NASCAR’s upcoming economic model spurs interest in new teams

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Bubba Wallace (43) drives in traffic during the YellaWood 500 NASCAR auto race at Talladega Superspeedway, Sunday, Oct. 4, 2020, in Talladega, Ala. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Justin Marks tried three times to buy the NASCAR equivalent of a franchise license that guarantees a car a spot in each week’s race. Twice he was outbid, he said, and a third deal fell apart.

Without that charter, Marks had almost no chance to get his team on track in 2021. He ultimately had to lease one from another organization to become the second new NASCAR owner to announce a team in the last month.

As NASCAR plans for the 2022 cost-cutting introduction of the “NextGen” new car, the demand for charters has soared. At least three have been sold since August — ownership records of each charter are not updated by NASCAR until the start of a new year — and the bidding process has been frenzied.

“It was much more difficult for us than I anticipated it being,” Marks said this week after announcing Trackhouse Racing. “There are a lot of charter buyers out there and unfortunately there are not a lot of charter buyers out there that are trying to build championship-caliber race teams.”

The environment has dramatically changed in the three years since Furniture Row Racing folded its team and put its championship-winning charter up for sale. Barney Visser struggled to find even a single bidder and Spire Sports + Entertainment, the agency Visser was using to broker a sale, gambled and bought it themselves.

The charter system debuted in 2016 to create tangible worth for team owners who in the previous independent contractor market had only inventory, equipment and possibly real estate to show for their NASCAR participation. If they went out of business, there was little recourse to recover any investments.

The 36 charters guarantee entry into every Cup race, and therefore a portion of the purse. The charters can be sold on the open market and also leased to another team for one full season. The value of a charter is based on the car’s performance under a formula in which the purse is divided so that a higher percentage is awarded to the top teams.

A charter buyer can guarantee the purchase price will be eventually be recouped in purse payouts, which lowered the risk for Spire when it entered team ownership. Two years after buying Visser’s stake in the sport, Spire Motorsports has acquired two more charters.