Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Kentucky Lawsuit Shifts Gears Again

With every passing month, the rhetoric emanating from Kentucky Speedway gets more bizarre, and more dangerous.

Earlier this week, officials of the Kentucky track backed away from their previous demand that the courts award them a NASCAR Nextel Cup Series race. At face value, that seems like a good thing for NASCAR and its fans. Dig a little deeper, though, and you’ll see that the threat from the Bluegrass State has grown more ominous than ever.

Before I continue, a brief disclaimer. I am an employee of the Motor Racing Network; a subsidiary of International Speedway Corporation. ISC is a party in the Kentucky Speedway lawsuit, so I could be considered a biased observer. A hostile witness, as it were. I have never spoken to anyone at ISC about the Kentucky Speedway lawsuit -- and the thoughts that follow are strictly my own -- but if you choose to categorize those thoughts as the paid musings of a corporate mouthpiece, that is your right.

With that said, it is my opinion that the owners of Kentucky Speedway comprise the biggest threat to our sport since a group of investors announced plans to form the ill-fated TRAC series in 2001.

In their initial filing, Kentucky Speedway alleged that NASCAR and International Speedway Corporation conspired to keep Nextel Cup events at ISC tracks, while denying them to independent operators like Kentucky Speedway. They alleged that Kentucky was being wrongfully excluded from the Nextel Cup schedule, and demanded that the track be awarded a date on NASCAR’s premier series. In addition, the suit asked that NASCAR be ordered to put its schedule up for bid each season, awarding race dates to the tracks that offer the largest purse.

NASCAR’s contention from the start has been that track owner Jerry Carroll was told – before a single shovelful of dirt was turned – that a track in Kentucky would never, ever, host a NASCAR Nextel Cup event. That warning, however, appears to have fallen on deaf ears.

Carroll and company built themselves a showplace racetrack; an immaculate, 1.5-mile tri-oval with amenities equal to any speedway on the NASCAR schedule. They booked NASCAR’s Busch and Craftsman Truck Series’, attracting sellout crowds of over 65,000 fans. Giddy with that success, they began lobbying NASCAR for a Nextel Cup event, despite repeated statements from the sanctioning body that the Midwest market was already being adequately served by others, and that they were not interested in taking a race from another track to satisfy Kentucky’s demands for Nextel Cup racing.

In time, Carroll and his cohorts finally got the message. Realizing that Kentucky Speedway would never land a Nextel Cup race through conventional means, they elected to take their case to the courts, filing a lawsuit demanding inclusion on the Nextel Cup schedule.

They wasted little time shaking things up. In May of last year, they attempted to subpoena vast quantities of sensitive financial and business records from NASCAR, ISC and virtually every track that hosts a NASCAR race; including Speedway Motorsports Inc., Dover Motorsports, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Pocono Raceway, the Milwaukee Mile and New Hampshire International Speedway. They requested access to sanctioning agreements, ticket sales information and advertising revenue -- drawing a firestorm of protest from those uninvolved speedways -- before promptly withdrawing the motion less than a month later.

Now, they have changed course yet again, apparently dropping their demand for a Nextel Cup race, and abandoning the idiotic premise that the Nextel Cup schedule should be sold at auction. Instead, Carroll and Company are now demanding that the France family be ordered to sell either ISC or NASCAR. Further, they are demanding that ISC be ordered to sell eight of its 12 Nextel Cup tracks, and that NASCAR be required to develop “objective factors” to award Nextel Cup race dates. In short, Jerry Carroll and his partners want the sport of NASCAR stock car racing to be completely dismantled, so that they might play a role in whatever comes next.

It is selfish, shortsighted and foolhardy in the extreme.

In an attempt to further their case, Kentucky Speedway has made a number of other allegations that it says prove NASCAR and ISC conspired to keep a majority of NASCAR Nextel Cup races under ISC control. Among the allegations are…

…that NASCAR awarded a Nextel Cup date to Las Vegas Motor Speedway only because it expected the owners of LVMS to sell the facility to ISC. Instead, the track was sold to its current owners, Speedway Motorsports, Inc.

…that NASCAR and ISC tried to convince the owners of Kentucky Speedway to sell the track to ISC at an “artificially low price.”

…that Kentucky Speedway offered New Hampshire International Speedway owner Bob Bahre $360 million in cash for his track, but was rebuffed after NASCAR made veiled threats to pull NHIS’ two race dates.

…that NASCAR and ISC similarly pressured the owners of Pocono Raceway and Dover International Speedway not to sell their tracks to Kentucky Speedway.

NHIS owner Bob Bahre declined to comment on the ongoing litigation earlier today. But in February of 2003, Bahre told reporters that Jerry Carroll had visited him shortly after NASCAR announced its 2004 Nextel Cup schedule, inquiring about the possibility of acquiring one (or both) of New Hampshire’s race dates. Bahre said he declined Carroll’s offer, and when asked if there was any price that would convince him to sell a Cup date to Kentucky Speedway, Bahre said, "No, none."

That same month, NASCAR Vice-President Jim Hunter described Kentucky's chances of landing a Cup race as "slim and none," saying their best bet to join NASCAR’s major league would be to secure an exhibition event like the NASCAR Nextel All-Star Challenge (then known as The Winston).

I have covered Bob Bahre and his speedways for the better part of 30 years. Throughout that time, he has been unfailingly steadfast and loyal to both NASCAR and the France family. Bahre would have no part in a scheme to “backdoor” a race to Kentucky Speedway. In fact, he would have thrown Jerry Carroll out by the nape of his neck, precluding NASCAR from having to play the role of threatening thug.

Kentucky Speedway’s lawsuit has been transparent from the start. They ignored NASCAR’s advice and built a track where none was needed. Too late to realize the error of their ways, they attempted to badger, bribe and berate their way into the dance. Failing once again, they have now taken their misguided case to the court of last resort, holding NASCAR and its fans hostage in an attempt to cash-in for themselves.

Let’s hope a judge sees this suit for what it is.

No comments:

Post a Comment