Kentucky Speedway and NASCAR will go to mediation Friday in an effort to settle the $400 million antitrust lawsuit filed by the speedway against the sanctioning body.
Lawyers for both sides have declined to comment on whether they are close to settling the case, which is scheduled to go to trial on March 8, 2008. The Speedway’s attorney, Stan Chesley, said he was unsure how long mediation might last, or what the talks could produce.
"The fact we're going to mediate doesn't mean it's going to get settled," he said. "We'll either settle it, or try (the case) in March."
A settlement hearing is set for 10 am ET tomorrow in Covington, Kentucky, before U.S. Magistrate Judge Gregory Wehrman. The owners of the speedway recently dropped their initial demand for a NASCAR Nextel Cup Series race, and now say they want the France family to relinquish control of either International Speedway Corporation or NASCAR. They are also demanding that ISC be forced to sell at least eight of its 12 Nextel Cup racetracks.
In its original complaint, the speedway asked that NASCAR Nextel Cup events be awarded through a competitive bidding process, with races going to the tracks that offer the largest purses.
An antitrust suit filed in 2004 by Speedway Motorsports, Inc., shareholder Francis Ferko resulted in International Speedway Corporation forfeiting a race (the Southern 500 at Darlington) to Texas Motor Speedway. ISC also sold North Carolina Speedway in Rockingham to SMI; a move that effectively meant the end of NASCAR Nextel Cup Series racing at that track.
At the time, many observers believed the Ferko settlement would spawn “copycat suits” from other tracks hoping to litigate their way onto the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series schedule. Less than two years later, those fears were justified when Kentucky Speedway filed its suit.
If ISC and NASCAR elect to settle this latest lawsuit by awarding Kentucky Speedway a Nextel Cup date, they will succeed only in delaying the inevitable. In time, another track will file suit, hoping to earn its place at the NASCAR table, and the process will begin anew.
It’s time for NASCAR and International Speedway Corporation to stand tall and meet the Kentucky Speedway lawsuit, head-on. Only by answering these charges and settling the long-debated antitrust issue can NASCAR finally secure its position as the rightful arbiter of the sport.
The author is an employee of MRN Radio; a division of International Speedway Corporation.