Sprint Cup owner sues fellow owner, seeks NASCAR charter

NASCAR PR
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STATESVILLE, N.C. – A Sprint Cup team owner’s lawsuit seeks the charter NASCAR granted his former partner.

Hillman Racing, team owner Mike Hillman and partners Doug Fuller and Matt Miller filed suit Friday in North Carolina Superior Court in Iredell County against former partner Joe Falk, Circle Sport, Leavine Family Racing and Circle Sport-Leavine Family Racing.

Hillman Racing and its partners seek a judgment in excess of $25,000, punitive damages, rights to ownership of the No. 33 team, its charter and all the profits and benefits that Circle Sport-Leavine Family Racing’s No. 95 car enjoys.

Falk aligned with Leavine Family Racing before this season to form Circle Sport-Leavine Family Racing.

As part of the merger, the No. 95 was maintained but inherited the No. 33 team’s points and performance, making it eligible for one of the 36 Sprint Cup charters NASCAR granted before the season.

Hillman Racing’s No. 40 was not granted a charter because it had not competed full-time the past three seasons.

The complaint by Hillman Racing states that Falk improperly entered into an agreement with Leavine Family Racing.

Falk told NBC Sports: “We believe the plaintiffs’ claims are without merit but will not comment further since litigation is ongoing.’’

Court documents state that Falk and Hillman Racing formed a partnership in Feb. 2012, agreeing to race under the Hillman Racing banner and operate from the team’s Mooresville, North Carolina, shop.

Michael Waltrip drove the team’s No. 40 car in the Daytona 500. Court documents state that due to NASCAR rules at the time, Waltrip’s run in that car caused it to be considered a fourth Michael Waltrip Racing entry. That prevented Hillman Racing from fielding any other car in 2012 because of the four-car limit.

During Daytona 500 qualifying, according to court documents, Richard Childress approached Falk to see if the group had an interest in purchasing the points associated with the No. 33 car, owned by Richard Childress Racing. They did.

According to the lawsuit, Falk, Hillman, Childress and Torrey Galida, president of RCR, met at Childress Vineyards for lunch before the Phoenix race in March 2012 to discuss arrangements. The points would be sold for $200,000 if the No. 33 car was in the top 35 in points following the first Texas race. If not, the price would be $100,000.

The points were sold for $100,000.

Because Hillman Racing could not operate an additional car because it was considered a fourth MWR entry, the parties agreed that Falk would form Circle Sport for the purpose of purchasing the No. 33 car’s points and contributing those points to the partnership.

Throughout the 2012 season, according to the complaint, the partnership of Hillman Racing and Falk operated the No. 33 car.

The partners initially agreed Falk would use the race winnings from the No. 33 car to reimburse all operating expenses (including engine and tire bills) and pay back the $100,000 purchase price for the No. 33 car’s points, according to the complaint. Whatever winnings remained after payment of expenses would be transferred to Hillman Racing to pay operating expenses, including employees, lease payments, equipment and other items.

The partnership continued in 2013 and included an agreement with Richard Childress Racing for it to operate the No. 33 car in select races. As part of the agreement, RCR arranged for Earnhardt Childress Racing to supply an engine at a reduced price to the team’s No. 40 car for the Brickyard 400. After making the race with that car, Hillman Racing began running it every week.

The complaint states that over time, Hillman purchased equipment and parts in Circle Sport’s name and that Falk negotiated and entered into agreements on behalf of Hillman Racing. The complaint also states that earnings from both the No. 33 (Circle Sport) and No. 40 (Hillman Racing) were combined to pay for operating expenses and pay back the $100,000 note for the purchase of the No. 33 car’s points.

In 2014, the No. 33 and No. 40 cars ran full-time. The complaint states that Hillman and Fuller brought in “numerous sponsors” for the No. 33 car. The complaint states: “During the process of securing these sponsorships, Hillman and Falk explained that Hillman Racing and Circle Sport operated pursuant to a partnership as part of the same organization.’’

The complaint states that “while Falk has invested into the Partnership, his contributions paled in comparison to that made by the other partners. Likewise, Falk rebuked a request by Miller and Fuller to establish a credit line to cure a significant (i.e. at least $350,000) operating shortfall from 2014.’’

The complaint states that as the 2014 season came to an end, “tensions began to mount” between the partners and Falk, “mostly due to Falk’s continued failure and refusal to contribute sufficient funds to continue to properly operate the Partnership’s race teams. As a result, Hillman and Hillman Racing contributed substantially more assets and incurred substantially more debt.’’

Court documents state that for the 2015 season, the partnership agreed to divert more resources to the No. 40 car, making it the flagship car. The partners agreed to allow Richard Childress Racing to operate the No. 33 car for multiple races in return for a payment of $25,000 for all races except the Daytona 500 (in addition to other details regarding the payment of purse and plan money, etc.). RCR would pay $75,000 for the Daytona 500.

The complaint alleges that before the Daytona 500 Hillman “discovered that Falk directed a sponsor for the 40 car to write the sponsorship check (for funds due from the 2014 season) payable to Circle Sport and not Hillman Racing. Of course, the parties had all previously agreed and understood that sponsorship funds were to be utilized to fund racing operations, for which Hillman Racing incurred substantial debt.’’

After the Daytona 500, according to the complaint, Hillman and Falk agreed to terminate their partnership after the 2015 season.

Among the agreements the complaint states is that following the 2015 season, Circle Sport and Falk would “transfer all of their right, title and interest in and to the 33 points, and to all other property acquired by the Partnership to the remaining partners or an entity to be designated by them.’’

In March 2015, then-counsel for Hillman Racing drafted a written “Purchase Agreement” for the termination of the partnership and transfer of assets, including the No. 33 car’s points.

The complaint states that Falk initially did not respond with any objection but later failed and refused to sign the agreement.

In May 2015, according to the complaint, Falk sent Hillman an email stating that he wanted to own the No. 33 car’s points outright at the end of the year. Hillman did not respond because the remaining partners did not want to modify their termination agreement.

The complaint states that in Oct. 2015 Hillman was informed by NASCAR personnel that material terms of the charter system had been agreed upon. Court documents state that NASCAR informed Hillman that the field would be reduced from 43 to 40 cars and that 36 would receive charters. Hillman was informed that the No. 33 would receive a charter but not the No. 40.

The complaint states “because the Partnership continued to have Circle Sport listed as the designated owner of the 33 points, NASCAR personnel informed Falk that the 33 car could receive a charter.’’

In late January 2016, Circle Sport announced its merger with Leavine Family Racing. The complaint states that Hillman and his partners were not included in the discussions with Leavine and that the announcement came as a “surprise.’’

The complaint states: “As a results of the circumstances described … the 40 points are of negligible value, the Partnership is unable to race full-time during the 2016 race season, Hillman and Hillman Racing have no ability to pay for the significant debt incurred in the 2013, 2014 and 2015 race seasons, and the remaining partners have been forced to liquidate many of the Partnership’s remaining assets.’’

Hillman Racing attempted to make the Daytona 500 with Reed Sorenson but failed to do so. The team has not entered a Cup race since.

RFK Racing, Trackhouse Racing, Hendrick Motorsports announce sponsors

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RFK Racing, Trackhouse Racing and Hendrick Motorsports each announced primary sponsorship deals Monday.

King’s Hawaiian, which served as a primary sponsor in three races last year, returns to RFK Racing and Brad Keselowski’s No. 6 car this year. King’s Hawaiian will expand its role and be a primary sponsor for nine races. 

The first race with the sponsor will be this weekend’s Busch Light Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. King’s Hawaiian also will be the primary sponsor on Keselowski’s car for Atlanta (March 19), Bristol Dirt (April 9), Kansas (May 7), World Wide Technology Raceway (June 4), Sonoma (June 11), Pocono (July 23), Daytona (Aug. 26) and Martinsville (Oct. 29).

Jockey returns to sponsor the Trackhouse cars of Ross Chastain and Daniel Suarez for three races each this season with its Made in America Collection.

Jockey will be on the No. 99 car for Suarez at this weekend’s Busch Light Clash, the Bristol Dirt Race (April 9) and  Martinsville (Oct. 29).

Chastain’s No. 1 car will have Jockey as the primary sponsor at Richmond (April 2), Dover (April 30) and Michigan (Aug. 6).

Hooters returns to Hendrick Motorsports and will be the primary sponsor on the No. 9 car of Chase Elliott for the Bristol Dirt Race (April 9), the Chicago street course event (July 2) and Homestead-Miami Speedway (Oct. 22).

Toyota has ‘irons in the fire’ for expanding its lineup in NASCAR Cup Series for 2024

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Toyota Racing Development is making a renewed push to expand its lineup in the NASCAR Cup Series, and president David Wilson is optimistic about adding new teams for 2024.

“We’ve got some good irons in the fire now,” Wilson told NBC Sports last weekend at Daytona International Speedway. “What was once a very effective strategy to amass our resources across fewer cars, with the marginalization of the areas that we have to play in and the flattening out of the playing field, we definitely need some more help.”

When TRD entered NASCAR’s premier series as a fourth manufacturer 16 years ago, the target was fielding roughly a quarter of the 43-car field. But Toyota’s Cup fleet always has remained in the single digits even as NASCAR shrunk to three manufacturers and a 40-car field.

Last year, there were six full-time Camrys in Cup between Joe Gibbs Racing (four) and 23XI Racing (two). Wilson said “nine to 10 cars is probably our sweet spot with this new car.”

Over the past two years, TRD has talked to teams within NASCAR and at least two potential car owners who had yet to enter racing. Wilson declined to say if Toyota now is focused on existing or new teams but did rule out a Chevrolet or Ford anchor team such as Hendrick Motorsports or Team Penske.

“We’re talking to a lot of the incumbents,” Wilson told NBC Sports. “It’s a very dynamic time right now. If you’re a team, you want to have an association with a manufacturer. Again, even in spite of the new car, the flattening of the playing field, there’s still something about having an alliance and partnership. The good news is there’s a lot of interest. The bad news is you don’t have to worry about Penske or Hendrick.

“So what’s interesting from a fan standpoint, what’s going to continue to drive interest in our sport is the trajectory of some of the smaller organizations. The Tier 2 or 3 and how they get better. And that’s good for the sport, because as we saw last year, the number of teams that won, the number of drivers that won was historically unprecedented.”

The Next Gen made its debut in NASCAR last year with the goal of reducing costs through standardization of the chassis and parts supplied by single-source vendors while also reducing development expenses. While primarily intended to introduce a more cost-effective team business model, the Next Gen also delivered a new era of competitiveness in its inaugural season. The 2022 season tied a modern-era record with 19 race winners, and the Championship 4 breakthrough by Trackhouse Racing (with Ross Chastain) was indicative of a new crop of teams able to contend outside of the traditional powerhouses.

Wilson also believes the Next Gen should allow TRD to pursue more teams without breaking the bank.

“My budget doesn’t extrapolate with added cars, so it’s a matter of allocating the same resource across more cars and not taking away from your current effort,” Wilson said. “But again, that’s more doable now because we’re much more constrained with our wind tunnel time as an example. That’s a resource that we pay, a number of dollars per hour, and NASCAR continues to trim that back. It wouldn’t surprise me in a couple of years if there is no wind tunnel other than for body submissions purposes. They’re being very intentional and thoughtful about trying to keep coming back into areas where the team feel they have to spend or OEMs feel they have to spend.”

Manufacturer investment remains important, though, and Wilson takes some solace (while also gritting his teeth) about the impact Toyota has made in NASCAR.

After a rough debut in 2007, TRD added Joe Gibbs Racing in 2008 and also opened a technical center in Salisbury, North Carolina, that helped drive its approach of getting its teams to work closely together.

It’s been an approach adopted by Ford and Chevrolet over the past decade. Ford opened its tech center in Concord several years ago, and General Motors opened a new 130,000-square-foot performance and tech center last year (just down the road from Hendrick Motorsports headquarters) with NASCAR operations overseen by Dr. Eric Warren.

“To suggest that we don’t have areas to work in, all you have to do is look at the monstrosity that General Motors has built in Concord,” Wilson said. “I haven’t been invited to tour it yet, but I have talked to some folks that have been through, and hats off to Eric and the guys there. They’re investing significant resources. Can’t say that I’m not a little envious.

“We cut the ribbon (on the Salisbury facility) in 2008, and it seems like just yesterday. What I love about this world or what I hate about it, if you’re not constantly moving forward, you’re falling behind. I love it that our competitors are re-evaluating how they participate. Not that they’re following our lead, but when we came in the sport, we were the only ones doing it this way. Getting our hands dirty and really participating is material to the return on that investment. I’m glad that there are others doing the same thing, but it does cause us to look forward and look at what we need to do to make sure that we remain competitive.

“It’s competition. It makes all of us better, and I like that side of it. That’s a microcosm of the greater automotive industry. When Toyota came to this country, ultimately we helped the competition indirectly get better because they had something different to compete against. That’s kind of fun.”

Wilson was at Daytona International Speedway last weekend to watch Vasser Sullivan’s No. 14 Lexus finish third in the GTD Pro category of the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Surveying key race dates for the 2023 Cup season

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NASCAR Cup Series cars will fire up again Feb. 5 as the 2023 season begins with the Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum in Los Angeles.

Two weeks later, the regular season opens with the Feb. 19 Daytona 500, for decades the curtain-raiser for the Cup Series’ 10-month cross-country marathon.

With only a single week break in mid-June, the Cup schedule visits familiar stops like Darlington, Bristol, Martinsville, Talladega and Dover but adds two new locations that should be highlights of the year — North Wilkesboro and Chicago.

Here’s a look at key races for each month of the season:

February — With all due respect to the unique posture of the Clash at the Coliseum (Feb. 5) and the apparent final race on the 2-mile track at Auto Club Speedway (Feb. 26) before it’s converted to a half-mile track, the Daytona 500 won’t be surpassed as a February highlight. Since the winter of 1959, the best stock car racers in the land have gathered on the Atlantic shore to brighten the winter, and the results often are memorable. Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt, David Pearson, Cale Yarborough, Jeff Gordon and so many others have starred on Daytona’s high ground, and sometimes even rookies shine (see Austin Cindric’s victory last year).

MORE: Friday 5: Legacy aiming for breakout season

March — The newly reconfigured Atlanta Motor Speedway saw its racing radically changed last year with higher banks and straights that are tighter. The track now is considered more in the Daytona/Talladega superspeedway “family” than an intermediate speedway, generating a bit of the unknown for close pack racing. William Byron and Chase Elliott won at AMS last year.

April — Ah, the return to Martinsville (April 16). Despite the rumors, Ross Chastain’s wild last-lap charge in last October’s Martinsville race did not destroy the speedway. Will somebody try to duplicate Chastain’s move this time? Not likely, but no one expected what he did, either.

May — North Wilkesboro Speedway is back. Abandoned by NASCAR in 1996, the track’s revival reaches its peak May 21 when the Cup All-Star Race comes to town, putting Cup cars on one of stock car racing’s oldest tracks for the first time in a quarter century.

June — The June 11 Sonoma road course race will end 17 consecutive weeks of racing for the Cup Series. The schedule’s only break is the following weekend, with racing resuming June 25 at Nashville Superspeedway. Sonoma last year opened the door for the first Cup win by Daniel Suarez.

July — The July holiday weekend will offer one of the biggest experiments in the history of NASCAR. For the first time, Cup cars will race through the streets of a major city, in this case Chicago on July 2. If the race is a success, similar events could follow on future schedules.

August — The Aug. 26 race at Daytona is the final chance for drivers to qualify for the playoffs, ratcheting up the tension of the late-summer race considerably.

September — The Cup playoffs open with the Southern 500, making Darlington Raceway a key element in determining which drivers have easier roads in advancing to the next round.

October — The Oct. 29 Martinsville race is the last chance to earn a spot in the Championship Four with a race victory. Christopher Bell did it last year in a zany finish.

November — Phoenix. The desert. Four drivers, four cars and four teams for the championship.

 

Trackhouse Racing picks up additional sponsorship from Kubota

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Trackhouse Racing announced Friday that it has picked up additional sponsorship for drivers Ross Chastain and Daniel Suarez from Kubota Tractor Corp. for the 2023 season.

Kubota sponsored Chastain’s No. 1 Chevrolet last October at Homestead-Miami Speedway. It is expanding its sponsorship to six races for the new season.

Chastain will race with Kubota sponsorship at Auto Club Speedway, Phoenix Raceway, New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Kansas Speedway and Homestead-Miami. Suarez’s Chevrolet will carry Kubota livery at Texas Motor Speedway.

MORE: Friday 5: Legacy seeks breakout year in 2023

The team also announced that a $10,000 donation will be made to Farmer Veteran Coalition for each Kubota-sponsored race in which Chastain finishes in the top 10. The FVC assists military veterans and current armed services members who have an interest in farming.

“The sponsorship from Kubota is especially meaningful to me because it allows me to use my platform to shine a bright light on agriculture and on the men and women who work so hard to feed all of us,” said Chastain, whose family owns a Florida watermelon farm.