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Bruton Smith, France family busy buying themselves and what’s McLaren doing to Alonso?

Norris McDonald
Written by Norris McDonald

There’s some intriguing things going on in racing these days. For instance:

Bruton Smith started a company years ago called Speedway Motorsports and bought a bunch of race tracks (Charlotte, Las Vegas, et al) where he promotes NASCAR races. He also has a company called Sonic Financial Corp., which owns car dealerships. He announced in recent days that Sonic will buy up all the outstanding stock in Speedway and take it private. Smith owns the majority of the stock so, in the end, Smith will be buying the trace track corporation from himself. (Apparently, the price that Smith is offering himself is pretty lucrative . . . . . .)

While all this is going on, the International Speedway Corp., which owns all the big race tracks not owned by Bruton Smith, is going through much the same process. NASCAR has offered to purchase ISC and take it private. As most of us know, ISC is owned by the France family, as is NASCAR. So the Frances are making the Frances an offer they probably can’t refuse.

I don’t understand high finance. In fact, I don’t understand much about finance at all. The only thing I know about money is when I have some in my pocket.

But I have to say it seems like a swell idea to be able to buy something for yourself, from yourself. And to jack up the selling price in the process. Just think: you improved your bottom line on the one hand and probably increased a tax writeoff on the other. Pretty good work if you can get it.

Kidding aside: what does all of this mean? Is it just coincidence that this is happening at the same time? Is Smith’s Sonic Corp. going to make a play for ISC? Is everything being taken private to clear the way for a merger? I have no idea what is going on but something is. It should all become clear before long.

Can anybody explain why McLaren, who entered Fernando Alonso in this year’s Indianapolis 500, has partnered with Carlin Motorsports instead of Andretti Autosport, as was the case in 2017 when the two-time Formula One world champion very nearly won the most important trace in the world? I suggest it’s because of money – Carlin is not charging as much as Andretti would have.

I don’t know that for sure – but there’s no other explanation. And it’s backfired already.

Two years ago, when Alonso first showed up at Indy, Andretti had his car all set up and ready to go. Marco Andretti did the preliminary work so that all Alonso had to do was climb aboard and drive it around. He had to pass a rookie test but that was no big deal because everything was laid out for him on a silver platter. Yes, he had to drive the car at race speeds but that was pretty much it.

This week, on Wednesday, everybody showed up for a day of testing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Alonso arrived and the car wasn’t ready. He had to get comfortable in it and to get the car set up. Then the weather interfered. Then, when he got out on the speedway, he had an electrical issue and had to be towed in. He finally got going and it rained again. Not a good day.

However, most important was that every other driver who had to complete a refresher course (drivers who hadn’t driven in an IndyCar race since the last 500 – and that group included three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves) plus the first-timers like Colton Herta who had to complete their rookie test, all finished their work. All except Alonso. This means, he will have to wait till the Monday after the Grand Prix of Indianapolis to get back out on the Speedway and finish his refresher before getting down to the business of preparing the car for qualifications five days later.

A guy like Alonso doesn’t need this aggravation and you wonder why Zak Brown, who’s running McLaren these days, would put this great champion through it.

Very strange.

The Indianapolis Speedway held a ceremony Thursday to honour the four victories scored by A.J. Foyt. A commemorative brick (see photo) detailing his victories was installed in the Yard of Bricks that makes up the start/finish line at the 2.5-mile oval track. When the Speedway opened in 1909 – they held a hot-air balloon race – the track was made of cinder. By 1911, the cinder had been replaced by several millions of paving bricks. (I have one of the original bricks on the fireplace mantle in our Family Room.) In 1961, the last of the bricks was paved over except for the fabled yard. Said Foyt, 84, at the ceremony this week: “All I can say is I won it with the whole straightaway of bricks,” referring to his first win 58 years ago in 1961. “I won it with the Yard of Bricks. It was a lot better when they took the bricks up (and paved the front straight with asphalt) because it was rough. It would take the fillings out of your teeth when you’d run across them.”