On April 27, it was announced NASCAR will acquire the Automobile Racing Club of America, the sanctioning body of the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards.
The announcement sent shock waves through the stock car racing community. ARCA was formed in 1953 as the Midwest Ass’n for Race Cars by John Marcum and his wife, Mildred. It was renamed the Automobile Racing Club of America in 1964 and has competed with and against NASCAR for more than 60 years.
The sanctioning body has been run by Marcum’s grandson Ron Drager, who has been president of ARCA since 1996. ARCA has served as a proving ground for a number of top competitors over the years, including two-time ARCA champion Benny Parsons, who went on to win the 1973 NASCAR Cup Series title; six-time ARCA champion Iggy Katona and 10-time ARCA champion Frank Kimmel, among many others.
Under the terms of the agreement, ARCA will continue to run as it has since 1953 through the 2019 season, with NASCAR taking full control of ARCA and the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards beginning in 2020.
SPEED SPORT sat down with Drager after the announcement to discuss the decision to sell the sanctioning body.
Q: Why was now the right time to sell ARCA to NASCAR?
Drager: I don’t think there was anything that pinpointed an exact timing. When I would go to Daytona for our test in January and for our race in February, I made a habit … it was a good practice for me to swing by and visit with everybody from Mike Helton to Jim France and Brian France and Lesa Kennedy, Brent Dewar, Ed Bennett, a lot of the senior management folks down there in the building on the NASCAR side. I think these were pretty natural conversations. NASCAR is a pretty forward-thinking company.
Some of those conversations led to, “What do you think about three years from now, what do you think about five years from now?”As a person who is now 58 years old with really no family succession plan for the company that I own 100 percent of and looking around the garage and feeling somewhat responsible for the sustainability of the series, whether it’s the 10 of us that work full time in this building (the ARCA offices in Toledo, Ohio) or the folks from General Tire, the folks from Ilmor, the folks who own race teams and have full-time employees there, you start looking around and you say it would be a little irresponsible to not have a good, logical plan for sustainability. I think that just sort of evolved over time.
Q: Was the sale vital to the long-term survival of ARCA? The series wasn’t in any financial trouble, was it?
Drager: The answer to that is no. We’re a racing company. We don’t have any other funding in terms of how we do our business. We have a set of books that start on Jan. 1 and close on Dec. 31. We’ve done it that way for 67 years and I can tell you we are debt free and that we’re sustainable as we are today. We have a good core base of business. I think this (the sale of ARCA) is more just looking at long-term sustainability.
Q: Is there any guarantee the ARCA name will remain after the acquisition?
Drager: There is an agreement among NASCAR and ARCA that the brand has value and that there is equity in the ARCA Racing Series as a brand. I think the vision is common in terms of there will be an ARCA Racing Series for many years to come going forward. That’s gratifying to know that the company my grandparents founded in 1953 will have a way forward and for that brand to continue.
Q: How do you expect the acquisition of ARCA to affect your dedicated race teams, such as Venturini Motorsports?
Drager: I’ve had a good opportunity to visit one-on-one with most of our team owners. In fact, I just had a meeting with Bill Venturini and Cathy and Billy (Venturini). So we talked through what does this really mean, where do we think things are going. They feel like they are in a real good place right now. They have a good relationship with Toyota, they’ve got a good stable of young drivers. They’ve been very successful so far this year. They’ve invested in the Ilmor 356 engine, they’ve invested in the new Five Star bodies. They just wanted to know what’s going on with the series.
When I’m able to explain one of the primary reasons for — and really the primary reason for the acquisition in my mind — is for the long-term sustainability of the series, it’s reassuring for them. 2020 and beyond is yet to be figured out as far as what that looks like, but we know what the rest of 2018 and what 2019 will look like and that’s very much what it looks like today.