The business of racing is not racing. It’s business.
And the announcement this week of Bruton Smith’s bid to buy up all the outstanding stock of his company and go private could have far-reaching effects on stock-car racing.
As NASCAR itself did itself last year, the decision to go private consolidates power to the Smith family, which would allow it the freedom to make changes without anyone else’s approval.
In a letter to shareholders on Tuesday, Smith’s son Marcus, now the CEO of Speedway Motorsports Inc, said the new deal would allow SMI to make changes it sees necessary, including the possibility of eliminating races from struggling and unpopular tracks.
SMI owns 12 tracks, and the France family owns 12 tracks. No one knows for sure which tracks are considered “unpopular,” but one would assume that most of them are far from stock-car racing’s Southern base.
At least we hope that’s what the thinking is.
There’s long been a groundswell to begin to walk back the aggressive spread of tracks now stretching across the country. But with contracts and boards and stockholders also spread across the country, the ownership had no power to move races, eliminate tracks or even generate the much-needed publicity of, for example, moving the all-star race to different tracks instead of running it at Charlotte every year one week before the 600.
But there’s something else to this, and again, it has more to do with business than racing,
After NASCAR made its announcement last year, a lot of people lost jobs. The move preceded drastic cuts and the acknowledgement that racing was losing money. Smith alluded to that, too.
“As you know, NASCAR racing has faced several challenges in recent years,” he said in the letter. “And [SMI] has been impacted by these challenges.”
NASCAR once ruled the sport through one man and then one family. Over time, as certain family members (Brian France) made mistake after mistake, the sport lost its ability to make swift changes and bold reorganization during what has been nothing less than a financial crisis.
The Smith family has decided it’s seen enough. If this venture goes through, we will have seen the end of NASCAR’s foolish period of growth and see the beginning of whatever comes next.
A lot of people in a lot of places are holding their breath now. This could be a good thing for stock-car racing.
First, let’s see if the check clears.