Steve Phelps

NASCAR President Steve Phelps discusses future goals

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — While NASCAR reaches the midway point of the 2019 season at Daytona International Speedway, much of the sport’s focus is on the upcoming seasons with schedules to set, a new car to develop and other potential changes.

NASCAR President Steve Phelps addressed many of those issues in a meeting with reporters this weekend.

Among the takeaways:

# Phelps said he does not anticipate races being cut from the 2021 schedule.

# Phelps said the sport continues to look at shortening races but noted there needs to be a balance in race lengths.

# Phelps said that NASCAR remains “on track” for the Gen 7 car to debut in 2021 even though he admitted there are some in the garage that 2022 might work better for.

# Phelps said that it is a fair statement to say that there’s not likely to be a new manufacturer before 2022.

On the topic of the number of races for the 2021 schedule, which is expected to be announced around April 1, Phelps said: “The current thinking as I see it: We will not reduce the number of races in 2021. Again, I would say it’s on the table but part of it has to do with our broadcast partners. I would suggest they would like to have more NASCAR content, more NASCAR races because it drives ratings. Do I think we would have a shortening of the number of races? I would say that would be unlikely in 2021.”

On shortening races, Phelps said: “We have taken down the length of some races. Is it something we are looking at? Yes, it’s something we are looking at. We balance the length of the races. There are many fans that say, ‘I’m good with the length of the races.’ There are other fans who are like, “You know, I wish they were a little bit shorter.’ We’re trying to find that sweet spot. But it’s something we’d look at, and we are looking at it.”

On the rollout for the Gen 7 car, Phelps said: “What I would say is we are on track for a 2021 launch of a new chassis and body style. When that engine follows is a question. There are those within the industry that would say, “Hey, why don’t you just introduce one car?” Are we on track to have a body and chassis in 2021 that would be what we currently call Gen 7? The answer is yes. Do I think we’re going to meet that deadline and go with it? I think it’s likely that we would. We have a lot of stakeholders in this garage that we need to make sure are feeling as good as we are about where that car is and when it should be introduced. If I had to guess will it be 2021, that would be my guess.

Phelps was asked that with a new car and new engine coming if there is no chance of a new manufacturer before 2022, Phelps said: “I think that’s a fair statement.”

NASCAR President anticipates changes to 2021 schedule but not wholesale moves

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While NASCAR President Steve Phelps anticipates changes to the 2021 Cup schedule, he said Friday that “I don’t think there are going to be massive wholesale changes” to the schedule.

There is an anticipation for the 2021 Cup schedule because NASCAR’s five-year sanctioning agreements with tracks end after 2020 and give series officials more flexibility in reshaping where the series will race.

Phelps was asked about where things stood with the 2021 schedule Friday in an interview on “The Morning Drive” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

“We don’t have the schedule dialed in for 2021,” Phelps said. “Lots of discussions about where we would race. I think if you would look at the 2020 schedule, we moved things around and I think the fans, again from the research that we did, by and large were thrilled with the changes we made.

“I think there was an industry buzz. The drivers were excited, the teams were excited and most importantly, the fans were excited, but we’re racing at the same race tracks, the same number at each race track. So in 2021, we have new sanctions that we need to do for 2021 that will obviously dictate where we go.

“Will we go to exactly the same number of race tracks, the exact same number of events? We probably won’t. I don’t think there are going to be massive wholesale changes.

“With that said, we’re going to continue to listen to what the fans have to say because this is their sport and we need to make sure that we are giving them what they want. So a lot of listening, a lot of dialogue, working with our broadcast partners, working with our teams and our drivers, our OEM partners … hey, where do you want to be, what do you want to see, where would you like to race? So that’s the first part of the 2021 piece, a work in progress.”

Phelps also was asked about plans for the Gen 7 car, which is expected to debut in 2021.

“As it relates to a new car, it’s something we’re working very hard with our race teams and with our auto manufacturers, Chevy, Ford and Toyota, and they’ve been great partners to try to get us to where we are today,” Phelps said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “I would say that we are on track.

“We look at the car in two pieces, right? So there is the body itself, chassis/body, and then you have the engine. The engine most likely would be a 2022 piece, so we have to determine to go new body style in 2021 or do you go new body style and engine at the same time in 2022?

“We’re trying to give ourselves some flexibility there, again we’re working with our race teams and their (manufacturers) to make sure that we do this right so we can put the best car on the race track that provides great racing as well as great styling that would have more kind of how the car (continues) to look even more like its showroom counterpart.”

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NASCAR inks deal with Genius Sports to create live betting product

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NASCAR announced Friday a multi-year deal with Genius Sports for the company to be the exclusive provider of NASCAR data to licensed sportsbooks. The new agreement is the first step toward creating an advanced live betting product.

“This is exciting for us as a league and as a sport in what we believe we can accomplish,” NASCAR President Steve Phelps said Friday at Dover International Speedway.

This access to NASCAR’s official data will allow Genius Sports to create a real-time gaming platform that provides up-to-the-minute odds and a variety of traditional wagers and prop bets.

“NASCAR fans are some of the most devoted in the world, and we look forward to helping them to create a deeper, more connected experience that is both safe and secure as the business of sports betting continues to evolve in the U.S.,” said Mark Locke, Genius Sports CEO, in a statement. “Furthermore, our global relationships will help bring the excitement of NASCAR racing to new audiences both within the U.S. and in new territories around the world.”

Genius Sports is partnered with the NBA and NCAA and an integrity partner with the Premier League and PGA Tour.

SMI receives offer from Sonic Financial Corp. to acquire all outstanding shares of common stock

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Speedway Motorsports Inc. announced Wednesday that it has received a non-binding proposal from Sonic Financial Corp. to acquire all outstanding shares of common stock other than those already held by Sonic.

Bruton Smith and his family own and control Sonic Financial Corp. Smith is the founder and majority stakeholder in Speedway Motorsports Inc. SMI operates eight tracks that host Cup races, including Charlotte Motor Speedway, Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway.

This action follows NASCAR’s non-binding offer Nov. 9 to acquire all of the outstanding shares of Class A and B common stock of International Speedway Corp. not already owned by the controlling shareholders of NASCAR.  That offer has not been completed. There is a class-action suit in a Florida court on behalf of the Firemen’s Retirement System of St. Louis regarding the purchase price for the outstanding stock.

The separate offers to ISC and SMI would make both companies private. That could allow both companies to be more receptive to future schedule changes without the pressure of trying to appease outside investors.

When asked about future agreements with tracks, NASCAR President Steve Phelps said earlier this month on the Dale Jr. Download: “We have to do some things differently. Fans want us to do things differently, and I think we need to do it as quickly as we can within reason, understanding that there are three legs to that stool and one of those legs are the tracks.”

The Sonic Financial Corp. offer for the outstanding SMI stock is for $18 per share. The stock closed at $13.94 on Tuesday. The stock was up to $18.46 by 11 a.m. Wednesday and finished the day at $18.55. The 52-week high for the stock was $18.36. SMI’s board has formed a special committee to consider the offer. Mark M. Gambill, James P. Holden and Tom E. Smith, each of whom is an independent director of the Company, to act on behalf of the Company to consider the proposal by Sonic Financial. Tom E. Smith is not related to Bruton Smith or his family.

Here is the letter from Sonic Financial Corp. to the Board of Directors for SMI:

Sonic Financial Corporation (“SFC”) is pleased to submit this non-binding proposal to acquire all of the outstanding shares of stock of Speedway Motorsports, Inc. (the “Company” or “TRK”) that are not owned by SFC, O. Bruton Smith, his family and entities controlled by Mr. Smith and his family (collectively with SFC, the “Smith  Group”),  for  cash  consideration  of  $18.00  per  share  (our  “Proposal”).  As  you  know,  the  Smith  Group  beneficially  owns,  directly  or  indirectly, approximately 29 million shares of TRK, and controls over 70% of the voting power of TRK.

We believe that our Proposal reflects an extremely attractive value to the Company’s public stockholders. Specifically, $18.00 per share represents a significant premium of 31% to yesterday’s closing price and 26% to the 30-day volume-weighted average price per share of $14.27 as of April 22, 2019.

As you know, NASCAR racing has faced several challenges in recent years, and the Company has been impacted by these challenges. NASCAR has indicated the sport would benefit from structural change. We believe TRK would be more able to compete in this challenging and changing environment as a private company.

SFC and members of the Smith Group are best-positioned to continue to manage and oversee the Company as a private company. Mr. Bruton Smith, Executive Chairman and founder of the Company, has been a pioneer in the motorsports business since the sport’s beginning. His ingenuity and vision for the sport have been highly instrumental in the motorsports business for decades, and the sport has recognized his contributions by inducting him into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

Additionally, Mr. Marcus Smith, the current Chief Executive Officer of the Company, has played a key role in the motorsports industry and has also been an important figure in the evolution of the sport and the Company over the past several years. Given the Smith Group’s role in the sport and involvement in the Company, we believe we are the best party to lead the Company through the challenges ahead.

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Bristol official responds to report regarding Nashville efforts

Fairgounds Speedway Nashville
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An executive involved in Speedway Motorsports Inc.’s efforts to bring NASCAR national series racing back to Fairgrounds Speedway in Nashville, Tennessee, responded Tuesday to a report about the company’s talks with city officials.

SMI officials have had discussions with Mayor David Briley and his administration about how to finance the upgrades needed to the track to bring NASCAR national series races there. The Tennessean reported Tuesday that SMI pitched a plan that called for $54 million in bond payments and $2 million cash from the city. The proposal was rejected by Briley’s administration.

Jerry Caldwell, executive vice president and general manager of Bristol Motor Speedway, issued a statement responding to The Tennessean’s article.

“Our very first step has been to engage Mayor Briley to explore potential renovation of the speedway that would allow major races to return to Nashville. This renovation can be accomplished through a cooperative partnership by utilizing revenues from increased activity at the Fairgrounds and private investment without the use of current Metro tax dollars.

“Recognizing that the city has an obligation to maintain their racetrack long into the future, we are offering an opportunity for private partnership that delivers an attractive, long-term solution to improve a historic, public treasure that has been in decline in recent years.

“We look forward to sharing our proposal with the Fair Board, Councilman (Colby) Sledge and the neighboring community. We are confident that this partnership will achieve a brighter, more successful future for the speedway, the Fairgrounds and the community. We appreciate interest by the mayor and Fair Board so far because in the end we all want the same thing – a first class facility.”

During Tuesday’s Fair Board meeting, board member Jason Bergeron lamented a “transparency problem” with plans Speedway Motorsports Inc. has for Fairgrounds Speedway.

“It’s been eight months and we haven’t heard any details, and I don’t think there’s been any real talks with the community … it’s just a little frustrating,” Bergeron said during the meeting, according to video by The Tennessean. “We have these renovations ready to go with the speedway. It keeps going on and on. We have no concrete proposal and there has been no real engagement with the community.”

When asked earlier this month about Nashville hosting a national series race, NASCAR President Steve Phelps said on the Dale Jr. Download: “What’s going to happen moving forward into 2021? Are we going to be racing in Nashville or not? I don’t know. I know that at least I’ve been told, (Speedway Motorsports, Inc. CEO) Marcus (Smith) has had discussions with the folks in Nashville at the fairgrounds.

“How likely is that going to happen? Right now he has no sanctioning agreement for 2021, so he can’t bring anything there. If he wants to bring something there, obviously NASCAR has to have an involvement. They are our dates. We will absolutely (get involved) when it’s time.”