NASCAR announced a $2 billion merger agreement with International Speedway Corp. on Wednesday, an aggressive move to gain control of key racetracks and set itself up for sweeping changes that could save America's most popular racing series.
The deal is expected to close by the end of the year.
ISC owns 12 tracks that host NASCAR races, including Daytona International Speedway, Talladega Superspeedway, Darlington Raceway and Homestead-Miami Speedway. Its holdings stretch from New York to California, and ISC is one of two major facilities companies that host NASCAR races, along with Speedway Motorsports Inc.
The agreement would give NASCAR control over those dozen tracks, along with Iowa Speedway, which it already owns. That would seemingly make it easier for NASCAR to alter its racing schedule, including the possibility of fewer events for tracks that host multiple races each year.
NASCAR President Steve Phelps has made it clear that the 36-race schedule in the top-tier Cup Series, generally considered too taxing for teams and fans, is among the areas the sanctioning body is looking to change. NASCAR's five-year agreement with tracks ends after the 2020 season.
''We are pleased with the progress that the negotiation and execution of the merger agreement between NASCAR and ISC represents,'' NASCAR said in a statement. ''While important regulatory and shareholder approval processes remain, we look forward to the successful final resolution of this matter and continuing our work to grow this sport and deliver great racing experiences for our fans everywhere.
''With a strong vision for the future, the France family's commitment to NASCAR and the larger motorsports industry has never been greater.''
NASCAR Chairman Jim France told competitors before the Daytona 500 in February that ''this sport was built by families and we're just a part of it. It's so important that we remember that this is still a family business. Our family is committed to it.''
Bill France Jr., the eldest son of NASCAR founder Bill France, was chairman of the stock car series for 31 years and ruled the sport as a benevolent but firm dictator.
Brian France replaced his father in 2003 and had been soundly criticized throughout the industry as absent and aloof. Jim France had been running ISC along with the IMSA sports car series but took over as chairman last August after Brian France's arrest on drunken-driving charges.
Many big sponsors have left NASCAR - Cup Series title sponsor Monster Energy is in its final year - and television ratings hit all-time lows at 26 events last season.
Since NASCAR is private, it won't have to publicly report attendance revenue and other financials as ISC had to do as a publicly traded company. The merger also would allow NASCAR to make decisions regarding tracks without worrying about quarterly financial disclosures that could impact stock price.
Shareholders will receive $45 for each share under the agreement.
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