Roush banking that New Englanders love race cahs
It may seem like an unlikely marriage, but the monster deal between the Fenway Group and Roush Racing might just transform the way both baseball and NASCAR do business, writes Ryan McGee.
Like John W. Henry, Jack Roush is an empire builder. The 55-year-old fedora-wearing motorsports mogul, a.k.a. "the Cat in the Hat," has won more than 250 races and four championships in NASCAR's top three series. A month after the Sox ended their near-century of frustration on the bloody right sock of Curt Schilling, Roush won his second straight Cup, on the heavy right foot of Kurt Busch.
Roush has made plenty of moves in the past we all thought were crazy. Well, now we're all doing what he was smart enough to pioneer.
He listened intently as Boston's owner talked about how selling the Roush brand to only 10 percent of the 14 million Red Sox fans would create an unprecedented foothold in the region. Sure, it would take longer to assimilate all of Red Sox Nation, but wouldn't it be worth it?Henry was preaching to the choir. These people loved race cahs, Roush had long believed. They just needed someone to root for. The six New England states are home to nearly 50 short tracks and have produced more than 40 current Nextel Cup crew members. A ticket on race weekend at the New Hampshire International Speedway is as difficult to score as a seat atop the Green Monster. Richard Petty and Bobby Allison both won Cup races in Oxford, Maine, of all places. To Roush, the Northeast had long been NASCAR's last frontier. "Our fan base has covered a lot of areas," says Roush Fenway driver Carl Edwards, who grew up a Cardinals fan. "I'm from Missouri, and so is Jamie. Greg Biffle is from Washington, Matt Kenseth is from Wisconsin and David Ragan is from Georgia. But I think everyone in NASCAR knows the big untapped market is the Northeast. And there's no better avenue into New England than the Red Sox."The deal was done by the start of the 2007 season but only after a grueling process that Roush Fenway president Geoff Smith describes as "everyone having to submit a genetic sample for testing." Henry's Fenway Sports Group purchased its share of Roush Racing for a price believed to be in the $60 million range, a number big enough to shake the financial foundations of a Cup garage, but barely enough to earn a get-to-know-me lunch with Dice-K. "The garage perception was that Jack Roush had to find some outside money to keep going," Smith says. "But we didn't need a group to underwrite our team to keep afloat. They invested only because it makes business sense."That's not to say there aren't other NASCAR teams that need capital infusions. In fact, courtships of investors had begun long before the Roush Fenway union. Perennial also-ran MB2 Motorsports became an overnight contender after it was bought by golf resort mogul Bobby Ginn, who used his cash to lure Mark Martin from Roush. Richard Childress Racing was helped back into the upper echelon by what Childress describes as "a small group of outside backers." But just as the gap has grown between the Yanks and the Sox and the rest of baseball, rival NASCAR owners also fear the repercussions of the rich becoming richer. Monkey see, monkey do: The next big deal is expected to be announced by summer's end, when Ray Evernham's three-car operation becomes part of George Gillett Jr.'s sports empire, a portfolio that includes the Montreal Canadiens and Liverpool FC of the English Premier League."Outside investment is not a new concept," Evernham says. "But after the Roush deal, we've seen an increase in the profile of potential investors. I said I was looking for a partner, and the phone has been ringing since. Whether it's one large investor or taking a team public, we are about to see a huge change in the NASCAR ownership landscape."Adds Mike Dee, Red Sox COO: "I kid that it's like Trading Places. 'The Dukes are cornering the market on orange juice! Let's get in!'"
Aftershocks of the deal may already be shaking Nextel Cup front offices, but they have yet to be felt in the pit stalls of Roush and the clubhouses at Fenway. Both sides continue to sift through details, jetting between Boston and Charlotte to discuss how one side can best help the other. Sales staffs are sharing contacts, and Fenway marketing specialists are lending expertise to sell Roush's NASCAR more effectively to children. And accountants are figuring out how to divvy up the eventual profits between those shopping for left-side tires and those looking for left-handed relievers.
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