaged in several cross-marketing initiatives with their new NASCAR team. Gillett and Evernham have reaped benefits that were evident in the Budweiser announcement this week.
NASCAR remains an intriguing investment opportunity for outsiders – a good sign for team owners who seek new revenue streams.
“Our sport is growing and we all know that in racing, speed equals dollars,” explains reigning Cup champion Jimmie Johnson.
“That’s just how it is.”