The owner of South Carolina’s only NASCAR track has provided a peek under the hood at the business side of the stock-car racing circuit for more than two decades.
Those days are likely to fade in the rear view mirror.
Shareholders of International Speedway Corp. will vote Wednesday whether to shift the publicly traded company to private hands, a move that will shield its attendance revenue numbers and other quarterly financial insights from prying eyes.
The $2 billion transaction, if approved, would take effect as early as Friday. From then on, the track operator would be fully owned by the closely held NASCAR organization.
The venues in play include some of the nation's marquee motorsports arenas, including Daytona International Speedway in Florida and Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama, the site of Sunday's Monster Energy Series race.
In the Palmetto State, NASCAR would take over Darlington Raceway in the Pee Dee region. The 1.3-mile "Track Too Tough to Tame" has been around for nearly 70 years and is the site of the Southern 500 each Labor Day weekend.
The buyout is the equivalent of a lap around the track for NASCAR, which in 1953 created what would later become International Speedway to build Talladega. It spun the business off as a publicly traded company in the 1990s. But it never took its hands off the wheel.
Heirs of NASCAR founder Bill France Sr. have remained major investors in the Daytona, Fla.-based stadium owner — granddaughter Lesa France Kennedy is the CEO — and they now control about 74 percent of the voting stock.
Their proposal to buy back the rest of the shares of International Speedway for $1.8 billion was announced nearly a year ago. They sweetened the offer by $200 million in May.
“In a highly competitive sports and entertainment landscape, a more unified strategic approach is important to our future growth,” NASCAR interim CEO Jim France said when the deal was disclosed in November. “We believe the industry requires structural changes to best position the sport for long-term success, and this offer represents a positive step forward in that direction.”
It's hardly a secret that the stock-car kingpin is looking to recapture its high-octane glory days. TV ratings are down, ticket sales are off and the core fan base is aging, while the younger audience it needs to court is increasingly distracted.
As a public company that generates most of its income from NASCAR events, International Speedway provides some hard numbers to the challenges down in the pits. In its most recent quarter, which included an extra race with the Southern 500 falling in August rather than September, revenues from admissions at its tracks slipped 3 percent. Year to date, they're down 4 percent.
"With the inability to attract race car enthusiasts to the track consistently, it seems admissions growth is likely to remain under pressure," Morningstar analyst Jaime Katz said in an Oct. 4 report provided by Morningstar Direct.
Experts have said the International Speedway deal could help NASCAR in its turnaround plan, partly by eliminating some of the expenses associated with running a public company.
The deal also provides a new layer of flexibility because 12 of the 13 tracks up for grabs host at least one of the circuit's 38 premier races each year. Owning them outright would make it easier for NASCAR to shake up and even trim its grueling schedule.
And the fact that the France family has acknowledged "structural changes" are required suggests that any long-term decisions "may best be executed without public investor scrutiny," Katz of Morningstar wrote.
The shareholders of International Speedway who aren't NASCAR insiders must vote in favor of the NASCAR buyout for it to go through. They're surely aware of the admissions trends and other risks. Most are likely to decide Wednesday that this ride is over.