Blake Jones

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Bankruptcy judge approves sale of BK Racing to Front Row Motorsports

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A day after he put his team in Chapter 11 bankruptcy, BK Racing owner Ron Devine alternated between being combative and conciliatory as he spoke to reporters outside his hauler in the Daytona International Speedway garage.

Losses in the millions, a pile of debt and a bank eager to get more than $8 million back in loans and accrued interest led Devine to go to court to protect his team and its charter — the one item that gave his underfunded team its greatest value.

The paperwork was filed, according to court documents, about 30 minutes before a Feb. 15 hearing in Mecklenburg County Superior Court. That hearing was in regards to Union Bank & Trust’s request of a receiver to operate BK Racing and a preliminary injunction to prevent the team from selling or leasing its charter.

“We’ll get it resolved,” Devine said 48 hours before the Daytona 500. “I promise you, we will get it resolved. The bank wants it resolved, and I want it resolved. We will get it resolved. And I’ll see you in Homestead (for the season finale).

“We will be in Homestead.”

Devine was right six months ago. It got resolved.

But left him without a team.

Judge J. Craig Whitley approved the sale of BK Racing — a team Devine helped bring to Cup in 2012 — to Front Row Motorsports for $2.08 million on Thursday.

In announcing his decision, Whitley called the matter “just a bad situation and we’re doing the best we can with it. I don’t expect anybody to be delighted by it, but it is what it is.”

Devine and the team’s engine supplier objected to the sale Thursday. During an early recess, Devine spoke with the attorney for Union Bank & Trust. After the brief discussion, Devine shook his head, walked away and said: “Then that will do it. Jesus Christ.”

Devine and the team’s engine builder urged the judge to let the team continue through the rest of the season and be sold then. Devine stated that he would be an interested buyer then. Devine, it was noted in court, had made an unqualified bid to get the team back.

On the stand, Devine made a last-minute appeal to the judge not to sell the team: “This is wrong to occur during the season. There is the ability to run the team through the end of the season.”

Devine called it a “misconception that this team is on the brink of collapse.”

Trustee Matt Smith, appointed by the court to take over the team from Devine in late March, said Thursday morning on the stand that “cash continues to be very, very tight.”

Smith also said on the stand that “without sponsorship, I run about $30,000 to $50,000 in the hole” per race. Smith expressed concerns that he would be able to run the team through the end of the season.

The charter requires teams to compete each weekend. If the team missed races, it would allow NASCAR to take the charter back and leave BK Racing with little value. While Smith and many others expressed disappointment that the bidding didn’t generate any more money, Smith recommended the sale take place.

When Devine questioned Smith on cross examination about how long it took for him to provide info on the team’s financial status, Smith said: “The business records you had were atrocious.”

After the hearing, Devine said: “That trustee at the very least ought to be embarrassed. He should have stopped it with one bidder. I just think he was in over his head.”

The judge didn’t see it that way and awarded the charter and assets to Front Row Motorsports. The judge also approved the sale of equipment and 19 chassis (primarily in storage and in various stages of readiness) for $265,000 to Obaika Racing and a hauler to Rick Ware Racing for $35,000.

Front Row Motorsports gets BK Racing’s charter, which guarantees a starting spot in every race and a set amount of money per event, and some of its assets, including the cars it is running. Front Row Motorsports was expected to close on the sale as early as Thursday afternoon. All of BK Racing’s employees will be retained as part of the agreement.

Front Row Motorsports now owns both charters that went to BK Racing when the charter system was created before the 2016 season. BK Racing sold a charter to Front Row Motorsports in December 2016 for $2 million, a sale that did not include any other assets.

Front Row Motorsports, a Ford team will run the former BK Racing team, a Toyota team, as a separate entity through the end of the season.

Jerry Freeze, general manager of Front Row Motorsports who attended court Thursday, said the team will not change manufacturers after this season. He also said he did not know who the driver of the BK team will be for next weekend’s Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. Or if the car number will change from No. 23 to No. 35, a number Front Row Motorsports has used for a third entry at times.

Freeze said the team wants to expand to three full-time cars but admits it will be challenging to find the sponsorship at this point to do so for next year. An option for the team would be to lease two of its charters to other teams — it already leases a charter to TriStar Motorsports and could continue that relationship. Charters can be leased once every five years.

“You’ve got to imagine we’ve been assessing the market for who would need to lease a charter next year and who might be interested in buying one of the other charters that we have,” Freeze said after the hearing. “So we think there’s a market out there for sure. It was worth taking the chance and opportunity to see if we could get this one.”

Front Row Motorsports’ bid topped a bid from Mike Beam, president of GMS Racing.

That a Cup team’s fate was settled in a U.S. Bankruptcy courtroom showed how far BK Racing had fallen. Six weeks after Devine filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy, he lost control of the team when Smith was assigned as trustee. Devine called the judge’s action then “a sad day for BK.’’

It wouldn’t have to come to that had the team been more fiscally responsible. Court documents show that team lost $29.5 million from 2014-16. Court documents show that the team “budgeted” for a loss of $1.358 million in 2017 in what was described as a “skeletal budget.”

Then, there was the millions owed Union Bank & Trust for the numerous loans (now up to more than $9 million). The IRS filed court documents on March 12 that stated it had a secured claim of $2.5 million and a priority claim of $328,792.47 owed. A former employee and current employee at the time testified in March about having paychecks bounce last year. A former employee said he had a paycheck bounce in September 2017, November 2017 and December 2017 before leaving the team.

In May, court documents listed secured claims against the team at $31.6 million. That included $15 million to the Virginia Racers Group, which included Devine and started the team. Court documents also listed unsecured claims at $773,569.17 and non-priority unsecured claims at more than $5 million.

Smith decided this summer that it was in the best interest to sell the team.

“One of the reasons, and I know that Mr. Devine is in the room and probably doesn’t want to hear this, but I think one of the reasons this team is in trouble is it had the wrong owner,” Smith said in court on July 26. “So I believe the right owner, transition of ownership, would be the best thing for this team.”

Smith stated that day that “the cash flow (for the team) is exceptionally tight” and questioned then about going beyond the end of the season.

With all the money spent, BK Racing rarely ran anywhere close to the front. The organization, which fielded up to four cars at times, had three top-10 finishes in its history.

Sunday, in its last race as BK Racing, Blake Jones finished 27th, 15 laps behind the leaders. Only three other cars that made it to the finish ran fewer laps than Jones.

“It’s a tough business,” Devine said in February at Daytona when asked why he didn’t align with another team to help defray costs. “I think it’s an expensive learning curve. I also think … you’ve got to decide where you are taking the company and I took it down a very independent route, which probably wasn’t the smartest (thing).”

But Devine was not deterred Thursday. As he stood outside the federal courthouse awaiting an Uber ride to the airport, he said he still wanted to be in NASCAR as an owner.

“I’ve got other options,” he said.

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Songs from driver introductions for the Bristol Night Race

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It’s that time again.

With NASCAR’s summer return to Bristol Motor Speedway this weekend, that means another round of driver introductions with a special soundtrack.

Below are the songs drivers were introduced to before tonight’s Cup race.

Some of these songs are being reused from April when the songs were voted on by fans.

1.       Kyle Larson                       “Dirt Road Anthem” by Jason Aldean

2.       Chase Elliott                     “A Crazy Racin’ Man” by Bill Elliott

3.       Kyle Busch                        “All I Do is WIN” by DJ Khaled

4.       Paul Menard                    “R.O.C.K. in the USA” by John Mellencamp

5.       William Byron                  “Fan the Flames” by Liberty University

6.       Kevin Harvick                   “Happy” by Pharrell

7.       Denny Hamlin                 “Forever” by Drake, Kanye West, Lil Wayne & Eminem

8.       Aric Almirola                    “Miami Vice”

9.       Kurt Busch                      “Outlaw State of Mind” by Chris Stapleton

10.   Ryan Blaney                     “Folsom Prison Blues” by Johnny Cash

11.   Brad Keselowski              “Little Deuce Coupe” by The Beach Boys

12.   Ricky Stenhouse Jr.         “People Back Home” by Florida Georgia Line

13.   Jimmie Johnson              “Seven Nation Army” by The White Stripes

14.   Erik Jones                         “You Ain’t Seen Nothin Yet” by Bachman Turner Overdrive

15.   David Ragan                     “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” by the Charlie Daniels Band

16.   Clint Bowyer                    “Country Boy Can Survive” by Hank Williams Jr.                             

17.   Martin Truex Jr.              “Reason to Drink” by Cole Swindell

18.   Austin Dillon                    “Cowboy” by Kid Rock

19.   Joey Logano                     “Brass Monkey” by The Beastie Boys

20.   Jamie McMurray             “One” by Metallica

21.   Daniel Suarez                  “Speedy Gonzales” by Pat Boone

22.   Alex Bowman                  “Rise” by I Prevail

23.   Trevor Bayne                   “Rocky Top” by the Pride of the Southland Marching Band

24.   Ryan Newman                 “Huntin, Fishin & Lovin Every Day” by Luke Bryan

25.   AJ Allmendinger              “I’m Alright” by Kenny Logins

26.   Kasey Kahne                    “5-1-5-0” by Dierks Bentley

27.   Bubba Wallace                “Into The Fire” by Asking Alexandria

28.   Chris Buescher                “Pork and Beans” by Weezer

29.   Matt DiBenedetto           “Rocky Theme Song”

30.   Corey LaJoie                     “Fortunate Son” by Creedence Clearwater Revival

31.   Michael McDowell          “Taking it to the Streets”, by The Doobie Brothers

32.   Ty Dillon                           “Walk it Like I Talk It” by Migos

33.   Jesse Little                        “John Deere Green” by Joe Diffie

34.   JJ Yeley                              “Warrior” by Imagine Dragons

35.   Ross Chastain                  “Watermelon Crawl” by Tracy Byrd

36.   Reed Sorenson                “Purple Haze” by Jimi Hendrix

37.   Timmy Hill                        “Crazy Train” by Ozzy Osborne

38.   Gray Gaulding                 “Makes Me Wonder” by Maroon 5

39.   Landon Cassill                 “Going to Mars” by Judah and the Lion

40.   Blake Jones                      “Copperhead Road” by Steve Earle

Inside Richard Petty Motorsports: A day filled with highs, lows

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Dustin Long is spending this week with Richard Petty Motorsports to give fans a behind-the-scenes look at all that takes place before a race. Watch for his stories each day through Sunday.

Part 1: Putting together a game plan for Bristol

Part 2: Searching for sponsorship 

Part 3: Bubba Wallace earns respect from fans, crew 

BRISTOL, Tennessee — Bubba Wallace bounced up the four steps to the lounge of his team’s hauler and announced his presence with an expletive.

It wasn’t uttered in anger but exuberance.

“I’m wore out!” the 24-year old Cup rookie said, beads of sweat on his forehead, after Friday’s opening Cup practice at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Bubba Wallace explains the car’s handling to crew chief Drew Blickensderfer after they finished the opening Cup practice Friday at Bristol Motor Speedway. (Photo: Dustin Long)

The intense 15-second laps left Wallace speaking in short bursts as he described the car’s handling to crew chief Drew Blickensderfer, engineer Derek Stamets and director of competition Philippe Lopez.

Wallace’s arms moved up and down and side to side as he talked, showing Blickensderfer how the car reacted on the high-banked half-mile track.

While Wallace’s fastest circuit in the opening practice session ranked 29th of 41 drivers, his times compared favorably the more laps he ran. Another practice remained to fine-tune the Chevrolet Camaro before qualifying for tonight’s Cup race (6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

This gave the team hope. It had been more than four months since Wallace last scored a top-10 finish. Anticipation built in the shop this week as the Cup series returned to Bristol. It was here in April that Wallace drove the same car he’s running this weekend to the front and led six laps — the first laps he’d led in his Cup career. He seemed headed for a top-10 result that day, but a blistered left front tire left him with a 16th-place finish.

A strong result could help the team as it searches for sponsorship and entertains potential suitors tonight. Richard Petty Motorsports seeks sponsorship for half of the remaining 12 races after Bristol. Without those sponsorship dollars, the team is not able to buy all the new parts bigger teams can, have as many people working in the shop or build new cars as often. That impacts performance. 

Crew chief Drew Blickensderfer and his team unload the No. 43 car Friday morning. Photo: Dustin Long

But at Bristol, a team can run well without all those dollars and with a limited crew. They just have to work harder.

Blickensderfer walks across the track at 7 a.m. Friday to help unload equipment from the team’s hauler before the garage opens at 7:30 a.m. But he spends 15 minutes examining a hub on a left rear wheel of the team’s hauler after Jeffrey Icenhour said a warning light illuminated on his way to the track.

When the garage opens, Blickensderfer and the crew unload the car and push it to pit road, which serves as their garage Friday since Bristol’s infield has no stalls.

While his car goes through inspection, Wallace’s day officially begins at 9:30 a.m. with NASCAR’s mandatory rookie meeting. Wallace is first, arriving five minutes early. Richard Buck, managing director of the Cup Series, notes Wallace’s punctuality. Blake Jones, Ross Chastain, Jesse Little and William Byron soon arrive and the 10-minute meeting begins. Buck details various practice, qualifying and race procedures and notes where the traction compound has been placed on the track in the corners.

Richard Buck, managing director of NASCAR’s Cup Series, leads the rookie meeting, while Kurt Busch waits to speak to the drivers. (Photo: Dustin Long)

Former Cup champion Kurt Busch attends to offer advice. He reminds the rookies “how fast things move here.” He’s talking about what happens on the track but it also describes how the weekend’s ebb-and-flow can suddenly change.

The day’s pace quickens. Opening Cup practice goes from 10:35 – 11:55 a.m. ET. Wallace and his team stop 15 minutes early, a penalty for failing prerace inspection twice last weekend at Michigan.

Not long after the meeting that Wallace bounded into the lounge for, he’s back in the car. Final practice goes from 12:40 – 1:50 p.m.

After making a run in the session, Wallace radios his crew: “Little bit freer in there. We’ll have to guard that for the race.”

He uses the first part of session to run several laps in a row to prepare for the race— just as he and did in the opening session.

After a few adjustments, he returns to the track. Blickensderfer watches from atop the team’s hauler so he can see how Wallace’s car reacts. Lopez watches on a laptop in the hauler, surrounded by multiple TVs hanging on the wall. One shows various camera angles of the track and weather radar, another displays detailed lap time information of any driver they want and plots those laps on a graph, and a third TV shows a view of the cars exiting Turn 2, going down the backstretch and into Turn 3.

Lopez calls the computer program he’s watching on his laptop a cartoon. He can view the animated version of Wallace’s run in real time. Lopez can call up any driver on the track or a previous run by any driver in that session and overlay their lap on the track with Wallace’s to compare. The computer program also shows the throttle trace and brake pressure for each car simultaneously.

This allows Lopez to see where another driver might be accelerating sooner to show Wallace. Lopez matches Wallace’s lap against those of Kevin Harvick, Ryan Blaney, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., among others, throughout the sessions.

As Lopez watches Wallace’s run on the computer, Wallace’s car suddenly goes through the wall.

What has actually happened is that Wallace scraped the wall but the fender damage was minor.

“I don’t know how we didn’t hit it,” Wallace tells Lopez later.

The incident proves to be a good point to switch to the qualifying setup.

Bubba Wallace’s crew work on his car Friday. (Photo: Dustin Long)

While the crew makes the adjustments, Wallace stands behind his car on pit road and looks toward Turn 1. Richard Petty, in his black jeans and white collared button-down shirt, walks over the pit wall and takes his long stride toward his driver.

Petty puts his arm around Wallace and talks to him. Wallace nods as hears about every other word over the roar of the cars that scream by every few seconds.

When Wallace returns to the car, he is fast. He finishes the final session 12th on the speed chart with a lap of 15.37 seconds (124.792 mph), although not every team made a mock qualifying run in that session. Still, it’s something to feel good about. But work remains, as Wallace, Blickensderfer, Stamets and Lopez again meet in the hauler’s lounge.

“So from run to run, it got tighter,” Wallace says, sitting in a rollaway office chair that he maneuvers to be next to Blickensderfer. “And so trying to carry speed through (Turns) 1 and 2, you’re pushing the limits. And then hit the bump and sh-woof, like it shoves you this way and snaps you loose.”

“Both the second and third laps?” Blickensderfer asks. Yes is Wallace’s response.

“So we can go more on the second adjustment,” Wallace continues. “But I like the way it felt. I didn’t get all that I could out of it, just didn’t expect it to be that good up top for the (fast lap) we ran. (Lopez) said Harvick initiates throttle a little bit more. Just starts a little bit more. I know I can do that. … Just go out there.”

Blickensderfer reads from his notes, saying how after the first run Wallace said they needed to turn better. After adjustments, it didn’t turn any better next time on track.

“So whatever adjustment we did didn’t react or we need to go more. I’d say it’s probably both,” Blickensderfer says.

“What did you do there?” Wallace asks.

Crew chief Drew Blickensderfer and Bubba Wallace debrief. (Photo: Dustin Long)

“Raise the trackbar up both sides,’’ Blickensderfer says. “That’s what got you to kind of pivot the time before. I’ve got many notes here of your second qualifying run being loose in that now you’re running the top …”

“It doesn’t matter,” Wallace says, finishing the sentence.

Wallace then discusses entering pit road and the brakes, noting how rough it is when he applies them, telling Blickensderfer that it makes a ffttt-ffttt-ffttt-ffttt-ffttt sound.

Wallace also asks Stamets and Blickensderfer to “give me something” to help his car over the bump off Turn 2. Blickensderfer tells Wallace how high Larson and Blaney are running in the corners. Blickensderfer also mentions how he’s observed most of the field exit the corner in Turn 2. Blickensderfer goes over Wallace’s laps and notes

Dale Inman, Hall of Fame crew chief for Petty, walks in and is soon followed by spotter Freddie Kraft, who stands in the walkway because there’s no room to sit down. Kraft and Wallace discuss the lines he ran through the corners and how they compare to other drivers.

Wallace studies the lap times and notes how well they ran: “P12, when’s the last time we’ve seen that?” He gets up to leave and will return a few hours later for qualifying.

If he can repeat that, he’ll likely be among the top 24 to advance to the second round of qualifying. If he does that, maybe he can squeeze more speed out of the car and make it into the top 12 and advance to the final round.

Wallace went out halfway through the 15-minute opening round in qualifying. His time was worse than he had run in final practice. As more cars make runs, Wallace falls outside the top 24. He makes another qualifying attempt. He is on pace to climb into the top 24 when he loses time in Turns 3 and 4 and qualifies 27th with a lap of 15.43 seconds.

Blickensderfer walks into the hauler first. Wallace follows a few strides behind.

Wallace says the car was too loose.

He turns and shouts: “On to tomorrow!”

Wallace walks out of the hauler and slams the sliding doors shut.

Moments later, the crew enters the hauler.

They have been at the track for 11 hours and assaulted by noise the entire time — from generators, power tools, cars and even the public address system, which made sure any moment without sound was filled.

Inside the hauler, the air conditioner hums. Radios and headsets clank on the countertop as the crew puts them away.

There is no other sound.

Crew chief Drew Blickensderfer walks back into the team hauler as crew members prepare to put the car on the liftgate after qualifying. (Photo: Dustin Long)

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Preliminary entry lists for NASCAR at Michigan, Mid-Ohio

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Cup and Camping World Truck Series teams are at Michigan International Speedway. The Xfinity Series is at the Mid-Ohio  Sports Car Course. Here are the preliminary entry lists for each series:

Cup – Consumers Energy 400 (2:30 p.m. ET Sunday on NBCSN)

Forty cars are on the entry list for the Michigan Cup race. Garrett Smithley is listed in the No. 7 car for Premium Motorsports. Blake Jones is listed in the No. 23 car for BK Racing. BJ McLeod is listed in the No. 51 for Rick Ware Racing. Timmy Hill is in the No. 66 for MBM. Corey LaJoie is in the No. 72 for TriStar Motorsports. Jeffrey Earnhardt is in the No. 96 for Gaunt Brothers Racing. Gray Gaulding is listed in the No. 99 for StarCom Racing.

Click here for Cup entry list

Xfinity – Rock N Roll Tequila 170 (2:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN)

Forty cars are entered for the event at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. Katherine Legge will make her NASCAR debut, driving the No. 15 for JD Motorsports. Brendan Gaughan will drive the No. 3 for Richard Childress Racing. Spencer Gallagher is back in the No. 23 for GMS Racing.

Click here for Xfinity entry list

Truck – Corrigan Oil 200 (1 p.m. ET Saturday on FS1)

Thirty-four trucks are entered for the event at Michigan International Speedway.

Click here for Truck entry list

Bid of $1.8 million submitted for BK Racing

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A bid of $1.8 million has been made for BK Racing, the trustee operating the team stated in court documents.

Trustee Matthew Smith stated in federal court documents that the $1.8 million bid is a stalking horse bid. That means that the bid sets the lowest price the team can be sold.

Should the stalking horse bid be the winning bid, $350,000 of the price will go to payment of priority wage claims.

The bid is from MRB LLC.

ESPN.com reported that Mike Beam, president of GMS Racing, has made the bid on the team. Beam told ESPN.com that if he becomes the owner of the team, it would be an affiliate of GMS Racing, which has previously considered moving to Cup.

Court documents state: “The Trustee believes that the Stalking Horse Bid will compel potential purchasers to come forward and otherwise generate additional interest in the Race Team Assets reasonably likely to facilitate an effective competitive sale of such assets.”

Smith stated in court documents that he has communicated with more than 25 separate parties interested in acquiring the team’s assets.

Court documents state that any qualified bidder must propose a bid at least $300,000 more than the original bid of $1.8 million.

A sale is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. ET on Aug. 20. A court hearing is set for Aug. 21 for the approval of the sale. The winner has three days after the court order approving the sale to complete the purchase.

A hearing is set for Tuesday on approving those sale procedures.

Also, in another court filing, Smith stated that he’s agreed to sell team assists to Obaika Racing for $265,000. Smith said in court documents the assets were valued at $382,000.

Among the items listed in the offer is a tractor trailer transporter, seven bare chassis and 12 other chassis in various forms of construction. Also on the list are two crash carts, pit road tool box and pit suite, pit tool cart and two golf carts.

BK Racing owner Ron Devine put the team in chapter 11 bankruptcy on Feb. 15 in an effort to retain his team. Union Bank & Trust claims that it is owed $9.475 million. Smith was approved as the trustee on March 28, relieving Devine of his owner duties. Others claiming to be owed money include the Internal Revenue Service.

Blake Jones is driving BK Racing’s No. 23 car this weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. This will be Jones’ first Cup start. He qualified last in the 37-car field.