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NASCAR country gets CART teams in PPI consolidation

NASCAR country gets CART teams in PPI consolidation

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PPI Motorsports owner Cal Wells III plans to bring his CART team to the heart of stock car racing later this year, consolidating his motorsports operations in North Carolina.

Wells, owner of an entry in NASCAR's Winston Cup and Busch series, has decided to bring his two CART teams, led by drivers Oriol Servia and Cristiano da Matta, to his NASCAR shop in Hickory, N.C., 70 miles northwest of Charlotte. The CART teams have been based in Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif. The moves will be made after the CART season ends.

"We really need to consolidate our resources, and that's what this move is all about," Wells said. "This way we can have one fabrication shop, one paint shop, one marketing group and so on. It makes a sense in a lot of different ways."

Wells estimates the moves will save 10 percent to 12 percent in annual expenses. Industry experts give the cost of running the two CART teams and two NASCAR entries at $40 million to $50 million a year. That estimate factors in Wells' decision to upgrade his McDonald's-sponsored Busch entry to the top-level Winston Cup series in 2001. No driver has been selected; Scott Pruett drives the car for Wells' Tide-sponsored team, already on the Winston Cup circuit.

PPI has been competing in CART for five years. The team won its first race on the circuit July 30 when da Matta took the checkered flag in the Target Grand Prix in Chicago.

The only part of Wells' operations not coming to North Carolina is his off-road racing programs. That's because the bulk of their races are held in the Southwest and on the West Coast.

"The big thing is to get closer to the East Coast," Wells said. "If we were already in Indy or any further east, I doubt we'd be doing this. But running CART teams from the West Coast just doesn't make much sense. With the travel we're doing, this will give our crews 29 more nights in their own beds. That's a big difference."

The Hickory shop that now houses the NASCAR entries will be expanded by 37,000 square feet, for a total of 112,000 square feet. It will house 180 employees. Wells said about 30 percent of that staff will be new hires, replacements for California-based employees who decide against moving to North Carolina.

Wells plans to move his family to Hickory as well. His three children attend or plan to attend Eastern prep schools, making the move easier. Wells, though, was born and raised in Pomona, Calif. "In that sense, it's sad," he said. "In every other way, though, it just makes sense. I like having all my stuff in one place."

 DIALING IN: NASCAR is moving closer to having its own satellite radio channel as well as a cable network, two concepts spun off from the sanctioning body's new TV deal last fall.

Bray Cary, vice president of broadcast and technology, said NASCAR officials have held several preliminary meetings with XM Satellite Radio in recent weeks on potential programs, formats and hosts for the planned radio channel. It will run NASCAR programming 24 hours a day.

Cary expects XM, a new band of radio that requires new players and a subscription, to make its debut early next year. NASCAR is the only major league sport that has licensed its own channel with XM. It will debut in February 2001, with a formal launch in May.

As for the cable network, Cary dismissed frequent reports that the campaign has been riddled with problems. He said there have been a few "minor snags" but expects the network to move forward as planned. A formal announcement outlining the format and rollout will be made by year's end.

  PIT STOPS: Action Performance Cos., a top NASCAR collectibles company, hopes to launch a fall promotion linking Winston Cup drivers with top college football programs. Dubbed "Rivals," the campaign will put the logos of college foes such as Michigan and Michigan State on competing drivers' hoods for a race this fall. Die-cast replicas of the one-time paint schemes will be made and sold by Action Performance. "We're in the negotiating stages right now," said David Hynes, executive vice president of marketing. "We hope to have everything signed by mid-August." ... NASCAR's search for a new ad agency is over. Young & Rubicam of Chicago and Impric, its direct-marketing agency, have been selected. Terms weren't disclosed. NASCAR's brand campaign promoting the sport includes print and broadcast advertising valued at $25 million a year.

Erik Spanberg can be reached atespanberg@bizjournals.com.

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