NASCAR CEO Brian France spent nearly five years battling two Charlotte media outlets to keep details of a recent divorce sealed. The lengthy dispute prompted many across the motorsports world to wonder just what he was trying to keep from the public eye.
|France speaking to the media (left), and with former wife Megan in 2006
The answer, which came last week after the North Carolina Supreme Court unsealed the documents, was next to nothing. The only thing eye-opening in the roughly 1,500 pages of documents was that there was nothing unusual. Just specifics of his wealth, which was already well-known, and details of a conventionally contentious divorce case.
And the motorsports world responded with a shrug.
“Any time you seal anything you create great curiosity in the public, and it’s even greater the closer you get to the person,” said Humpy Wheeler, the former longtime president of Speedway Motorsports Inc. and Charlotte Motor Speedway. “I’m just glad there wasn’t anything in there, and I didn’t think there was going to be, that defamed anybody.”
The case, which began after France filed for a divorce in 2008, turned out to be more indicative of his personality than damaging to his reputation. Like his father, he is known for wanting things his way, and he wanted to keep the documents sealed, so he paid his Charlotte-based legal team at Horack Talley to take the case to the highest court in the state.
In doing so, the only thing he had to lose was money.
“Most people do not want their dirty laundry in public, but not a lot of people have the finances to argue about it and take it to the Supreme Court,” said Alan Krusch, a family law attorney in Charlotte. “If money is not an issue and you have the time and inclination, you can litigate a lot of things.”
Inside the Case Records
Information that was part of the divorce record that NASCAR Chairman & CEO Brian France fought for four years to keep private
Net worth as of September 2005
* A footnote to his 2005 financial statements stated: “Brian is likely to inherit substantial wealth from his parents, which, as of the date hereof, may be in the hundreds of millions of dollars and could exceed $1 billion.”
Employment income in 2004
|International Speedway Corp.||$48,390|
|NASCAR Digital Entertainment||$331,000|
Top executive salaries at that time*
|Bud Selig||$14.5 million|
|Paul Tagliabue||$9.58 million|
|Gary Bettman||$3.4 million|
NA: Not available; the NBA’s tax returns are not public because they are structured as a for-profit group.
* Salaries for fiscal year 2005
Sources: 990 tax filings
Property/investments owned in December 2007
■ $259 million in investments
■ $120 million in International Speedway Corp. stock
■ 3 airplanes with a combined estimated value of $58.3 million
■ 10 homes with a combined estimated value of $21.73 million
■ 84-foot Lazzara Yacht with an estimated value of $5.225 million
■ Luma on Park LLC, a restaurant in Winter Park, Fla., valued at $5 million
■ Accounts with Bank of America containing $3.375 million
■ Brand Sense Marketing, a licensing agent in Los Angeles valued at $2 million
■ Trois Restaurant and Taps Restaurant in Atlanta valued at a combined $1.3 million
■ 8 cars with a combined estimated value of $418,427
The unsealed records confirmed that France has more than enough wealth to litigate anything he chooses. His total assets topped $554.49 million in 2005 and his total income from NASCAR in 2004 was $9 million, according to financial documents released (see chart).
By comparison, in 2005 then-NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue made $9.58 million and MLB Commissioner Bud Selig made $14.5 million.
In addition to revealing dated details of France’s income and net worth, the documents detailed property and assets owned in 2007, including ownership of 10 homes valued at $21.73 million; eight cars valued at $418,427; three airplanes valued at $58.3 million; an 84-foot yacht valued at $5.2 million; $259 million in investments; and $120 million in International Speedway Corp. stock.
A 2005 financial statement added, “Brian is likely to inherit substantial wealth from his parents, which, as of the date hereof, may be in the hundreds of millions of dollars and could exceed $1 billion.”
Wheeler said that none of that came as a surprise, but it did make people who worked in the NASCAR industry over the last 50 years happy.
“There was a day when you couldn’t hardly scrape a dime together in this business,” Wheeler said. “I remember going fishing with both his grandfather and father wondering if I was going to get back to shore because I didn’t trust the boats they were in. Now, he’s got an 84-foot yacht. I know that will get back to shore.”
France married his second wife, Megan, divorced, remarried her and divorced again between 2001 and 2008. Following the 2008 divorce, the couple went to court over alimony and child care disputes.
According to their prenuptial agreement, France was to pay Megan $9 million plus $32,500 in alimony a month for 10 years and $10,000 a month in child custody. That was in addition to the $3.9 million award she got after their first divorce.
France allegedly began withholding alimony in 2008 and the pair wound up in court where France’s attorneys alleged Megan was trying to keep the court case open to the public in order to increase the amount of alimony she received. His legal team argued the case should remain confidential because there was “no public interest in knowing the business of the France’s other than voyeurism.”
“We’re just asking you to keep the media, Jeremy Mayfield, whoever else wants to peek, out of our business,” France’s attorney told the judge.
“Who is Jeremy Mayfield?” the judge asked.
“Jeremy Mayfield is a NASCAR driver,” France’s attorney said. “Mr. Mayfield was permanently suspended by NASCAR for failing some drug tests. … He has filed a federal lawsuit against my client and NASCAR and lots of other folks.”
The documents were punctuated by the typical back-and-forth of a couple in the midst of a divorce. Megan alleged France threatened to file “a whole lot more lawsuits” against her and hired a private investigator to follow her and, among other things, dig through her trash. France alleged that Megan wrote defamatory blog posts about him, and he confirmed that NASCAR’s legal team, led by general counsel Gary Crotty, investigated the postings.
France’s legal team gathered affidavits testifying to his fitness as a father from several NASCAR employees, including former chief operating officer Paul Brooks, then director of executive protection Greg Denels, then senior coordinator of executive services Michael Cook and then director of executive services Kelly Verlatti.
The issues that arose in France’s personal life, which were highlighted in the case, occurred at the same time he was taking over as NASCAR’s CEO. He stepped into that role for his father in 2003, filed for divorce less than a year later, remarried in 2005 and had twins in 2006. His father died soon after that, in June 2007, and Brian divorced again less than a year later. He married his current wife, Amy, a former personal accountant and assistant, in January 2009.