International Speedway Corp. will announce today that it has purchased Martinsville Speedway, an industry source said, in what will be a day of several major announcements regarding NASCAR's future.
International Speedway Corp., which owns 11 tracks that host NASCAR Nextel Cup races, will purchase Martinsville Speedway from the Earles and France families, said the source who declined to be identified.Clay Campbell, president of Martinsville Speedway, did not return calls. Campbell, who will remain as the track's president, is expected to attend an 11 a.m. ISC news conference at Richmond International Raceway announcing the sale. He'll return to Martinsville Speedway for a 2 p.m. news conference there.
An official with International Speedway Corp., would not confirm the transaction.
"I can't say anything," ISC spokesman David Talley said Thursday night. "Once our press conference is over we'll have further details on a lot of news that is going to be made."
Also to be announced today are:
- North Carolina Speedway's lone remaining Cup date will move to Texas Motor Speedway, giving it two Cup races a year.
- Darlington Raceway will lose one of its two Cup races with that event moving to Phoenix International Raceway. Darlington's lone race, the Southern 500 is expected to be moved from November to May and be a night race.
- Further details on the 2005 Cup schedule.
- NASCAR officials also will announce the settlement of a lawsuit between shareholders of Speedway Motorsports Company, which owns six tracks that host Cup races, and NASCAR.
The shareholders alleged that NASCAR went back on a promise to give Texas Motor Speedway a second date.
Speed Channel will broadcast NASCAR's news conference at 9:30 a.m. and is tentatively scheduled to show ISC's news conference afterward.
International Speedway Corp.'s purchase of Martinsville Speedway marks the first time the company has bought a track that hosts Cup races in five years. ISC bought Richmond International Raceway from Paul Sawyer and his sons in 1999 for about $215 million.
Eighteen of the 36 Cup races this season will be held at ISC-owned tracks, including Daytona, Talladega and Darlington.
Martinsville, which has hosted at least one NASCAR race a year since 1949, was one of four family-owned tracks that host Cup races. The three remaining tracks are Indianapolis, New Hampshire and Pocono.
Rumors surfaced in March that Martinsville Speedway would be sold but Campbell denied them.
"It's been in my family from day one," Campbell said, referring to his grandfather, H. Clay Earles, who opened the track in 1947. "We have never had any desire to get out of the business. I like what I do. The rest of the family that is involved in it, they like it. Really we have no reason at this point to do it."
But Campbell admitted he would consider selling the track at some point. That was a change in tone from comments he had made in previous years when the track was rumored to be for sale.
"I'm not saying it will never be done because I can't look that far down the road," Campbell said in March. "Going forward, if something came along that was worth looking at it, yeah, we'd look at it. Right now, I'm not going to do it. I want to preserve the history of Martinsville Speedway and continue with the great racing we have there now and carry it on down the road."
So the question becomes what happens to Martinsville? The 92,000-seat track, which has had 21 consecutive sellouts, will retain its two dates next season, but the future is murky.
"I wouldn't be surprised at some point if Martinsville totally goes away," says Tim Conder, a leisure analyst who specializes in the racing industry for A.G. Edwards, one of the nation's largest and oldest investment firms. "I'd put that somewhere on the long-term endangered list."
Conder later defined "long-term" as three to five years.
Critics note that Martinsville is not near a major metropolitan center and that four other tracks with Cup races - Richmond, Bristol, Darlington and Lowe's Motor Speedway near Charlotte - are within a four-hour drive of the track. Thus, the doom and gloom predictions for Martinsville.
"Who knows what tomorrow is going to bring, but in the foreseeable future I think they're solid on the schedule," said Jim Hunter, NASCAR vice president, on Martinsville's future.
If that meant one or two races, Hunter would not say.
Virginia Gov. Mark Warner challenged NASCAR officials Thursday, noting that the series could upset some fans by moving too many races out of the Southeast.
"If NASCAR, which grew up in small communities all over the Southeast, keeps moving to the major markets, I think they're going to lose a part of NASCAR's heritage," Gov. Warner said. "I'm going to do all I can to encourage NASCAR and the friends at Nextel ... to make sure we don't lose those races."
He offered no specifics.
Humpy Wheeler, president of Lowe's Motor Speedway, says that these schedule changes are a sign of the sport's growth.
"The bottom line is that if you don't have 100,000 seats and you don't have the ability to sell 100,000 tickets for your race," he says, "there's no way to stay in the game."
\ Contact Dustin Long at 373-7062 or email@example.com