B Duane Cross
Thursday April 1st, 2004

Texas Motor Speedway is the epicenter of NASCAR this weekend with Busch and Cup cars competing on the fast 1 1/2-mile quad oval. However, rumbling just below the asphalt is a dispute that could become Ground Zero for a sport-changing court battle.

For Joe Fan, it's Bruton Smith vs. The France family -- again. Legally, it's Ferko vs. NASCAR, a case filed in U.S. District Court in Sherman, Texas. And it boils down to five words Bill France Jr. allegedly told Smith, who built TMS: "You will have a date."

Francis Ferko, a stockholder in Smith's Speedway Motorsports Inc., is holding NASCAR to its supposed promise -- even after Smith purchased 50 percent of North Wilkesboro (N.C.) Speedway and split its two race dates between Texas and New Hampshire International Speedway, which is owned by Bob Bahre, who bought the other 50 percent of North Wilkesboro.

The bottom line: TMS wants another $40 million-plus pay day, while NASCAR doesn't want to be bullied into giving a multimillion dollar race date to a competitor of its International Speedway Corp. unless it says so -- and on its terms. So why should fans care about how this court battle ends? Isn't this the epitome of two big-dollar corporations fighting for a larger share of the loot? Au contraire.

If Ferko succeeds in proving his case, which also includes allegations of antitrust, the result could force the France family to give up control of either NASCAR or ISC. In that scenario, if the Frances decide to continue running NASCAR, race dates at non-ISC tracks could be in jeopardy.

"The antitrust implications in this case are a major issue," Ferko's lead attorney Sam Cherry told The Dallas Morning News. "You have a regulatory body that is granting races to its sister company."

In fact, ISC tracks play host to 18 of 36 Cup races: California (2), Chicagoland (1), Darlington (2), Daytona (2), Homestead (1), Kansas (1), Michigan (2), North Carolina (1), Phoenix (1), Richmond (2), Talladega (2) and Watkins Glen (1). And France Jr. also owns 50 percent of Martinsville, which also has two race dates.

On the other hand, SMI has nine Cup dates: Atlanta (2), Bristol (2), Charlotte (2), Las Vegas (1), Sonoma (1) and Texas (1).

However, the Charlotte Observer has reported a settlement could result in ISC selling both North Carolina Speedway and Darlington Raceway to SMI. If such a deal were made, two of three remaining Cup dates at Rockingham and Darlington would move -- one to Texas and the other to Las Vegas, giving those SMI-owned tracks two dates each per year. The other date would rotate between Rockingham and Darlington, with the Cup, Busch and Truck series racing at Rockingham one year then at Darlington the next.

And then there's the fact that high-profile lawyers -- and both sides have them -- don't come cheap. The plaintiffs' law firm counts Johnnie Cochran as a partner. David Boies, who argued the government's antitrust case against Microsoft, is a partner in the firm defending the France family.

So again why should fans care? Isn't this just more corporate greed run amok? Hey, someone has to pay for these legal eagles. Hence, ticket prices are going to increase (and fans are the purchasing public), so ante up, Joe Fan. It is all about the money -- yours, not ISC's or SMI's.

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide - from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Seth Davis, and more - delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.