CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- A lawsuit filed earlier this month could play a role in determining the 2018 Daytona 500 field as a North Carolina court determines who owns the charter that Front Row Motorsports bought from BK Racing for $2 million prior to the 2017 season.
Union Bank & Trust in Virginia filed a lawsuit Nov. 17 in North Carolina Superior Court, asking for the court to declare it has rights to what was originally BK Racing's No. 83 car charter, alleging that BK Racing owes it $9.1 million on a loan that included its two charters as collateral. After Front Row Motorsports bought the No. 83 charter, it leased the charter to TriStar Motorsports (the No. 72 car driven by Cole Whitt) for the 2017 season. Teams can lease a charter for only one year, so the charter would be the property of Front Row unless the court intervenes.
Because drivers of the 36 charter teams automatically qualify for a race -- with four spots open to non-charter teams -- the season-opening Daytona 500 could be the first race affected. A charter team owner is guaranteed a base amount of money for participation throughout the season as well as an amount of money based on that car's performance the previous three years. NASCAR does not disclose publicly those base amounts.
One of the reasons the charter system was put into place in 2016 was so teams could better predict their revenue stream, which could attract investors as well as be used as collateral for loans.
NASCAR issued the initial 36 charters in 2015 at no cost to the owners of the 36 cars that had been full time for the previous three seasons. The price of charters sold or leased by the teams is not public, but the lawsuit claims Front Row paid $2 million for the charter that BK Racing had used to field the No. 83 car in 2016.
In addition to its asking the court to determine who owns the No. 83 charter, the bank also states that it has the right to sell the one charter used in 2017 by BK Racing to field the No. 23 car -- driven by Corey LaJoie, Gray Gaulding and others -- that finished 35th in the owner standings.
BK Racing owner Ron Devine said the bank wants him to refinance his loans and the lawsuit is a way to force the issue. He said the amount he owes is closer to $8 million.
"They wanted to make a big stink about it so that we would react and do stuff that we don't want to do with them," Devine said. "We're working on it. I actually have an agreement with them in place.
"They're not going to stop [the lawsuit] until we finish, but we have an agreement that will get us cleaned back up."
A NASCAR spokesman said the sanctioning body had no comment.
According to the bank's lawsuit, Devine is claiming that the bank doesn't have rights to the No. 83 charter because the number on the NASCAR agreement (No. 33 of the 36 charters issued) was not used in the loan and public financial statements. The collateral listed the charter with the car number (83) used by Devine.
The bank's lawsuit also alleges that Devine agreed to indemnify Front Row Motorsports on any claims on the ownership of the charter. Front Row owns three charters (including the BK Racing charter in dispute) but plans to operate only two cars next season, so it would likely sell or lease out one of its charters if the court determines it has rights to the charter in dispute.
Devine said there is land and other property listed as collateral and the bank is not going to own a race team.
"It's not that that big a deal," Devine said. "They're not going to go racing in Daytona. ... If you really believe that this bank is going to get these charters, then the Martians are going to land in your front yard."
BK Racing is the subject of several lawsuits and liens. The day before the Union Trust lawsuit was filed, a California man who owns the right to a $2 million promissory note issued in 2013 filed a lawsuit alleging default on the agreement.
The Internal Revenue Service has filed liens of $667,630 for unpaid federal taxes (Devine said Monday it was due to a rounding error and the IRS has been great to work with) and the North Carolina Department of Commerce has filed liens of $273,742 for employment security fees and back taxes.