Monday, November 29, 2010

Gillett Out As Petty Takes Control of RPM

Richard Petty has completed his bid to oust former Richard Petty Motorsports majority owner George Gillett, Jr., and take control of the team that bears his name. The seven-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion has completed a deal with Medallion Financial Corp and DGB Investments to restructure the team’s financing, installing himself as chairman. Gillett retains no ownership stake, banished in much the same way he ousted Ray Evernham in the weeks following his purchase of the team in 2007. RPM recently downsized to a two-car organization, and will field Fords for AJ Allmendinger and Marcos Ambrose next season.

Medallion Financial President Andrew Murstein met with Petty at Homestead-Miami Speedway last month and reportedly pledged his support only if Petty made a substantial financial commitment to the team. Gillett had very little of his own money – if any – in the operation, financing his purchase through heavily leveraged bank loans that he eventually proved unable to repay. Murstein told’s David Newton that Gillett’s financial collapse threatened to destroy the team, as well, saying, “things were shaky for a while. If we didn't move as quickly as we did, I'm not sure the Petty name would have continued in this sport." The deal was finalized in less than three weeks, allowing Petty to assume operation of a team that is debt-free for the first time. "Now that there is no debt,” said Murstein, “I think it will do quite well."

Murstein said he watched Gillett closely as he was forced to sell his interest in the Montreal Canadiens and other sports-related ventures. "As George Gillett started selling assets, I thought maybe this was next on his list," said Murstein. Gillett reportedly owed more than $100 million to various parties in relation to the team, and say one of his lenders, Mill Financial, is reportedly suing him for breach of contract, alleging he owes approximately $117 million in connection with his failed English Premier League soccer club. Petty called the new deal, “a great day for me, our family, our fans and our wonderful sponsors."

This week’s news is a much-needed ray of sunshine for a team that has had little in the way of good news recently. The team slashed its payroll dramatically following the 2010 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, with RPM Vice President and Director of Competition Robbie Loomis, President and General Manager Max Jones and Director of Operations Sammy Johns meeting with employees to announce who will remain with the team and who was being let go.

Richard Petty issued a statement saying the team “has completed its restructuring process and is now in the process of moving forward. RPM will shift from running four cars to two in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, and that is never an easy process for the people involved.” No information was released on how many employees were terminated, but crewchiefs Kenny Francis and Slugger Labbe had already announced plans to follow drivers Kasey Kahne and Paul Menard to Red Bull Racing and Richard Childress Racing, with at least some of their former crews in tow. AJ Allmendinger’s team – led by crewchief Mike Shiplett – will return virtually intact in 2011.

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