NASCAR announced the $2 billion purchase of International Speedway Corp. on Wednesday, an aggressive move to gain control of key racetracks and set itself up for sweeping changes that could save America’s most popular racing series.
ISC owns 12 tracks that host NASCAR races, including Martinsville Speedway and Richmond Raceway. Other tracks of note include Daytona International Speedway, Talladega Superspeedway, Darlington Raceway and Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Officials at Martinsville Speedway had no comment on the purchase on Wednesday afternoon and referred to information contained in a press release.
ISC’s holdings stretch from New York to California, and is one of two major facilities companies that host NASCAR races, along with Speedway Motorsports Inc. The deal is expected to close by the end of the year.
Gaining control of a dozen tracks, along with Iowa Speedway, which it already owns, would seemingly make it easier for NASCAR to alter its racing schedule, including the possibility of fewer events.
NASCAR President Steve Phelps has made it clear that the 38-race schedule in the top-tier Cup Series, generally considered too taxing for teams and fans, is among the areas the sanctioning body is looking to change. Seven of the ISC tracks host two Cup Series races each season .
NASCAR’s five-year agreement with tracks ends after the 2020 season.
“We are pleased with the progress that the negotiation and execution of the merger agreement between NASCAR and ISC represents,” NASCAR said in a statement. “While important regulatory and shareholder approval processes remain, we look forward to the successful final resolution of this matter and continuing our work to grow this sport and deliver great racing experiences for our fans everywhere. With a strong vision for the future, the France family’s commitment to NASCAR and the larger motorsports industry has never been greater.”
The agreement is the latest makeover for NASCAR as it scrambles to win new fans and end a decline in attendance and ratings. And more deals could be on the horizon. NASCAR founder Bill France Sr. started ISC, and several members of the France family are on its board of directors, as well as still in leadership roles in NASCAR.
The deal for ISC comes after reports last year suggested the France family was considering selling NASCAR, reports that have not been addressed by the family. NASCAR began acquiring the remaining public stock in ISC in late 2018, and layoffs in the company began early this year.
Martinsville Speedway currently has 15 full-time employees, according to the track’s website.
Martinsville Speedway, which opened in 1947 and is the oldest track currently on the NASCAR Cup Series circuit, is run by Clay Campbell, the grandson of H. Clay Earles, who built and ran the track for nearly four decades.
France Sr. became a partner in Martinsville Speedway in the 1950s, and Campbell told the Martinsville Bulletin last year that, from then on, the France and Campbell families each owned half of Martinsville Speedway.
The Speedway was acquired by ISC in 2004 for $192 million, making it the second most recent NASCAR acquisition by the company. ISC acquired Chicagoland Speedway in 2007.
At the time of the purchase, Campbell told the Martinsville Bulletin that he believed ISC would operate Martinsville Speedway forever.
“This track has a history that no other ISC track [in existence today] has,” Campbell told the paper in May 2004. The Martinsville Bulletin reported at that time that the track had been profitable.
“You look at the bottom line,” Campbell said then.
Campbell said at the time that he elected to sell the speedway to ISC because he believed the corporation would help the track to continue to grow and succeed.
Martinsville, which had a weekend of racing in March, is scheduled to host NASCAR Cup and Truck Series playoff races this October, and two NASCAR weekends in 2020,
That includes Cup Series night race next May — moved from March to Mother’s Day weekend — and playoff races for all three of NASCAR’s top series — Cup, Xfinity, and Truck — in October 2020.
There also is the Valley Star 300 late-model race in early fall.
Similar actions have been initiated at SMI as well.
The parent company of Speedway Motorsports made an offer last month to acquire all its outstanding common stock, which would privatize SMI and make it better positioned for an anticipated NASCAR overhaul.
Bruton Smith is the founder and majority stakeholder in SMI, which operates eight tracks that host NASCAR Cup Series races. Smith and his family also own Sonic Financial Corp.
In a letter Sonic sent to the SMI board of directors last month, the company noted: “NASCAR racing has faced several challenges in recent years, and the company has been impacted by these challenges. NASCAR has indicated the sport would benefit from structural change.”
SMI declined comment on Wednesday’s announcement.
If the ISC and SMI deals go through, NASCAR’s main two track operators would become private companies, easing any restructuring of the stagnant series.
The Associated Press contributed to this report