CONCORD, N.C. – Chip Ganassi Racing announced Thursday afternoon that longtime motorsports owner and visionary Felix Sabates is retiring from the sport.
Sabates, 74, founded SABCO Racing in 1987 and joined forces with current owner Chip Ganassi in 2001, where it became known as Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates.
The duo combined to field cars in NASCAR’s top two divisions of competition and produced 43 total wins, including the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400, and nine trips to the NASCAR playoffs.
Both cars driven by Kurt Busch and Kyle Larson won races in 2019 and made the postseason, with Larson advancing to the Round of 8 – the furthest a CGR car has ever advanced since the playoff system began.
In addition to NASCAR, Sabates and Ganassi fielded entries in IMSA, where they won seven championships, 64 races, including a record eight Rolex 24 at Daytona races, the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the 12 Hours of Sebring.
“Where do you even begin to describe Felix Sabates? He’s done so much for the sport of racing,” said team owner and friend Chip Ganassi. “I teamed up with him almost 20 years ago, and he’s been a great business partner and an even better friend. In that time, the only thing we’ve had an argument over was who was picking up the tab at dinner. Felix helped me develop as an owner as well as an individual. His track record in this sport certainly sets the bar high for anyone that follows.
“I’m proud to call him a friend and wish him all the best.”
Sabates, who has been a Charlotte resident since 1963, has always had a soft spot in his heart for sports. In 1988, he became an original owner of the Charlotte Hornets basketball team and played a key role in negotiating with the NBA to grant Charlotte a franchise.
He also is the only person who had ownership in the original Hornets to still have an ownership stake with Michael Jordan in the Charlotte Hornets.
Sabates has been an owner of the East Coast Hockey League’s Charlotte Checkers, which won the league championship in 1995. Also, in the early 1980s, he started the first indoor professional soccer team and was one of the first investors of the World Football League.
Sabates is also well known for his many philanthropic contributions and has received several honors and awards for his generosity.
Belmont Abbey College in North Carolina has named its dining hall after him, Elon College and UNC Charlotte bestowed upon him Honorary Doctorate degrees and he received a “Special Blessing” in writing from Pope John Paul II.
Sabates became a member of the philanthropic Dream Makers Society of the Boys and Girls Club of Broward County, Fla., in recognition of his 12-year commitment to and support of special fundraising events.
In his honor, the Felix Sabates Athletic Center was dedicated in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in November 2000. The facility is the largest Boys and Girls Club in the state. He also is a large contributor to the Levine Children’s Hospital, which bears a special plaque in his honor is in the main lobby.
Sabates has contributed much money to and served on the board of Atrium Health Care system for more than 30 years, while also being a member of the Atrium Health Foundation Board.
But through it all, Sabates’ heart has been with racing for more than three decades, and it’s a sport he’ll continue to cherish as he goes into retirement.
“I look back to the 1980s when I first started in this sport, and I can tell you that the landscape has really changed. It’s been challenging at times, and tremendously rewarding watching the sport grow,” said Sabates. “When I started the NASCAR team, it was just a different time —a smaller regional sport. Then NASCAR grew and grew into a big business and continued to grow after my partnership with Chip.
“I’m proud of what I’ve done over the last 30 years. I have friendships that will last a lifetime,” Sabates continued. “I hope that what I have tried to give back to the sport — whether it be bringing NASCAR to Mexico or being instrumental in starting the sports car program with Chip — will be equal to what the sport has taught and given me. I’ve always said that I never wanted to be an old man walking around at the track; this is my way of honoring that commitment I made to myself years ago.
“I wish Chip and his teams all the success in the world and will be keeping a close eye on the sport from afar, and maybe even make an appearance from time to time.”