Home / A sale of NASCAR was once unthinkable, but now it may be overdue – The Denver Post

A sale of NASCAR was once unthinkable, but now it may be overdue – The Denver Post

Just a decade ago, going to a NASCAR race meant an hours’ long ordeal in traffic, idling amid the exhaust fumes of miles and miles of campers, pickup trucks and sedans. For stock-car racing fans, the price was well worth it to celebrate the distinctly American, high-octane thrill of side-by-side battles at 200 mph and the prospect of hair-raising crashes and photo finishes.

Race-day traffic jams today are minor backups. At Richmond Raceway in Virginia, grandstands that once held 112,000 have been slashed in half, and other tracks have aggressively downsized so broadcasts don’t show large swaths of vacant bleachers. Television ratings are on a decade-long downward trend; this year’s Daytona 500 was the lowest rated on record. And last November, Dale Earnhardt Jr., the sport’s 15-time most popular driver, followed superstars Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart into retirement.

Now, the specter of a sale hangs over the sport. Not the sale of a single struggling racetrack or cash-strapped race team, but the sale of NASCAR itself.

It would have been unthinkable for an enterprise that just a decade ago was hailed as the country’s fastest growing sport — a sport that seemed poised to join the NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball in the major league ranks. But according to a Reuters business report last week, NASCAR’s owners are working with the investment bank Goldman Sachs to explore a potential sale of the privately held company.

NASCAR officials have declined to comment. But several well-placed insiders say they have little doubt the France family, which owns the sport, is testing the marketplace.

“I think (NASCAR CEO) Brian (France) would have come out with a big denial if it was not true, and he hasn’t denied it,” noted Felix Sabates, a longtime NASCAR team owner based in Charlotte, North Carolina.

However shocking, a sale of NASCAR may be inevitable. It may be overdue. And amid the sport’s precipitous decline, it may be the only way forward.

What separates NASCAR from major league stick-and-ball sports isn’t simply Goodyear tires and 850-horsepower engines. Despite the acronym that suggests a consortium of individual team owners that hires a commissioner to run it (akin to the NFL and NBA), the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing is a family business owned entirely by the billionaire descendants of the late Bill France, who ruled it from 1948 on with an iron fist. His son Bill France Jr., regarded as a slightly more benevolent dictator, built NASCAR into a behemoth with the help of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company’s marketing wizardry in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s. And the sport reveled in runaway growth and a coast-to-coast expansion under third-generation CEO and chairman Brian France, who took the reins in 2003.

But in business, dynastic wealth tends to have a life span illustrated by the Chinese proverb, “Wealth never survives three generations,” which has been borne out across cultures and over time. In the case of NASCAR, however, plenty of wealth will survive if its third-generation owners cash out.

Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 ...

Brian Lawdermilk, Getty Images

Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Busch Light Ford, celebrates in victory lane after winning the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series KC Masterpiece 400 at Kansas Speedway on May 12, 2018 in Kansas City, Kansas.

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