Jack McNelly is the new sole owner of the series now known as the Pro Cup Series. He’s a successful businessman and a race-winning car owner.
McNelly is also a realist.
He knows that keeping the series formerly known as the USARacing Pro Cup Series is going to need some help in order to stay afloat, but he is willing to forge on with the final five races of the 2011 season, beginning with Saturday night's event at Concord Speedway (NC), with hopes of continuing the series into 2012 and beyond.
“We are in survival mode. I will admit that readily to anybody,” said McNelly. “I will also tell everybody that I have agreed to spearhead this, and yes it’s on my shoulders, but there’s no way in the world that I can do it by myself. It’s going to take a lot of effort from a lot of people if this thing’s going to survive. People are going to have to step up and I’ve got to find partners. I’ve got to find corporate partners out there to make this thing exist. I understand it’s a difficult time to do that, but at the same time, I think the series, the people, the competitors, the fans, the vendors and the sponsors all deserve at least a chance.
“I thought about it, prayed about it and talked it over with my wife, who has been more than supportive of this, and decided we can make this work, but we’ll have to do business a little bit differently. But, I think we can make this work and buy or sell some time here during the last five races of the year to see if there’s anything out there for 2012. If you shut something down in the middle of the stream, number one it’s bad business and you get a lot of ill-will from people, but number two, you have no chance going forward. It’s gone forever. I think we can hang on, but like I said, we’ll have to do business a little differently.”
McNelly, along with fellow car owners Gary Kale and Chip Lofton, purchased the series in 2008 after the Hooters restaurant chain backed out of its ownership and sponsorship roles. McNelly and Kale sold their stakes in the series in January of 2011 to Lofton in the form of a loan. Then, in late July, McNelly took control of the series again.
“Chip spent a lot of time and a lot of money and it just got to the point where he didn’t want to do it anymore and was going to quit.
“I don’t know what took over, whether it was adrenaline or what. Having a lot of time and money invested in the series myself, I didn’t want to just quit in the middle of the stream. Our competitors have been extremely loyal. That core group of 12 or 14 people that have just been there every week and supported us and tried to make this work have spent a lot of money and they have people that are hired. I mean, we are talking about lost jobs, lost revenue, lost sponsorship and lots of things going on if we shut it down in the middle of the year.”
McNelly admitted the sponsorship hunt has been and likely will continue to be difficult.
“I have talked to a couple different marketing groups, but of course, that all comes down to money (to hire a marketing staff). Right now I don’t have that money. The money that we do have is earmarked to get through this season. But, with that being said, I have some friends in the business and they’ve agreed to reach out and help me a little bit to see if we can secure something. They’re working pro-bono right now.”
With rumors circulating about the demise of the series and Lofton distributing a memo to teams that read like an obituary for the series, McNelly understands the question-marks that surround his series.
“I would question it myself if I wasn’t on the inside. I’m not even sure if I’m not questioning it myself at this point. I am telling you right now that we are going to run five races here left in 2011. And we are going to actively try to market this series, pursue sponsorship and get additional teams in here for 2012. If that all falls apart, I’m a realist, and you can’t just continue on doing it.”
Two of the business decisions McNelly has implemented for the remainder of the season is the cancellation of a date later this month at Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis and the dropping of the television package that had been worked on during Lofton’s tenure as head of the series.
“You have to be smart, I don’t care what business you’re in. You have to make smart business decisions, especially considering the state of the economy the way it is today. I made a decision two weeks ago not to go to Lucas Oil Speedway in Indianapolis. It just was not going to be a good thing for our series. I know that disappointed some people along the way and I’m sorry, but I have to make smart business decisions based upon what is best for the series and what is going to keep the series afloat. TV is another one. I know that is going to be a little bit of a disappointment, but TV at this point in the game for our series, is not high on the list.”
To make up for the lost date at Lucas Oil, McNelly told Speed51.com that he will be confirming in the driver’s meeting at Concord on Saturday that an event at Lonesome Pine Raceway in Coeburn, Virginia, will be added to the schedule the weekend of September 10th and 11th.
While it may be an uphill climb, McNelly is not going to give up on his series just yet.
“We’re going to give it one hell of an effort over the next three or four months.”