Now that Felix Sabates is nothing more than window dressing on the NASCAR Winston Cup Series, his race teams might have a better chance to win.
That is not an indictment of Sabates' determination, but a statement of fact. More importantly, Sabates himself is saying it.
"I realized my limitations," the popular car owner said a day after he sold 80 percent interest of his SABCO team to IndyCar magnate Chip Ganassi last week. "I couldn't attract the top caliber of people any more. The guys in the garage know who's a racer and who is not, and they know I am not a racer. Racing left me behind.
"My main responsibility is going to be the front of the building - sponsor relations, licensing." Sabates is a great front man because he's painfully honest, and he has the ability to provoke thought. He's just not a racer.
Sabates, who fielded his first team on the Winston Cup Series 12 years ago, contradicts the notion that money buys victories and championships. Few, if any, have pumped more money into the sport, and all the Cuban-born businessman has to show for his efforts is seven victories.
Ganassi, who's built the past four CART Championship teams, could change all that. The likely selling price of $20 million means Ganassi will come into the Winston Cup Series with serious intentions.
"All I'm looking to do is gain the respect of the competitors and the respect of my employees, and let's try to do the best job possible," Ganassi said while also announcing he would turn Sabates' fleet of Chevrolets into Dodge Intrepids by the start of the 2001 season. "I've known Jack (Roush) for years. I've known all these guys. I don't think about that kind of stuff, about strategies and old-boy networks. Racing's a family. It's been great to me all these years, so I don't think about those kinds of things."
The new team is called Chip Ganassi Racing With Felix Sabates. Whatever. The point is, a racer now will run Sabates's two-car operation, not a good-intention businessman who could never understand the difference between truth and snake oil.
"I love racing," Sabates said. "I love NASCAR, and love the people that work at Team SABCO. But I realized Felix Sabates is a businessman who wanted to be a racer. I've had minority partners before (like Charlotte Hornets owner George Shinn), and they've been the ones having fun while I've had the headaches.
Sabates decided several months ago he wanted out. Not only weren't his teams not competitive - his race teams have combined for only one win in the past five years - but he's been too close to several of the sport's fallen heroes.
Rob Moroso, his first Winston Cup Series driver, was killed in a car accident on the way home from a race. Sabates also was a mentor to 1992 series champion Alan Kulwicki and was in charge of organizing and selling his racing assets after Kulwicki was killed in a plane crash in 1993.
Kyle Petty has more starts for SABCO than any other driver, and earlier this year Petty's son, 19-year-old Adam Petty, was killed while practicing at the New Hampshire International Speedway.
Six weeks after Adam Petty's death, driver Kenny Irwin died in the same turn at New Hampshire. Irwin had joined SABCO earlier this year.
Ganassi, who also took Juan Montoya to a victory at this year's Indianapolis 500, won't be the first car owner with open-wheeled experience to venture into the business of stock-car racing. But unlike the others, few are as committed - or as prepared for success - as Ganassi.
Cal Wells jumped into NASCAR this year and was greeted with a much steeper learning curve than expected. A.J. Foyt's stock-car team also has struggled.
Wells caused a lot of commotion a year ago when he said he would incorporate technology from the CART circuit into the Winston Cup Series. What he found, however, was fancy computers are no match for hard work and racing experience.
"Cal Wells set back Chip and those guys five years," Sabates said. "With the attitude he came into the sport, he was going to kick everybody's butt, and he took sponsors from other teams."
Said Ganassi: "Felix and I think a lot alike about things."
Not only will Chip Ganassi Racing With Felix Sabates have new Dodges next year, but they will have driver Sterling Marlin back as well. Ganassi said he hasn't decided who will take over for Irwin on a fulltime basis.
Sabates is already convinced the new race team will enjoy success because of one glaring reason - the new team won't have Felix Sabates at the controls.
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