TRAC Series Getting On Track

CONCORD, N.C. – Texas Motor Speedway finally got its two dates. And they are for stock cars.

But, no, NASCAR isn’t coming to Texas for a second Winston Cup race. But TMS will get two Team Racing Auto Circuit races as part of TRAC’s announcement of its cars and some of its venues for the 2003 season.

TRAC unveiled three bright-red cars to a large crowd of potential investors at a press conference at Lowe’s Motor Speedway’s Winston Cup garage area Wednesday afternoon. TRAC officials also announced an affiliation with five Speedway Motorsports tracks – Lowe’s, Texas, Atlanta, Las Vegas and Bristol – in addition to some other news.

The three cars, a Ford Mustang, a Dodge Viper and a Corvette, were built by Riley & Scott Race Car Engineering in Indianapolis. They will be powered by Katech 7-liter fuel-injected engines. Though they look more like Trans-Am road-course cars, TRAC officials say they are full-blooded stock cars.

Much like NASCAR Winston Cup or Busch Series cars. Let’s see … stock cars on ovals. Just like NASCAR.

But TRAC officials say they aren’t taking on the behemoth in Daytona beach.

“We don’t consider them a competitor at all,” TRAC president and chief operating officer Jon Pritchett said. “We’ve learned a lot from what they’ve done. They’ve been very successful. We’ve also tried to take as much as we can from other series, and particularly as much as we can from team sports to try to create a unique model.

“We want to broaden the fan base, we want to bring in new fans. We have no interest in either alienating NASCAR or their fans or trying to steal market share.”

Even H.A. “Humpy” Wheeler, the president of Lowe’s Motor Speedway, said his association with TRAC shouldn’t hurt his relationship with NASCAR.

“I don’t think so,” Wheeler said. “NASCAR is owned by the France family, and the France family owns the majority of the stock in ISC, and ISC has big race tracks like we that stand empty most of the time. If there’s something they can run on it and make money, I’m sure they’ll be taking a look at it.

“It’s probably a wait-and-see attitude by them now.”

But Wheeler said it’s “better to have motorsports competition. The more the merrier.”

In that light, Pritchett couldn’t help taking a subtle shot at NASCAR, referring to TRAC’s “muscle cars” vs. NASCAR’s “family sedans.”

“Traditional team sports meets authentic full-fendered racing,” Pritchett said. “If you haven’t noticed, we’re not racing the family sedan here.”

The TRAC series will be different from NASCAR, there’s no doubt. TRAC officials plan to field 10 three-car teams in different markets. The three-car teams will compete on a regional or city-wide basis, much like major-league franchises. For instance, the “Charlotte Storm” will race at its home track, Lowe’s Motor Speedway, against the nine other teams.

Four other teams will be based at the SMI tracks. The remaining five teams and tracks will be announced “very soon,” Pritchett said. TRAC officials have reached agreements with other tracks but haven’t finalized leases yet, pending agreements with owner/operators of teams at those tracks.

TRAC officials said they have spoken with officials from International Speedway Corp., the company that owns the Daytona International Speedway and others and is routinely association with the France family and NASCAR.

“Our position is, when we find the right owner-operator, we will be knocking on the door,” Pritchett said. “We see no downside to any track. We’re providing content here. Without undue risk, you have an opportunity for incremental revenues as a track owner.

“I’d assume if we had the right team owner in the right market, we’d be racing at ISC tracks.”

Under the team concept, scoring will be based on the finishes of the three cars, not on an individual basis like NASCAR.

There will be 22 races, starting April 6 next year at Lowe’s Motor Speedway, hosted by the Charlotte/Carolina team. Each city will host two events, and there will be an All-Star race and a “World Championship.”

Owner/operators are being sought for the 10 cities and/or regions. TRAC chief executive officer Bill Miller will be the first owner, but which team he operates has yet to be determined.

If enough owners aren’t found to fill the 10 slots, the league itself would operate the remaining teams. But Pritchett said that was an “outside chance” that would happen.

Team owners will pay $11 million for a franchise, $2.5 million for nine cars and three haulers, $2.5 million for equity in the publicly-traded league and $6 million for territorial operating rights. Each team will share revenue from several sources, including TV, ticket sales, merchandise, etc.

Pritchett said teams should expect income in the $10-11 million range, with annual expenses of $8-9 million, based on projections.

“At least you’re buying something,” said former Winston Cup champion Cale Yarborough, who is a spokesman for the league. “Speaking as an ex-team owner in Winston Cup, you don’t have anything to sell when it’s over with. When you go out of business, the only thing you can do is have a fire sale, and usually the checks you get from a fire sale bounce.

“You’ll have something to sell and something to get your money back.”

There are several other facets of competition that haven’t been ironed out.

“All the stuff that you’re going to hear about certainly will not be announced today because some it’s still in the incubation period and hasn’t been decided yet,” Wheeler said.

One of those is a television deal. TRAC officials said the series is nearing a deal with a network that will also include cable. That would seem to indicate either ABC/ESPN or CBS/TNN because FOX and NBC already have NASCAR races.

“We’re very close,” said Robert Wussler, the former president of CBS who is chairmain of TRAC’s parent company. “We hope to have another major announcement on that subject in the next couple of weeks.”

Being aligned with SMI is likely a major coup for TRAC.

“We looked long and hard at this,” Wheeler said. “I knew that anything that Bob Wussler was involved with was going to be first-class.”

Some other differences:

Drivers: Applications are being sorted out. Owners will pick six drivers for their teams, three starters and three backups. They will be paid a base salary (likely $200,000) and will receive incentives based on performance.

“Our business plan is to start building the teams and make the racing fun and use that team affinity and then build stars,” Pritchett said. “That’s not to say there won’t be some recognizable names, whether they be from any form of NASCAR or open-wheel or road-racing. Our structure is going to attract some really talented drivers.”

Qualifying: “We imagine we’re going to have a unique qualifying format on Friday afternoon or Friday night,” Pritchett said. “It may be something like a relay or something unique, other than just time trial.”

Traveling medical team: “We will have that,” Wussler said. “There is no question that a traveling medical unit will be part of the TRAC operation.”

Saturday afternoon/night races: “That indicates to me somewhat that we probably won’t be competing directly against Winston Cup TV races,” Wheeler said.

Sponsorship: Primary sponsors will be prominent on the cars but won’t dominate like Winston Cup sponsors because of the team affiliation. Pritchett said if a team loses a primary sponsor, they won’t have to shut down.

“We have specifically built the business plan so that while sponsors are important, they’re not crucial,” Pritchett said. “There’s enough revenue-sharing in place through licensing and ticket sales and television.”

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