Craig Murto: NASCAR Hall of Trouble?


The NASCAR Hall of Fame has financial troubles.

A beautiful building in the heart of Charlotte, N.C., full of priceless racing memorabilia, the Hall of Fame has yet to meet financial expectations.

In fact, it’s been reported that the Hall has reached an agreement with Bank of America and Wells Fargo to ‘forgive’ more than $15 million in loans that were supposed to be repaid through sponsorships and sales of commemorative bricks. The loan was not attached to any physical assets, so the banks really have no choice but to write the loan off.

The Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority reported that in the fiscal year ending in June 2014, about 170,000 visited the Hall, down from about 179,000 the previous year. Both numbers are far below the projected 400,000 annual visitors the Hall was supposed to attract.

It’s been reported that the Hall has been losing more than $1 million annually, and has yet to pay NASCAR royalties it owes.

You have to wonder whether it was a good idea to build the Hall in the heart of Charlotte. Since when has Charlotte been known as a tourist destination?

Atlanta and Daytona both were considered finalists when determining where to build the Hall. Wouldn’t it have made more sense to build it in Daytona? Or at least across the street from Charlotte Motor Speedway; the city of Charlotte is miles down the road and not necessarily convenient for race fans on race weekends. Or perhaps the Hall should have been built in Mooresville, closer to the race shops, so fans could more easily plan a racing vacation around those attractions.

The economy hasn’t been great, and the NASCAR Hall of Fame reflects that. Its financial worries are complicated, and if you’re interested you can do an Internet search and find thorough reporting on the issue.

My question relates to the banks that have to eat so much investment. Banks use customers’ money to make loans. I bank with one of the institutions mentioned. So, since it’s my money they lost, shouldn’t I get free admission for life to the Hall of Fame? Or maybe — just maybe — NASCAR should spend some of its fortune to secure the Hall of Fame with its name on it; reporting of its financial woes can’t be beneficial for NASCAR’s image. The Daytona-based organization should do the right thing and put its own money into the Hall.

The NASCAR Hall of Fame isn’t alone in trouble; the Qatar Racing Club announced that all of its investment in North American motorsports are finished. This includes sponsorship of its Unlimited Hydroplane boat racing team, and Alan Johnson Racing’s Al Anabi drag racing operation.

It appears that low energy prices are hurting the kingdom. Qatar makes its money by exporting natural gas. Did a motorsports-loving sheik just have his allowance cut?

Eli Tomac should have his allowance raised after winning his first 450cc Supercross event at Chase Field in Phoenix. Tomac’s Honda was followed by Ken Roczen’s Suzuki and Ryan Dungey’s KTM. Cooper Webb grabbed his first 250cc win on a Yamaha, followed by Malcolm Stewart’s best finish on his Honda and third place Jerry Nelson — the 250 points leader — on a KTM.

KTM used to be Penton. Actually, it’s more accurate to say that when John Penton had his name on a motorcycle, KTM was the manufacturer. The history of that arrangement traces to roots of the modern off-road motorcycle.

In the film “Penton: The John Penton Story” subtitled “From the Woods to the World,” the story of farmer and enduro motorcycle racing superstar John Penton is historically documented and narrated by country singer (and former motorcycle racer) Lyle Lovett.

Penton’s initial design is credited with spearheading the evolution that directly leads to today’s modern off-road motorcycles. When Penton first had KTM — then a small Austrian manufacturer of scooters — build their motorcycle, it had a huge advantage. The film documents that other manufacturers actually took photos of the Penton motorcycle and were able to mass produce similar designs for lower costs, which eventually led to business troubles and Penton’s name no longer on the motorcycle.

The documentary doesn’t view as an exciting racing feature, but John Penton’s is an inspiring story. And if you’re interested in the history of motorcycles, it’s two-and-a-half hours of information you won’t get anywhere else.

Veteran motorsports columnist Craig Murto is a Linden resident.

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