In June 2018, the world was stunned to learn that NASCAR had been purchased by a large company based in Germany. The company, known for its Bundesliga soccer clubs, boasts a long history in motorsport, with iconic brands like Mercedes-Benz, and BMW being associated with the sport. The new company, which will be called “NASCAR GmbH” and is officially registered in North Carolina, USA, will begin operating during the 2019 racing season. It’s still unclear how product integration will work, or what this means for the future of NASCAR in its current form. But it’s clear that something big happened in the off-season.
Here’s a breakdown of what we know so far:
A Brief History Of NASCAR
The first organized motorsport series was the Indianapolis 500, held annually in Indianapolis from 1911 to 1936, when it was moved to something called the World Speedway. In 1935, NASCAR was formed as a series of races in the South, organized by the National Association of Racing Drivers, commonly known as the “Strictly Stock” division. The name is derived from the automobiles (called “strictly”) that were used during these races – no hybrids, no electric cars, and no modified vehicles.
Over the years, the races have become progressively more prestigious and popular:
- 1935 – First National Championship
- 1946 – Second National Championship
- 1949 – Third National Championship
- 1973 – Winston Cup Series (current format)
- 1978 – Grand National Championship
- 1983 – Championship Series (current format)
- 1988 – Winston Cup Series
- 1990 – Busch Series (current format)
- 2015 – All-Star Race (first of its kind)
- 2018 – Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series
- 2019 – NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series
- 2020 – NASCAR Roval Series
- 2021 – NASCAR Countdown to Cup
- 2022 – NASCAR Championship
- 2024 – All-Star Race (twice-yearly event)
- 2025 – Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series
While the cars have gotten faster over the years – from 100 mph to 125 mph – the racing itself has changed very little. This is largely thanks to tire technology and the introduction of the restrictor plate, which limited the amount of fuel the cars could use. (Before the restrictor plate, the cars would run out of gas during the race and have to be pulled off the track.)
Why Did This Company Buy NASCAR?
NASCAR has always been a bit of a “family”-friendly event. Since its inception, the majority of its competitors have been from the country club set, with most drivers coming from well-bred stock. The stars of the races were often the sponsors of the respective teams, with beer brands, appliance companies, and tire companies all taking a stab at sponsoring a team. Even when the car companies started to take over sponsorship in the ‘80s, the families still came first. (Think John Candy in the famous “Meatballs” movie, trying to convince a reluctant Billy Corgan to become a NASCAR driver.)
But that was then, and this is now. Times have changed, and more and more people are tuning in to see multimillion-dollar machines careening around a track. While traditionalists still attend the occasional race – often traveling from other countries and making weekend trips to see the American sport they grew up watching – the “new” NASCAR fans are more commonly seen at the ballpark, hanging out at cafes, and streaming the racing live on social media.
It would be fair to say that the “old” guard in the sport is a little miffed at the change. (One former driver, who requested anonymity, told the New York Times that the new owners “won’t even pretend to be what we were before – a family-friendly thing. They want to rev the sport up.”) And when an event as historic as the Daytona 500 turns into a money-maker for a business, the ire of some drivers is understandable. But it’s also important to keep in mind that times change, and for the better.
What Will The New Ownership Structure Look Like?
According to industry insiders, the new ownership structure of NASCAR will look a lot like this:
- The new company will have representation from every state in the U.S.
- The CEO will be a German national named H. Dieter Zetsche
- The chairman of the board will be the head of the Daimler AG, a German conglomerate with automotive, aviation, and railroad interests
- The largest shareholder of the company is a fund advised by the famous American investor and philanthropist, Warren Buffett
- The second-largest shareholder is a company named Midland Investments, based in London
- The third-largest shareholder is a company named KKR & Co. LP, an investment firm in New York
- The fourth-largest shareholder is a company named Elliott Management, based in New York
- The fifth-largest shareholder is a company named Fidelity Investments, based in Boston
- The sixth-largest shareholder is a company named BlackRock, Inc., based in New York
While there is plenty to criticize about the status quo in NASCAR, it’s important to keep in mind that this is an industry that pioneered the use of electronic scoring and all-time classic races. (Yes, these things existed before the existence of NASCAR, but the sanctioning body made them somewhat commonplace. Today, the industry standard is simply to have computers and sensors integrated into the racing environment to make things like pass-offs and cautions much more efficient.)
What Does This Mean For NASCAR As We Know It?
With the change in ownership, comes a whole new set of challenges and opportunities for the sport. (Just like any other business, if you will.) While the new owners will undoubtedly look to capitalize on the sport’s popularity and expand the fan base, it’s important to remember that the individuals that bought this “family”-friendly franchise are the exact same people that helped to create it in the first place. So while they may want to “rev it up” a little bit, they also understand the value that this particular brand holds.
It’s also important to note that this is an industry that runs on good will. (Although the cars are getting faster and faster, the drivers will always have to look for the sweet spot on the track so that their engines don’t blow up.) Without drivers and tracks working together, this sport would simply not exist, so it’s important to maintain some goodwill between the parties. (This is not always easy, as evidenced by the current COT race at the end of the NASCAR season, which is often perceived as the nadir of the season. Nevertheless, it is an essential ingredient for the sport’s continued growth.)
What Does This Mean For The Future Of Motorsport?
Thanks to the internet and social media, we know a lot more about what is happening behind the scenes of motorsport than we ever have before. (Although the viewership numbers for the big race channels are decreasing, online platforms like ESPN and YouTube mean that niche topics like tire pressure and engine performance are gaining in popularity, as well as being able to be discussed at any given moment.)
Even before this year’s Daytona 500, speculation about a potential sale of NASCAR had been swirling around. Rumors about the sale began when former CEO Brian France had to step down from his post due to health issues. Since then, it had been “Who Will Be The Next CEO Of NASCAR?” and “Will NASCAR Ever Be Sold?” The answer to the second question is nearly always “no.” (The answer to the first question changes depending on what day it is.)
But with this year’s Daytona 500 being the final race for the former CEO, it certainly didn’t hurt to have one last hurrah. And for those that were hoping for France’s return as CEO, it was the end of a long road. (As he has admitted, even when he was in perfect health, he knew he wouldn’t be able to carry on.) With the announcement of this year’s NASCAR CEO, it will be remembered as the transition year.