GAS Crisis – Who Owns the Georgia Asphalt Series? by Matt Kentfield
Drama Fills Future of Pro Late Model Racing in Georgia
On Monday, a press release distributed by the ownership group of Lanier National Speedway in Braselton, Georgia, announced their purchase of the Georgia Asphalt Series Pro Late Model tour from Paul Kegel, former owner of Peach State Speedway. Kegel had already agreed to sell Peach State as early as the week following the World Crown event.
The sale of the track was something that track and GAS promoter Vince Whitmire had organized. The buyers, Tony Gresham and his family, had competed at Peach State in some form for years and young Max Gresham was a regular in GAS in 2008.
The process for purchasing the track had begun before Peach State’s season-ending World Crown weekend last week, with Whitmire understanding that the GAS series would be included in the package deal. Whitmire knew the Greshams did not have an interest in buying the series, so Whitmire discussed receiving compensation from Kegel for finding the buyer, then rolling that money into purchasing the GAS tour.
But, while Whitmire was at the helm of on-track action at Peach State during World Crown weekend, Kegel agreed to sell the Georgia Asphalt Series to the Lanier group, led by Lanier National Speedway owner Donnie Clack and new track promoter Terry Roberts. Whitmire found out of the sale Monday, setting forth a whirlwind of "he-said-he-said" about who, in fact, owns the Georgia Asphalt Series now.
“He (Kegel) kind of said he was going to shut the doors to the series and the racetrack unless I wanted to step in and run it,” said Whitmire. “I leased the racetrack from him, but he still said he was going to put the racetrack up for sale. If I could find a buyer, he would take care of me and give me a real estate commission. I found a buyer and got all that stuff worked out and I kind of thought Paul and I were friends. I took care of his place here and kept everything going.
GAS regulars such as Paul Kelley (#43) and Bubba Pollard (#42) have provided the on-track drama in the series in recent seasons, now there's off-track drama to boot.
“Well, I sold the racetrack and we had an agreement that he would give me a real estate commission on the racetrack, so I would roll that money back over in exchange for the Georgia Asphalt Series. That was a little mutual agreement we had. I hired an attorney and registered the Georgia Asphalt Series trade name. My understanding was that Mr. Kegel was going to sell me the Georgia Asphalt Series at the end of the season.
“(The Greshams) didn’t want to get involved with the series stuff. They didn’t buy the series. But they were also led to believe that when they bought the racetrack that I would take the series over. That was the way they understood it and that’s what I understood too.”
But, while Kegel was in the process of negotiating the sale of the track to the Greshams, he was also in negotiations with Roberts and the Lanier group about the sale of the series.
“We were approached about a month ago with the opportunity, if we were interested, to purchase that series,” said Roberts. “We made some calls to some people that might or might not have had an interest in buying it, including the people that were purchasing the track, and we proceeded ahead. We registered the name Georgia Asphalt Series on October 20th.”
GAS regular Max Gresham's family now owns Peach State Speedway.
That left two groups registering the name Georgia Asphalt Series within nine days of each other, as Whitmire’s trade name license was approved October 29th. But, Whitmire’s license was registered in Jackson County, where both Peach State and Lanier are located. Roberts’ license for the name is registered with the entire state of Georgia.
“Mr. Kegel owned the series and Vince was his director,” said Roberts. “Vince didn’t have an ownership stake. His is only registered in Jackson County. We registered ours with the Secretary of State’s office.”
Still, Whitmire feels that the series’ name was not available for Roberts and the Lanier group to purchase.
“When they came over to pick up all the other stuff for the Georgia Asphalt Series, I said, ‘Look, y’all don’t own it.’ I own the name and have already registered the name and the trademark under Whitmire Motorsports LLC.
“I didn’t come out and tell Mr. Kegel that I had done (the registration) until I had Mr. Kegel and Mr. Roberts and myself in my office at the same time. Then I showed them the paperwork showing in own the name and so forth. So, if their lawyers had done their job, they would’ve known it wasn’t available to buy. They can blame it on their attorneys or they can blame it on whoever they want to, but I had to protect myself in case the rumor was true. But I knew it was either just a rumor or I was fixin’ to get it in the you-know-what.”
Whatever arrangement that was made between Kegel and Whitmire about the fate of the series under the new track ownership at Peach State was never brought up to Roberts in his negotiations for purchasing the series. Speed51.com’s attempts to reach Kegel went unreturned.
“They’re the only ones privy to that. It certainly wasn’t to us,” added Roberts. “We have a purchase agreement where Paul conveyed everything to us. Our attorneys drew up our agreements and searched everything. We didn’t just go off on a whim and buy this thing. That’s not our business. We’ve got a plan on where we want to go with this and who we want to have get involved with this.”
Whitmire is willing to sell the name Georgia Asphalt Series that he has licensed in Jackson County if the Lanier group is interested. Even if they are not, Whitmire feels as if he was the victim of a poor business move.
“I don’t really want to get any lawyers involved, but if they had been good businessmen and been fair about it – even Donnie Clack could’ve picked up the phone and said ‘We’re buying this series, but would you want to stay on and be the director or what role would you like to play?’ Paul could’ve done the same thing instead of doing all the sneaky stuff behind my back. I’m a businessman. Business is business, but bullcrap is bullcrap. I just think it was a shady business deal.”
On Thursday, Whitmire announced the forming of the Southern Pro Late Model Series, a touring series that will rival the new Georgia Asphalt Series. The new tour will make the third Pro Late Model-type touring series to call Georgia home, adding to the new GAS and the ASA Southeast Asphalt Tour.
“I had some tentative schedules in place for the GAS series for next year and had some promoters on board, so I’ve either got to follow through with the deals or throw everybody under the bus. I’m not going to throw everyone under the bus.”
Whitmire, a former racer himself, said he had fielded numerous calls from drivers of the former Georgia Asphalt Series showing their support for his new tour.
“Needless to say, I’ve gotten calls from a good number of racers saying not to get upset,” said Whitmire. “They told me I’ve been fair to them and I always did what I said I was going to do, so I could call it ‘Vince’s Asphalt Series’ and they’d go wherever I go.
“But I don’t think everybody wants to go to Lanier and race all the time.”
While Whitmire had fielded calls from drivers worried that the new Georgia Asphalt Series, under the direction of Lanier’s ownership, would turn into a Lanier-only series. That will not be the case, according to Roberts.
Vince Whitmire is still on board as the promoter at Peach State while also the head of the new Southern Pro Late Model Series.
“The direction we want to go in is to keep it a traveling series,” added Roberts. “We want to travel no more than a three-and-a-half-hour or so drive from this area, so the drivers can get home after a race and they’d be easy to go to. As far as who’s going to handle the series, right now, I’m putting that together.”
Roberts also said the formation of the new Southern Pro Late Model Series would not have any affect on the new-look GAS.
“Not at all,” said Roberts. “Our rules for Pro Late Models in the GAS Series are very much going to mirror the ones at Five Flags (Speedway in Pensacola, Florida). I’ve heard (rumors) that we’re going to open up the rules much like ASA, but that’s not the case. The rules will stay very much the way they are right now.”
Like Whitmire in his new tour, Roberts has heard from numerous racers excited about the new direction of the Georgia Asphalt Series.
“We’ve had some good response about people coming out to race,” said Roberts. “There seemed to be a story about us not going to travel, but that’s not the case. We are going to travel. We were approached already by two tracks. We didn’t even approach them, they approached us. You’ll see races in Carolina, Georgia and probably Alabama. Depending on what happens and how they get their stuff straightened in Montgomery (AL), we’ll have a race there.
“I’ve been involved in series for a long time. I think we had four of them when I was with FASCAR. We started that truck series from scratch. We understand a little bit about it."
Both the new Georgia Asphalt Series and the new Southern Pro Late Model Series will be fighting for the same cars on any given weekend, adding to an already busy Georgia racing schedule. In 2008, between the ASA Southeast Asphalt Tour, Georgia Asphalt Series and the ASA Late Models South Division, 19 Pro Late Model races were held in the state of Georgia. With the addition of the new Whitmire-led tour, that could mean even more Georgia races drawing from the same pool of cars.
While the futures of the two series remain up in the air, hopes for both series to survive to lead healthy lives are apparent, but time will only tell if both can make it in the long term.