SBJ/September 21 - 27, 1998/No Topic Name

Chip Ganassi studies possible NASCAR bid

Perhaps no one is more eager to see CART team owner Chip Ganassi buy a NASCAR team than officials at Chicago Motor Speedway. Ganassi is also a partner in the speedway, which will need races on its calendar when it opens next fall and which already faces the prospect of a rival track.

Chicago Motor Speedway, a privately financed $64 million joint venture between Ganassi and Sportsman's Park President Charles Bidwill III, is transforming the aging horse racing track into an auto racing and thoroughbred racing facility. The speedway is expected to announce a race for Championship Auto Racing Teams' FedEx Series set for sometime next fall.

Ganassi, whose Target racing team has won three consecutive CART championships, is considering buying a team on the widely popular NASCAR circuit. Ganassi officials said that "it's an idea that Chip has thrown around."

"It will only help to have one of your partners in the NASCAR circuit," said Ed Duffy, president and chief executive officer of Chicago Motor Speedway. "But it's not the only way to make [getting a NASCAR event] happen. We've made it very well-known to NASCAR officials that we have strong interest. In all fairness to Chip, we are not saying that he has to get it done."

While the prospect that Ganassi could help attract a NASCAR race to the untapped Chicago market exists, it won't come easily or cheaply.

"I think [Ganassi] could eventually bring NASCAR to Chicago, but he'd have to stand in line," said Tim Frost, a Chicago-based auto racing consultant. Frost said it will cost $10 million to $12 million to buy a NASCAR team. "As a NASCAR team owner, you're nothing more than a franchise. Having Ganassi in NASCAR would help Chicago Motor Speedway, but you've got to prove yourself before you're awarded a date. There are only 34 NASCAR events, and the older tracks are worried about losing dates."

Sportsman's Park shut down June 30 and will be a vastly different venue when it reopens in fall 1999. The revamped facility will feature a one-mile oval auto racing track and a new seven-eighth-mile thoroughbred track and new barns. Seating capacity will start at 67,000 and be increased to 90,000.

Chicago Motor Speedway officials said they'll push to attract not only a NASCAR race but any other racing series as well.

As construction continues at the speedway, other racing entities are eyeing the Chicago market, creating the potential for keen competition.

Speedway Motorsports Inc. has optioned 540 acres outside Chicago, while the International Speedway Corp. holds an option on 830 acres in Plano, Ill.

Analysts' reports predict that, despite the surge of interest in the Chicago market, there is room for only two tracks.

"We continue to believe that no more than two tracks [and only one superspeedway] will be built in this market despite the numerous projects under consideration, and that such a facility could involve further partnerships among the key industry competitors," Chris Hansen, an auto racing analyst with NationsBanc Montgomery Securities, said in a recent report.

Because International Speedway Corp. is controlled by the France family, which runs NASCAR, any facility it might build would have be considered the front-runner in efforts to bring big-time stock car racing to the Chicago area. Likewise, Speedway Motorsports is already an established player in the sport with tracks in North Carolina, Georgia, Texas and California.

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