CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — No one wanted a charter in 2018, when Barney Visser wanted to sell NASCAR’s most valuable current franchise.
Visser had won the 2017 Cup Series title with Furniture Row Racing and Martin Truex Jr. A heart attack followed by bypass surgery prevented Visser from competing in the final two races of the year, when Furniture Row became the first team with only one car since 1992 to win a championship. He was still too ill to travel in December of that year to pick up the hardware.
So he decided to quit the game.
Visser couldn’t find any buyers for the charter he purchased from NASCAR with a new revenue model designed to give race teams something tangible for their participation, so he asked Spire Sports + Entertainment to help him find a buyer.
The motorsports marketing agency found the market was dead.
Undaunted, Visser convinced Spire that a charter one year removed from a championship would recoup its $6 million purchase value in 2018 in two years of guaranteed NASCAR payments to chartered teams. And that’s how Spire Motorsports got into the race car and charter collection business in a way that kept the revenue flowing while creating significant value in the NASCAR business.
Last weekend Spire at Bristol was part of a convoluted deal where he purchased the charter from Live Fast Motorsports on behalf of Trackhouse Racing. Under the agreement, Spire will run Zane Smith in a third Cup car while Trackhouse works to expand to three cars full-time. Smith will eventually join Trackhouse and that card will likely follow him to his new team.
Is it worth it? The Athletic reported that Live Fast received $40 million in the settlement. Live Fast plans to downsize to a part-time team and operate without a charter.
And the Spire? Well, next season will have an overhauled three-car lineup that includes the recently expanded Corey Lajoie. He’ll definitely get some of Trackhouse’s money, too; the team in a week signed the agreement with Smith and a development agreement with Shane van Gisbergen from New Zealand.
There’s no doubt that Trackhouse is making bold moves, but none of this would be possible without Spire. When Trackhouse owner Justin Marks took ownership, Spire leased the team its first charter. When Kaulig Racing transitioned from an Xfinity Series team to a Cup team, it purchased a pair of charters from Spire.
Spire single-handedly kicked off the charter market and increased the value of the franchise tag.
“I think if you look at the list of Cup Series organizations, you would be hard pressed to find any that are more transparent about their ambitions and intentions than these two organizations,” Spire President Bill Anthony said of Trackhouse and Spire.
He praised Spire owners Jeff Dickerson and TJ Puchyr for the deal with Trackhouse, which Anthony said is consistent with their ambitions.
“We have demonstrated and overcome each of these circumstances; this is certainly a doubling for the future of this sport,” she said. “That’s not to say there isn’t work to be done with NASCAR and the rental agreement, but I think we believe in all the people in the garage and all the people in NASCAR.”
The charter move comes as NASCAR and its teams are engaged in something of a labor battle, with the latter demanding a better revenue model. One of the most important demands remains the teams’ desire for charters to become permanent. The cards are currently renewable and revocable, and NASCAR appears unwilling to compromise on the issue.
Denny Hamlin said three weeks ago that the talks between the teams and NASCAR were terrible. The winner of Saturday’s race at Bristol is a co-owner with Michael Jordan of 23XI Racing, but he directed all questions about the job to NASCAR president Jim France.
“I think the teams’ request was very legitimate and not out of line,” Hamlin said. “You’re going to have to chase Jim down and ask for a reason because there really wasn’t a good reason, but the answer was ‘No.’
If $40 million actually went to Live Fast – Trackhouse money, Spire money or a combination of both – the value of a charter would have increased sixfold since Visser convinced Dickerson and Puychr to get involved. Not to mention all the deals Spire has done before this latest venture.
If you’re desperate for a charter, you call Spire, and Hamlin himself had to do it for the 23XI. Dickerson and Puychr may not have the card themselves, but they are the experts on how to get one.
“We really appreciate this opportunity to offer support to someone who is important in the box,” Anthony said. “This partnership and affiliation demonstrates everyone’s commitment to the sport. It shows that we are optimistic about the future of NASCAR and what it can be and what we can be in it.”
Spire set out to create this market and created something out of nothing. Its owners believe they have worked hard and whether they spent $6 million or $40 million on a charter, it belongs to them in the same way the New York Yankees franchise belongs to the Steinbrenner family.
It’s tempting to point to Spire, who needed a bank loan to get Visser’s card just three years ago, as a success story (and also why NASCAR needs to safeguard the cards from hedge funds and those who they don’t take racing seriously). But there is also a compelling case for Kaulig or 23XI or other teams who bought at high prices and have nothing but the paper the statute is printed on.
The charter market is healthy, Spire doesn’t get enough credit to bring it to life. But NASCAR needs to find a way to ensure the money and interest keeps flowing.
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