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What the NASCAR-ISC merger means for Speedway Motorsports, future of NASCAR

Katherine Peralta and Brendan Marks, The Charlotte Observer on

Published in Auto Racing

NASCAR's $2 billion deal to purchase International Speedway Corporation, one of the sport's two main track operators, could end up putting pressure on the other major track owner: Concord, N.C.-based Speedway Motorsports.

ISC currently owns and operates 12 tracks used in the NASCAR Cup Series. With NASCAR assuming control of those tracks, the sanctioning body may favor its tracks over SMI's when it comes time to renegotiate the 2021 NASCAR schedule.

Some context: NASCAR's current contractual agreements with its tracks expire after the 2020 season, meaning new agreements will need to be reached before 2021. The sanctioning body already revamped its schedule for 2020, but given the current agreements with both ISC and SMI -- the only NASCAR tracks not owned by one of those two operators are Indianapolis, Dover, and Pocono -- NASCAR's hands were somewhat tied as far as eliminating specific races or venues.

But given NASCAR president Steve Phelps' clear willingness to shorten the sport's grueling 36-race schedule, it would be a surprise if some of those changes don't come about by 2021.

Those new contract negotiations are what makes the timing of this move so key for both NASCAR and, as a result, SMI.

NASCAR could favor the 12 new tracks it will inherit as part of the ISC merger, meaning the sanctioning body would lean more heavily on those tracks it owns than those operated by SMI, including Charlotte Motor Speedway. The idea of rotating NASCAR's All-Star Race away from its longtime home in Concord has already been broached, and other venues could also see one or both of their races eliminated.

 

"NASCAR buying a track (operator) is called vertical integration and often considered to be an anti-competitive attempt to monopolize an industry. SMI will certainly feel the heat on their bottom line," Vanderbilt sports economics professor John Vrooman said in an email.

This NASCAR-ISC merger, which was first broached last fall and is expected to be finalized this summer, also comes at a time when Speedway Motorsports is trying to take itself private.

Last month, SMI CEO Marcus Smith told shareholders that Sonic Financial intends to buy all the outstanding shares of Speedway Motorsports, in a deal worth more than $734 million.

Sonic Financial is a holding company owned by Smith's father and SMI chairman Bruton Smith. A Speedway Motorsports spokesman would not comment. "Given the Smith Group's role in the sport and involvement in the company, we believe we are the best party to lead the company through the challenges ahead," Smith wrote in his letter to shareholders.

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