CONCORD, N.C. — Bob Leavine didn’t want his tenure as a NASCAR Cup Series team owner to end this way.
Leavine, the primary owner of Leavine Family Racing, announced on Tuesday that the team, its charter and other assets had been sold to an undisclosed party, who will take ownership at the conclusion of the season. The team’s cars are the property of Joe Gibbs Racing and are not included in the sale.
It’s a frustrating end to Leavine’s time in NASCAR, an end that Leavine admits leaves him feeling unfulfilled.
“It’s a bad taste in my mouth to be perfectly candid,” Leavine said during a teleconference Tuesday morning following the announcement of the team’s sale.
A number of factors played a role in Leavine and his business partner, Matt Diliberto, deciding to sell the race team. The emergence of COVID-19, which shut the NASCAR season down for two months, was a key factor.
“Our biggest sponsor over the last 10 years has been WRL, our construction firm,” Leavine explained. “That obviously has been impacted and will continue to be impacted for the next several years. That was a big factor and the business model of NASCAR, sponsorship, obviously, when the pandemic hit, we shut down.
“We looked at our marketing people and we are going to be lucky to sell $50,000 worth (of sponsorship) for the rest of the year,” Leavine continued. “Big companies are going bankrupt. They can’t invest in something that has no more return than what they are going to get — during a pandemic. The business model itself hurt. It was the perfect storm.”
Not only has COVID-19 hampered the race team from a sponsorship standpoint, the pandemic also delayed plans for the introduction of the Next Gen race car that NASCAR had planned to introduce in 2021.
Currently the team, which fields the No. 95 Toyota for rookie Christopher Bell, has an affiliation with Joe Gibbs Racing. The team gets its chassis’ and bodies from JGR, but Leavine had hoped the introduction of the Next Gen car would enable the team to become more self-sufficient.
When NASCAR announced in April that the introduction of the Next Gen car would be delayed until 2022, Leavine knew his time as a team owner was nearing its end.
“We had a whole lot of things banking on the Next Gen coming in,” Leavine explained. “Our deal with JGR, our affiliation required us to do certain things. We were looking forward to being a standalone team with one or two cars. So, the pandemic and sponsorship and how it affected WRL, our major sponsor, and then having to come back and buy all the cars again for next year, because we had planned on not needing cars next year … it was a snowball effect on multiple things.
“We saw no way out. We could not afford the affiliation, and what we did this year, next year. That’s what we banked on,” Leavine said. “OK, we will do this one year, run good, get our charter value up, and we had a plan. That plan came tumbling down with the pandemic. Then you take a bad business model; it doesn’t work for us.”
Leavine explained the decision to sell the team was not one he took lightly, and it was perhaps the hardest decision he’s had to make in his life.
“It’s probably one of the most difficult things I’ve encountered and had to do because of our 10 years,” Leavine said. “I really gave it all I had for the 10 years and the last five primarily when we went full time, and I committed, and I thought we could make a difference and be a good team — a responsible and respected team in NASCAR.
“To walk away and not have completed that, I’ve never had to do that before and give up on anything,” Leavine continued. “But I could not let it destroy our business — a 41-year old business — in Texas during these times, so you have to protect something and that’s a profitable organization and I cannot rape, pillage and plunder.
“It’s like having two kids and you have to decide which one lives, and which one doesn’t. It’s gut wrenching.”