God help us, it’s happening again.
NASCAR’s Charter System, which guarantees qualified teams a starting spot in each of 36 point-counting races each season and pays enhanced purse and point fund monies to charter-holding teams, has begun to be manipulated in much the same way its predecessor was in prior seasons.
Go FAS Racing owner Archie St. Hilaire announced recently that he has purchased an ownership stake in Joe Falk’s Circle Sport Racing. Circle Sport fielded cars for Jeffrey Earnhardt last season -- in concert with TMG Motorsports – before parting company during the offseason. Go FAS Racing will now use the newly-acquired Circle Sport charter on the #32 car driven by Matt DiBenedetto this season.
After acquiring the Circle Sport charter, St. Hilaire then sold a percentage of his Go FAS organization to Wood Brothers Racing, allowing them to assume control of the charter he used a year ago, for use on Paul Menard’s No. 21 Ford this season.
Joe Falk owns most of Circle Sport Racing, but not all of it.
Archie St. Hilaire owns most of GoFAS Racing, and now, and a little of Circle Sport.
The Wood Brothers own most of Wood Brothers Racing, along with a little bit of Go FAS.
Confused? Join the club.
Based on the newly announced Wood Brothers/Go FAS “partnership,” it now appears that a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series team owner can pay a small amount of money – theoretically as little as $1 -- for a partial ownership stake in another organization, thereby assuming control of that team’s charter.
Much like the insanely complicated glory days of NASCAR Top-35 system, when owners bought, sold and traded owner points with dizzying regularity and few (if any) guidelines, the sanctioning body’s new Charter System has now been manipulated to the point where it no longer resembles what it was expressly designed to be.
Under guidelines hammered out by NASCAR and the Race Team Alliance prior to the 2016 season, 36 teams were granted charters that guaranteed them automatic entrance into every race for the next nine years. The idea was to reward teams for longstanding, full-season support of the series by giving them a tangible asset that could be sold, should they eventually elect to exit the sport. Charter holders were allowed to lease their charter to another team just once in a five-year period, should they elect not to compete themselves.
Despite no announced changes to the Charter bylaws in the last two years, it now appears that an new option has been added; the option to transfer a charter by selling a minority ownership stake to someone else.
As a result, a team owner without a single career start in NASCAR’s top series could – theoretically, at least – acquire a charter simply by purchasing a 1% share in a charter-holding team, instantly assuring himself of a guaranteed starting spot in every race.
That is categorically NOT what the Charter System was designed to be. In fact, it is exactly the opposite of what NASCAR and the RTA had in mind.
The original wording of the Charter bylaws included no mention of “co-ownership.” Either you owned a charter, leased one, or went without.
In addition to muddying the competitive waters, the concept of “co-ownership” strips all semblance of value from NASCAR’s 36 existing charters. Why would a team owner ever again pay six figures for a charter, when he can receive the same financial and procedural benefits by purchasing a tiny percentage of another, charter-holding team?
While it is tempting to point an accusatory finger at the parties involved in last week’s machinations, it would be short-sighted to do so. Falk, St. Hilaire and the Woods simply did what racers have always done; manipulating the gray area to their own benefit, without actually stepping outside the rules.
Falk found a way to protect a charter he was unlikely to use in 2018.
St. Hilaire laid his hands – in whole or in part – on no less than two charters, paving the way for his planned expansion to a two-car organization in 2019.
The Wood Brothers secured a guaranteed starting spot in every race this season, along with the beefier purse and point-fund checks that come with being a Charter holder.
Everyone wins, except for the sport, which once again finds itself sinking into a baffling morass of “how did THEY get a charter” puzzlement, the likes of which we hoped to never see again.
Hopefully, NASCAR will quickly draw a new line in the sand, adding language to its Charter bylaws to eliminate this “co-ownership” malarkey, once and for all.