Ron Devine

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Long: A decision where the head won out over the heart

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LAS VEGAS — Car owner Barney Visser stood outside the Furniture Row Racing hauler Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and chatted with team members, some he had not had the chance to talk to personally since announcing that the team would cease after this season.

It was his first time back at the track since the Sept. 4 announcement. He plans to be at many of the remaining nine races as Martin Truex Jr. seeks a second consecutive Cup championship.

Each week, though, brings Visser closer to the end of a remarkable run in NASCAR that saw his organization start as a part-time team in Denver, elevate to full-time status, score its first win in the Southern 500, align with Toyota and Joe Gibbs Racing, expand to a second car, win the Cup title, downsize to one car and seek to repeat as champion.

Visser admits it was a hard decision — and an easy decision — to not continue the team after this season.

“You got your soul and you got your heart and you got your mind,” Visser told NBC Sports. “Two of the three are hurting, and my mind is saying you got to do this.”

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The announcement in July by 5-hour Energy to leave the team and the sport after this season left Visser facing a gap of millions of dollars. With budgets already set for many companies, the likelihood of replacing 5-hour Energy’s millions with one company was slim. Visser would have to put more of his own money into the team if he wanted to continue. Then, he would need to renew deals with Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing and sign Truex to an extension. 

“The family, we had all sat down and decided together that there would be a limit on what we could put in any given year,” Visser said. “We were talking about that the last couple of years. This (gap) was so far off.”

Visser’s tale could prove cautionary for the sport. He was an outsider who came into NASCAR, built his team, won races and captured a championship. There are few such success stories in Cup in recent years.

It’s not that others don’t try but they don’t have the success for various reasons. Ron Devine and a group of investors started BK Racing in 2012, ran as many as three full-time teams, but never had the success, struggled to find sponsorship, fell behind in payments on loans and to the IRS, among others, filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy before this year’s Daytona 500 and was sold for $2.08 million to Front Row Motorsports in August.

Visser, though, doesn’t think that his exit will mean the end of outsider owners coming into NASCAR. But change will need to take place, he admits.

“Hopefully they’re going to standardize the equipment more, and they’re going to find a way to maybe protect sponsors from leaving, from going with drivers and protect the teams, just some kind of standard contract, that would be good,” Visser said, although he admits such a contract “wouldn’t have saved us” with 5-hour Energy.

“There’s not going to be a shortage of drivers in this sport, there’s going to be a shortage of quality teams. We’ve got to get that figured out.”

Standing about 30 feet from Visser on Sunday was Gene Haas, co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing and also the owner of Haas F1.

He’s searching for a driver for the No. 41 car for next year and noted the importance of a driver bringing sponsorship.

Haas laments the decline in the number of teams.

“We used to have 40-50 cars showing up for some of these races and now you’re barley filling the field,” Haas told NBC Sports. “From an economic standpoint it’s not working. There’s not enough money for teams to do that.”


Can friendship carry over to the track? And should it?

The issue came up at the end of the first stage in Saturday’s Xfinity race.

Ryan Preece was two laps down after an early incident. Leader Ross Chastain, a teammate to Preece at JD Motorsports in 2016, slowed his Chip Ganassi Racing ride coming to the line to end the first stage. That allowed Preece to beat Chastain to the line and get a lap back.

“I was hoping,” Preece told NBC Sports that Chastain would allow him to get a lap back there. “That was something he didn’t have to do. I’m sure one day I’ll return the favor.”

Mike Shiplett, crew chief for Chastain, told his driver on the radio not to do that again.

He was already a couple of laps down and he was torn up,” Chastain said of letting Preece get a lap back. “I’ve been on the other side of that. I wish they would just give that little bit. I know Mike wasn’t happy, and I didn’t do it again.

“I ran as hard as I could to prove a point to him that I listened to him. If I could go back, I wouldn’t change it. I would do it again. It did let the second-place car close up to us for pit road, but our guys were so fast it didn’t matter.

“It didn’t matter if it was Preece or whoever. Those are the guys that I have raced with for years and I just wanted to be nice. Be nice every now and then. It’s not going to kill you. Just give a little bit.”

Preece got back on the lead lap less than 20 laps later when there was a caution and he got the free pass. He ended up having issues later in the race and never put himself in position to challenge for the win, but the move by Chastain to allow Preece to get a lap back could have backfired.

When he got the free pass later, I was like uh oh,” Chastain said. “I didn’t know if he was fast or what. If he comes back and beats me, I’m never going to live that down. It all worked out. I was just trying to be nice.”


When a car doesn’t have the speed to challenge the top cars, a team has to do other things to win.

Such is the case for Brad Keselowski’s No. 2 team, led by crew chief Paul Wolfe.

After each of Keselowski’s last three wins, Keselowski or Wolfe have talked about needing to find more speed. So, how have they won three races in a row?

It has helped that the Big 3 have had their issues in those races. Martin Truex Jr. was among the strongest at Darlington in the first half of the race before an uncontrolled tire put him a lap down and he didn’t get back on the lead lap until the end.

At Indy, Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch had issues on pit road that kept them from leading much of the race.

At Las Vegas, Harvick crashed and Busch spun.

So in each of those races, Keselowski didn’t have to beat each of the Big 3 head-to-head on speed.

Still, Keselowski had to outrun others to win. He did it with restarts, short-run speed and pit stops.

At Las Vegas, Keselowski fended off the field on the final three restarts and was stronger on short runs than Truex, whose car was set for long runs there.

“Our car was very good on restarts, would run fast for a few laps,” Wolfe said. “I think our car had some good stability. That’s really what it comes down to those first couple laps when everyone is jammed up and you don’t have a lot of clean air is having a lot of security, and our car seemed to be able to fire off really well, and the pit crew was really flawless.”

Four times Keselowski was first off pit road, gaining positions, and a fifth time he entered pit road first and left first at Las Vegas.

At Indy, Wolfe’s pit strategy put Keselowski in position to win on a late restart because of fresher tires than Danny Hamlin.

At Darlington, Keselowski beat Kyle Larson off pit road for the lead on the final pit stop and shot out to the lead on the restart. Keselowski led the final 22 laps to win.

“We have not been the best car the last three weeks,” Keselowski said after his Las Vegas win. “This week we were probably a top‑three or ‑four car. I didn’t get to see (Kevin Harvick) before he had his issue, but I thought he was running pretty good. He was obviously in front of me at one point. And him and (Martin Truex Jr.) were very strong. 

“The 78 (Truex) was clearly the best car, and we put everything together when it counted, and kind of stole it today. Same scenario the last two weeks. 

“I thought (Larson) was the best car in Darlington, and we hit the strategy right and executed the last pit stop and that put us in position to win. 

“And in Indy, we were nowhere near probably even a top‑10 car. We were probably a 15th‑place car, and Paul Wolfe hit the strategy right, and I hit the restart right to make all the passes when it counted and won that race. With that in mind, no, I feel like we stole the last three races. We’re not complaining, but we still have a lot of work to do to go out there and win heads up without those issues.”


It has been a rough year for the No. 60 Roush Fenway Racing Xfinity team.

Austin Cindric, Chase Briscoe and Ty Majeski have shared the ride throughout the season but last weekend’s race provided an all-too-familiar scene for that team — the car hitting the wall.

Briscoe’s crash at Las Vegas marked the 10th time in 26 races this season the No. 60 car has been eliminated by an accident.

The team has had only four top-10 finishes. Its best finish is seventh at Iowa with Ty Majeski.

Briscoe’s crash at Las Vegas was eerily reminiscent of Jeff Gordon‘s crash there in 2008 before a SAFER barrier was placed on the inside wall.

“I’m really disappointed right now in this speedway for not having a soft wall back there, and even being able to get to that part of the wall,” Gordon said after the crash. “That kind of hit shouldn’t happen. It’s just uncalled for. There’s no reason why any track should have that (kind of opening).”

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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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Front Row Motorsports bids highest for BK Racing but judge yet to approve sale

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Front Row Motorsports was the winning bidder for BK Racing at $2 million it was revealed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court on Tuesday, but the judge did not approve the sale.

Instead, Judge J. Craig Whitley continued the hearing to Thursday after objections from Glenn Thompson, attorney for Race Engines Plus (BK Racing’s engine supplier) and BK Racing car owner Ron Devine.

Thompson told the court that “I think everyone is upset with the outcome except the buyer.” He asked for the extension to see if there was a better solution.

Devine said in court: “The outcome is exactly what I predicted. We ought to slow the train.”

Judge Whitley responded: “You’re the one who started the show.”

Said Devine: “I started the show because of creditors. I started this to stop Union Bank.”

Devine put the team in Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Feb. 15 — three days before the Daytona 500 — to keep Union Bank & Trust from trying to take control of the team. Trustee Matt Smith was put in charge of the team March 28, relieving Devine of decision-making control.

With the extension, Judge Whitley stated in the court Tuesday: “Don’t read … that I’m opening bidding. This is a continuance and nothing more.”

David Schilli, attorney for Union Bank & Trust, which has stated in court documents that BK Racing owes the bank $9 million in loans and accrued interest, objected to the extension.

“The bank is not willing to let the bird in the hand go,” Schilli said in court. “We were hoping for a spirited competition at the auction and it didn’t happen. It’s time for the process to come to an end.”

The bid from Front Row Motorsports topped the $1.8 million bid from Mike Beam, president of GMS Racing. That was set as the minimum for Monday’s auction.

Although Trustee Matt Smith had said earlier this summer in court that there had been 29 interested parties that contacted him about the team or some of its assets, his attorney, Michael Martinez, said: “Frankly your honor, we’re disappointed in the outcome of the sale.” But Martinez asked the judge to approve the sale of the team.

Monday’s auction was said to have lasted about three minutes.

Jerry Freeze, general manager of Front Row Motorsports, said after the hearing that the team had plans for taking in BK Racing but was not ready to announce them. Front Row Motorsports already owns three charters, fielding the teams for David Ragan and Michael McDowell. The team leased its third charter to TriStar Motorsports. Front Row Motorsports bought a charter from BK Racing for $2 million in December 2016.

Devine said the court hearing ended: “I think we have a better offer than that. You can’t have the whole courtroom disappointed with the outcome of sale and then say somehow it worked. I like Bob Jenkins (owner for Front Row). If I don’t have it, I hope he gets it.

“Hopefully, the bank comes to its senses. I felt like the courtroom is finally coming around to realize that this is not the right thing to do.”

In court, Martinez, the attorney for Smith, stated that all that had been sold: Front Row Motorsports bid $2 million for BK Racing and $80,000 assets claimed by Champion Tire and Wheel.

Also, Martinez affirmed the previous sale of equipment to Obaika Racing for $265,000, which included a transporter and 19 chassis in various form from bare chassis to partial body and full body. It also was announced a sale of assets for $35,000 to Rick Ware Racing.

 

BK Racing to be sold Aug. 20; Ron Devine plans to bid for team

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — BK Racing owner Ron Devine said during a bankruptcy court hearing Thursday that he plans to make a bid to reclaim his NASCAR Cup team.

A bankruptcy judge approved a plan for BK Racing to be sold Aug. 20 (with bids due Aug. 13). A hearing is scheduled Aug. 21 so the court can approve the winning bidder.

There is a bid for $1.8 million for the team from Mike Beam, president of GMS Racing. Bids will start from there for BK Racing. Joining Beam in court Thursday as an observer was GMS Xfinity driver Spencer Gallagher.

Devine put BK Racing in Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Feb. 15. He said a day later that he made the move to prevent Union Bank and Trust, which claims it is owned more $9 million, from taking over the team and selling the charter. The IRS also claims it is owed money, along with several other groups and individuals.

A trustee was approved by the court to oversee the team, removing Devine from power, on March 28. The trustee has since determined that selling the team is the best route.

Trustee Matthew Smith defended his reasoning for selling the team on Tuesday by telling the court: “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. So I believe the right owner, transition of ownership, would be the best thing for this team.”

Smith provided testimony on Tuesday that “the cash flow (for the team) is exceptionally tight.”

He also said on the stand: “My current cash forecast … does show sufficient cash if I needed to go to the end of the season. I do not have the ability to run much past the end of the season.”

Smith said in court that since news of the plan to be sold, he has heard from 29 parties interested in BK Racing.

In court Thursday, Devine blamed the bank for the move to sell the team next month.

“It’s a fire drill …. driven by the bank,” Devine said.

BK Racing debuted in Cup in 2012. Among those who have driven for the team are Landon Cassill, Alex Bowman, Ryan Truex, Matt DiBenedetto, David Ragan, Corey LaJoie and Gray Gaulding.

The organization has three career top-10 finishes. The organization is running only the No. 23 car this season. That car ranks 34th among the 36 charter teams in owner points.

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BK Racing to be sold to satisfy creditors

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — BK Racing will be sold, the court-approved trustee operating the team said after a hearing Tuesday. Discussions are underway.

“We’re selling a race team, we’re not just selling a charter,’’ said Matt Smith, the trustee operating the team while it is in Chapter 11 bankruptcy. “So the charter is the largest asset in this case but it’s not the only asset. This is a viable race team and we’re trying to prove that each and every week. We’re meeting obligations of NASCAR by showing up and competing in good faith.

“This isn’t just a liquidation. What brings the best result to all creditors is the sale of a race team not just the sale of an asset.”

Smith would not reveal any potential suitors but said: “We’re looking at buyers that we would think do right by this team, that would be good for NASCAR, good for creditors and good for the employees. We’re looking for the right buyer that has the right offer for this team.”

Smith said that there have been conversations with “parties about their interest and trying to understand what their interest is and how they might be interested in putting an offer together.”

Any sale would have to be approved by the court and the trustee would have to show that he got the best price for the sale. Smith had no timetable for when the sale could be completed but said it would be “as soon as it is practical and works for the buyers and works for the requirement of the bankruptcy court.” Smith said that any buyer would get the team and not the liabilities the team faces.

“I think there needs to be a change in ownership in the team, and I think this process will do that,” Smith said. “I’m working really, really hard to make sure we get the right outcome for this team.”

Ron Devine was among those who started the team. BK Racing made its Cup debut in 2012. Devine had been a part of the ownership since. With mounting bills, including $9.25 million owed to Union Bank & Trust, BK Racing filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Feb. 15, three days before the Daytona 500. Devine said he made the filing to keep the bank from taking control of the team’s charter and selling it to reclaim money from loans owned.

Smith was approved by the court on March 28 to take over as trustee and operate the team, relieving Devine of his duties.

Gray Gaulding has driven the team’s No. 23 car all season. Gaulding finished 31st Sunday at Michigan International Speedway. The team is 35th in the car owner standings and ranks ahead of only one other team that has a charter.

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