The Frontstretch: Smith and Bahre Simply Asking Too Much For North Wilkesboro by Mike Neff -- Sunday December 25, 2005

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Racing at North Wilkesboro Speedway. Five words that millions of NASCAR fans have been dying to hear for over nine years. Recently, those words have seemed closer to reality than ever before. Rob Marsden, a young man from New York, is spearheading an effort to purchase the speedway from Bruton Smith and Bob Bahre. The group’s hope is to bring racing back to the historic track in the foothills of North Carolina. The problem, as with most business negotiations, is the asking price.

The deteriorating speedway is listed on the county’s tax roll as having a value of $4.83 million dollars. Smith and Bahre, on the other hand, are asking $12 million, even though the track’s once proud two Cup race dates are not included in that price. This seems to be a bit exorbitant considering the two gentlemen’s previous interactions with that county concerning the value of the speedway. A few years ago, they argued that the track should only be valued at $2.8 million. We all know that tax value and actual value of real estate are two different things, but almost four times as much seems a bit ridiculous for a track that has gone virtually unused since the last Nextel Cup race there in 1996. Smith paid $6 million for his half of the speedway when he purchased it back then, while Bahre paid $8 million in a separate deal for his share. While those numbers at least make you understand where a $12 million asking price is coming from, expecting to recoup all or the majority of your investment from a property that has received zero maintenance or upkeep in many years is simply unreasonable.

Marsden’s group, Save the Speedway, is diligently working to not only secure the property, but to put the plans into motion that will have racing on the track in 2006. They have commitments from ISMA, USCS and ASA already in place, along with letters of intention from 11 "" 12 other series who want race dates provided this group can acquire the track. You can see the conceptual drawings and proposed race schedule of Marsden and company at

Mr. Smith has always maintained that he would not improve a facility in which he was not a majority owner. He has also said he would sell the track if the right opportunity presented itself. Apparently the right opportunity is someone with more money than sense. For example, Junior Johnson has long been a proponent of the speedway. He has offered Smith $4 million in the past to try and acquire that facility, but was never taken seriously. Mr. Smith apparently wants someone who will pay him for ripping racing away from the North Wilkesboro area.

However, the fact that Bahre and Smith have even agreed on a price tag proves things are finally taking a step in the right direction. Until this point, the two had never even been able to reach a number that was acceptable to both sides. Let’s hope now that Save the Speedway can get together with these owners and come up with some acceptable terms and conditions to make this happen. Marsden’s group would be well served to get the aforementioned Junior Johnson on their side before that happens. Besides being a huge track supporter, the man is a very savvy businessman who was responsible for the initial meetings that resulted in RJR sponsoring NASCAR and taking the Nextel Cup Series to the next level back in the early "˜70’s.

The grand old lady of North Wilkesboro needs to be hosting races again. Let’s hope that Smith and Bahre can think about history and tradition a little more than the bottom line, for once, and give some small town racing in North Carolina back to the fans who deserve it.

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ID Fuller
12/27/2005 09:49 AM

Thanks for fine article. Smith, Bahre should be made to pay a fair share of tax on the property.

Sean Decker
12/27/2005 03:39 PM

Hey, I’ve got an idea. If all NASCAR fans donate even $10 toward the purchase of North Wilkeboro I’d bet the money could be raised to buy it.

If you’re a real fan of racing then it shouldn’t matter where you live or even if you’ll ever see a race there, this place has historic value to the sport you love and should be saved.

I live in California and I’m willing to contribute.

Joe Miele
12/27/2005 05:27 PM

I agree with Sean.I’ll throw in $20.00.What a shame this once great racing facility is not being used anymore.I’m from New Hampshire and would gladly give up one Loudon race to see a cup race there again.I know it will never happen.

12/28/2005 04:00 AM

I noted this story when it first made the media rounds about a month ago.

And I raise the same two points now.

“Letters if intent from 11 – 12 other series” means exactly what? In reality not much, LoI’s are full of legal jargon and lists of pre-conditions 20 miles long. In many cases LoI’s are the legal version of “when pigs fly” or “don’t call us, we’ll call you.”

Secondly, and honestly the 11-12 figure is suspect as well. You would be hard pressed to name that many sanctioning bodies or series that have any financial viability (Or fit the venue, i.e. the IRL or Champ Car would never consider the place) to start with.

NOTE: don’t count NASCAR’s AutoZone Elite Series. That entire Series is being canceled after the ‘06 season. That announcement should come from the Daytona suits sometime this morning.

I tend to think Marsden is seeing a bit too many pies in the sky with his 11-12 figure, but that’s just me.

I hope the kid succeeds but with the tracks location in the middle of nowhere infrastructure wise even if he does it will never raise to it’s former level of fame and will only serve as a Saturday night bullring.

Not that that’s a bad thing.

12/28/2005 08:00 AM

I actually sent that in as a suggestion on their website Sean. I suggested they issue 15 million shares of stock at $1 each. Limit the shares to be non-voting. Sell them online and at tracks. I bet they could raise the cash in a couple of months.

Marc, I agree that 11-12 is probably optimistic. I don’t know if I could name that many but then again I wouldn’t have named ISMA or USCS either. I sincerely think, if they can get the track back to racing condition and implement the changes they have proposed, they could attract five touring series. I also think they could support a weekly lineup of racing like any other local track. I would hope NASCAR would give them a Truck race and possibly a Busch race after a couple of years if they proved to be successful.

Its all just wishful thinking at this point but the first order of business is getting Smith and Bahre to be reasonable about a price for a facility they have let fall apart for nine years.

12/28/2005 12:07 PM

First, Thanks Mike, for the return response to my email regarding Dr. Punch. As for Wilkesboro, My wife & I took our Honeymoon there 15 years ago & went back every year until it closed. It would be awesome to have it back in any capacity at all. You can count me in!

Peter Pan
12/28/2005 12:44 PM

WTF would they want to take so litle for the real estate simply because they aren’t keeping up the track ?? DUH..

Why not wait for some commercial development and at least get what was invested ??? If they continually invested money to keep up the track and it was later torn up to build a hospital, wouldn’t that be stupid?

But that’s why people like Bruton Smith & Bob Bahre are wealthy. They know how to think !

12/28/2005 01:23 PM

Smith and Bahre have the same idea as Dick Connole (owner of Texas World Speedway)-let it rot away in quiet.

12/28/2005 03:09 PM

To Peter Pan:

Never been to North Wilkesboro much, have you? Commercial development at the current track site? That’s decades if not centuries away, as it is simply not situated in a place condusive to immediate, even long term, commercial development. To be worth 12 mill, it has to be as a functioning race track. Otherwise it is simply worth $5k-10k per acre minus the demolition cost of the existing structures. My guess? That figure is considerably less than the tax assessement, and WAY less than $12 mil.

Besides, Bruton/SMI and Bob Bahre didn’t “pay” 12 mil for the track, they paid that money for the 2 dates they got for Texas and Louden. Just like Bruton “bought” NCS for $400 mil for its dates too. What’s “that” site down in the Sandhills worth? Maybe $10 mil, if you tore down the track and grandstands.

12/28/2005 03:55 PM

Excellent point Sim. That was going to be my response too. There isn’t much possibility for commercial development there any time soon. If Smith and Bahre could get that money out for commercial development, they would have done it already. My assumption is they are hanging on for the tax benefit. I don’t know how long they will be able to depreciate the property. My guess is something like 20 years. I just can’t imagine the track, in any capacity, being worth $12,000,000.

12/28/2005 04:29 PM

Thanks for the supportive article Mike, it’s good to know there are people out there rooting for us to get this ball rolling.

Sadly I cannot elaborate on our plans for obvious reasons (and our critics hate us for that but loose lips sink ships). But we do have a comprehensive and realistic business plan lined up and a pretty good roll call of racing series who want to race there, although I cannot name names outside of those which are public knowledge already (those being the ISMA, ASA Late Model Series South (2 Dates), and ISCARS (3 Dates, Former Ipower Dash Series). Just be confident that with what we have, we will have a pretty busy race schedule when it’s all said and done. And hopefully with our efforts, NWS will become the premiere short track in the South East. As for the 11-12 series, that is a realistic number and not exaggerated. With what we have in our arsenol, as long as the loyal race fan will support the track if it is reopened, we should be in good shape.

Keep an eye on our website, we should be releasing more and more information to the fans and critics alike in the upcoming weeks.

Thanks for your continued support, keep the faith!

Todd Knaperek

STS Motorsports, Inc.

Peter Pan
12/28/2005 07:29 PM

Yo! Salami,

Bob Bahare sez “ build it and they will come “…. Not the first time he has pulled something like that off……

Don’t ya know that you don’t have to already have commercial development in order to start building some ??

Keeping that faith brother !


12/29/2005 04:18 AM

Peter Pan: “Don’t ya know that you don’t have to already have commercial development in order to start building some ??”

While that statement is true, it fails address the basic problem with the area the track is located in.

Namely near zero infrastructure or enough population in the immediate area to support a strip mall for instance.

The same reasons that created the environment for the track to close in 1996 is present today. Not enough fan base to support a NASCAR Series.

As a local bullring with the occasional touring series events it could be made marginaly profitable.

12/29/2005 09:37 AM

Thanks for the reply Todd. I will certainly keep an eye on the site. And I’d love for y’all to look at the shares in the corporation idea. I think there are a ton of race fans who would really love to own a piece of the track even if there wasn’t any major potential for monetary gain out of the deal.

Keep up the good work. I know I’m pulling for you.

12/29/2005 12:56 PM

I can’t speak about investments in the track, however I can tell you about a promotion we are kicking around that will allow people to be a part of the hallowed track upon purchasing; that being a buy-a-brick program which will be used to rebuild the wall at the main entrance. I think the idea at the moment is having people able to buy a brick of three levels ($50, $200, $500-up) each with different perks upon purchase. This would allow people who want to be a part of the track to have their names or companies immortalized in stone at the track. So far, the idea has recieved a lot of positive feedback, and if you want to see some concepts of the design, please look at our concept art page for examples.

kent frazier
12/31/2005 07:31 AM

first of all i live in wilkes county. do you know many ideas or businesses have been started and then ripped away from wilkes? the first that comes to mind is of course is the speedway. it was one of the first tracks on the nascar cirquit. secondly, lowes companies. it was moved they say because of lack of workforce. personally i think it was the lack of brothels being close by? well the list can go on holly farms? northwestern bank, american drew is soon to follow i fear. now with that being said, wilkes county has still grown? why? i think some people still want to raise their children in a decent enviroment. it was said “wilkes is in the middle of nowhere” i’d like to point out the race track is less than 15 minutes from a interstate? also we have a major 4 lane going right past it? i belive in the idea that we the nascar population cold invest in the speedway and make a viable endeavor out of it. the problem is in actually purchasing the race track from two people that are so greedy? why? they have enough money. it was mentioned they are using north wilkesboro as a tax right off? if they were, shouldn’t such people sink money into it hoping it will fail and count that as a tax loss? i’m here to tell you that i think if i had the backing to purchase this track (for reasonable price} i could make it work. make it turn a profit. because i think if bruton smith, bob bayre & lest we forget bill france can do it. so could we

12/31/2005 05:44 PM

I’m with you Kent. And the folks at Save the Speedway are too. Let’s hope that they can make it happen and bring racing back where it belongs.


Contact Mike Neff

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