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

Ozzie Smith seeks a new partner to get his Wizard Motorsports on track

Former St. Louis Cardinal great Ozzie Smith may have been silky smooth at shortstop, but his Wizard Motorsports venture is sputtering to attract corporate interest.

Wizard Motorsports, which was formed last year in a partnership involving Smith, St. Louis NBC affiliate sportscaster Malcolm Briggs and St. Louis businessman Rod Wortham, had set its sights on this year's NASCAR Winston Cup series. But the group hasn't been able to attract a sponsor, scuttling any hopes of running in NASCAR's premier — and costliest — series.

Now, the team is negotiating with Chicago Motor Speedway owner Charles Bidwill III to raise money with the hopes of running in the second-tier NASCAR Busch Grand National series, where costs would run about $2 million per team compared to $10 million or more for a Winston Cup team.

Bidwill is another newcomer to motorsports with an ambitious $64 million joint-venture project with CART team owner Chip Ganassi to turn the aging Sportsman's Park horse racing track into one-mile oval Chicago Motor Speedway.

Bidwill, in addition to owning Sportsman's Park, also owns 20 percent of the Casino Queen riverboat in East St. Louis, three dog tracks in Florida and an Old Style beer distributorship in Chicago. Bidwill's father is also the major stockholder in the Churchill Downs horse racing track.

"I figured we'd be able to pull the trigger a lot sooner," Briggs said. "I thought we'd be done with it, so we approached Bidwill three weeks ago."

Wizard Motorsports has planned to get a team in place for the Busch Grand National CarQuest Auto Parts 250 set for Oct. 17 at the Gateway International Speedway outside St. Louis. But without Bidwill, the team won't be able to afford to lease, much less buy into the race, and it may be next year before Wizard Motorsports gets up and running.

"We're hoping to go full-blown in Busch Grand National in 1999 and then in Winston Cup in 2000," Briggs said.

But that won't happen before Bidwill and a corporate sponsor sign on.

Sources close to Bidwill said that while negotiations continue, no deal is imminent.

"There have been some serious discussions but it is not a done deal yet," the source said. "We will know one way or the other in 30 days."

For Bidwill, becoming a Wizard Motorsports partner may be an avenue to attract more racing to his own Chicago Motor Speedway venture. While the track will have a race in Championship Auto Racing Teams' FedEx Series in the fall of 1999, Bidwill and Ganassi want to have at least three auto racing events each year.

NASCAR's Winston Cup series draws both the largest crowds in U.S. auto racing and the highest television ratings. But the series already has 34 events on its calendar next year, so any expansion into new markets such as Chicago would likely come only at the expense of one of the existing venues.

NASCAR's Busch Grand National series, however, could be an option since NASCAR has used it to push beyond its traditional base in the Southeast. It has also paved the way for new tracks in Homestead, Fla., and Las Vegas to step up to the Winston Cup series.

"[Bidwill] is interested in becoming a partner, and it's a diversification into racing," the Bidwill source said. "It's one more way to get a Winston Cup race."

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