Anthony, Hemelgarn, Chesson matchup dissolved
Carmelo Anthony's ownership stake in an Indy Racing League team, announced with great fanfare in March, has been quietly dissolved.
Both the NBA star's agent and the team's principal owner, IRL veteran Ron Hemelgarn, acknowledge the short-lived deal is dead.
The team's signature "Car Melo" entry last ran in the Indianapolis 500, when driver P.J. Chesson crashed with another Hemelgarn car on the second lap, eliminating both vehicles. The "Car Melo" has missed the four subsequent races and Hemelgarn has suspended his team's IRL operations.
"We're parked," Hemelgarn said. "The funding we needed didn't come through."
The problem: Anthony brought flash to this strapped team but not cash. He was never supposed to, according to Bill Sanders, who handles the player's business affairs for BDA Sports.
The idea was for him to create buzz and attract sponsors.
"Carmelo would bring as much attention to the team as he could [for his ownership stake]," Sanders said. "Carmelo's name has a lot of brand equity, and that's what he had to offer."
The Denver Nuggets forward was recruited into the IRL by a new consultant to the circuit who's been trying to inject such sizzle.
Gene Simmons, the former Kiss rocker and partner in Los Angeles-based Simmons Abramson Marketing, met Sanders at a seminar where he'd been speaking and extolling the sport.
The agent put Simmons together with Anthony, whom he sold on getting involved.
They ended up affiliated with Hemelgarn because the team didn't have a primary sponsor but did have an intriguing driver in Chesson. He's a colorful 27-year-old, who comes out of sprint-car racing, who's got even more tattoos (15) than the average NBA player, and who was simpatico with Anthony.
The newly created Carmelo Hemelgarn team was an unlikely pairing: a 22-year-old hoopster and a 59-year-old gearhead who's been involved in top-level open-wheel racing since 1985.
Hemelgarn has taken some big checkered flags in that time, including the 1996 Indy 500, won by his then-driver Buddy Lazier.
But he's had a checkered career. Hemelgarn's team won the IRL points championship in 2000 and was runner-up in 2001. But after deep-pocketed teams Penske and Andretti defected from the CART circuit to the IRL, starting in 2002, Hemelgarn was chronically underfunded. He has suspended operations for parts of seasons before.
That's why he was open to making Anthony a part-owner, even though he wasn't bringing any money. Hemelgarn recollects Simmons and partner Rich Abramson assuring him: "[Carmelo] will attract lots of sponsors and we'll be able to generate millions of dollars."
He agreed to give it a try through the first four races of the IndyCar season.
The "Car Melo" entry was awful, failing to finish a race this season.
Chesson, who had only logged one season in the IRL's "feeder" league, caught some of the blame because of his inexperience. Chesson, for his part, groused to the Carmelo camp about Hemelgarn's shoestring operation and the poor equipment he was relegated to drive. By the fourth race -- the Indianapolis 500 -- the situation was desperate.
The team had attracted no corporate sponsors and it needed a respectable finish to get some serious prize money and a financial reprieve. Instead, a driver named Jeff Bucknum, whom Hemelgarn had signed for one race, spun out on the second lap and took Chesson with him.
This hastily arranged marriage was irretrievably broken.
Hemelgarn didn't want to continue, adamantly sticking to his four-race limit.
"I communicated all along that if we don't get funding, I'm stopping," Hemelgarn said. "Not one cent was generated by Simmons Abramson."
Carmelo Anthony didn't want to continue. A superstar athlete "wants to succeed, wants to win," said Sanders. His client was frustrated by his namesake car's poor showings. Chesson didn't want to continue and immediately began looking for another ride.
Chesson and Anthony are actually looking in tandem for another team with which to affiliate.
Cheever Racing, for one, acknowledges it's been in talks.
Hemelgarn said he wishes them well.
"Carmelo didn't do anything wrong; I got along very good with him," he said. "Unfortunately, his name didn't excite anybody and my race team didn't excite anybody."
Said Abramson: "I never promised anything but that we'd try to leverage Carmelo's name on the car. We had a bunch of stuff in the works and we still have a bunch of stuff in the hopper, but we never had a chance to finish it with Hemelgarn. It was an unworkable proposition."
John Helyar is a senior writer for ESPN.com and ESPN the Magazine. He previously covered the business of sports for The Wall Street Journal and Fortune magazine and is the author of "Lords of the Realm: The Real History of Baseball."
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