Thu May 9, 2013
Unsealed Documents Shine Light On NASCAR Leader's Holdings
Newly unsealed documents in the divorce case of NASCAR Chairman Brian France provide a rare glimpse into how much money the privately held racing organization has generated for the France family.
France’s assets totaled more than $550 million in 2005, according to a financial statement included in the 1,500 pages of documents.
Owned and controlled by the France family, NASCAR paid Brian France more than $9 million in 2004, the documents show.
The files were made public Wednesday after the Observer’s victory in a five-year court fight with France, who wanted to keep the divorce under seal. The Observer and WCNC-TV had argued that the public has a right to open courts and files.
Details of NASCAR’s internal finances have been scarce for decades.
“No one has ever known what it’s worth,” said H.A. “Humpy” Wheeler, a former president at Charlotte Motor Speedway. “It’s been all conjecture.”
The case also provides a window into a contentious divorce that involved allegations of threats, broken promises and covert surveillance.
France’s ex-wife, Megan, alleged that he repeatedly threatened to “financially devastate” her, stating that she could not afford to be in a lawsuit with him and that he would “make sure that she will go broke before the lawsuits are over.”
Megan France also contended that her husband delayed monthly alimony payments and failed to make a $3 million installment promised under the separation agreement. In court files, France argued that he wasn’t required to pay the $3 million because his wife breached the agreement.
France’s ex-wife said that he also filed a lawsuit against her parents, seeking to oust them from their Charlotte residence. The house was owned by a trust that France had established. France said he sought to remove his wife’s parents because they were trespassing and refused to leave.
France hired private investigators to keep an eye on his wife, the files show.
Between 2001 and 2008, Brian and Megan France got married, got divorced, got married again, and got divorced again. Brian France is now remarried.
The 2008 separation agreement stipulated that Brian France pay Megan France $9 million, alimony of $32,000 a month for 10 years and $10,000 a month in child support.
Brian France’s attorneys could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
The files shed light on the lifestyle of a man who owned planes, million-dollar homes and an 84-foot yacht.
The governesses who helped care for Brian and Megan’s children were paid a total of $100,000 annually.
“Brian is likely to inherit substantial wealth from his parents, which, as of the dated hereof, may be in the hundreds of millions of dollars and could exceed $1 billion,” according to France’s 2005 financial statement.
The documents also show that in 2007, France owned $120 million worth of stock in International Speedway Corp., which owns and runs 13 racetracks.
Daytona International Speedway, owned by ISC, has lobbied for property tax breaks from the state of Florida worth $2 million a year as it considers a major renovation at the track.
At the advice of his lawyers, France refused to answer later questions posed by his wife’s attorneys about his income and assets.
Birth of a giant
France leads a sprawling enterprise that has a cluster of motorsports teams based in the Charlotte region. He took over the NASCAR chairman role from his father, Bill France Jr., in 2003. He is also the company’s chief executive.
France’s grandfather, Bill France Sr., founded NASCAR in 1948 in Daytona Beach, Fla.
For decades, there was no money in the sport, Wheeler said. Speedways began to increase their seating capacity in the 1970s, and in the 1990s, NASCAR’s television contracts and advertising boomed.
Today’s TV contracts for NASCAR bring in billions. Wheeler credited Brian France with engineering the sport’s first big TV deal in the 1990s. That’s when a lot of people became rich, Wheeler said. “As the sport continued to national prominence, zeros started to be added to the end of people’s net worth,” he said.
NASCAR has made many millionaires, from top-earning driver Dale Earnhardt Jr., who pulled in $25.9 million last year, to relative newcomer Danica Patrick who made $12.9 million in 2012, according to Forbes.
Bruton Smith, CEO of Speedway Motorsports and a major auto dealer, had a net worth of $1.5 billion in 2007.
Today, NASCAR wields influence in Washington. Its employees contributed nearly $350,000 to federal candidates in the 2012 cycle, according to OpenSecrets.org, which tracks campaign gifts.
Like many other NASCAR executives, Brian France regularly donates to the political campaigns of both Democrats and Republicans.
Staff Writers Rick Rothacker and Elizabeth Leland contributed.
Court victory in France case took years
An N.C. Supreme Court ruling that unsealed documents in the divorce case of NASCAR chairman Brian France ended years of litigation over the public’s right to inspect court files.
Lawyers for France had argued that the proceedings should largely be closed to the public and the couple’s divorce agreement kept sealed.
The Observer and WCNC-TV had filed a motion for the documents to be unsealed, arguing that France has no compelling interest that supersedes the public’s right to open courts and files.
Observer Editor Rick Thames said the court system draws much of its credibility from being open.
“Our main point all along is that our courts are open for a reason and we should not be making an exception in an individual case like this,” Thames said.
The divorce files were made public Wednesday afternoon.
The case began in 2008, when Brian France won a ruling from Mecklenburg District Court Judge Todd Owens, who granted him the right to file a sealed lawsuit against his wife, Megan, accusing her of breaching the divorce agreement’s confidentiality clause.
Owens placed the entire complaint under seal – an unusual move in a court system that typically allows widespread access to courtrooms and documents.
Another Mecklenburg judge, Jena Culler, later overturned Owens’ order. Earlier this year, both the N.C. Court of Appeals and state Supreme Court upheld that order. Ames Alexander