Bubba Wallace: NASCAR Owner?
By Bob Pockrass
Richard Petty Motorsports owner Andrew Murstein is making his boldest play to keep Bubba Wallace in the No. 43 car beyond 2020, offering an ownership piece of the team as part of negotiations with the 26-year-old free-agent-to-be.
"Ownership is the next evolution in how Bubba is changing NASCAR and the world of sports," Murstein told me in an email. "I would love to see other team owners in all sports also give ownership to their athletes.
"That would help build their futures and their net worths long after their athletic careers end."
At 20th in the standings, Wallace is eight spots better and 120 points improved on where he was at this point last year. It is a sign of both his maturity as a driver as well as the progress of the team.
With his leadership and advocacy as the only Black driver in the NASCAR Cup Series, Wallace’s value to a sponsor also has increased off the track.
So the question he faces is, if he can land additional sponsorship, is it better to continue at a one-car team such as RPM or go to an organization with more depth?
Wallace was outspoken last year about the team lacking enough funding, although Murstein said that potential sponsorship deals will allow for more funding next season.
"We have new sponsors and are about to announce yet another new sponsor shortly which will give us the ability to even spend more money next year and have a car that will be competitive with anyone," Murstein said.
With the better on-track performance, RPM also is looking better to potential free agents, and it’s no surprise that Murstein has started to get calls about whether the car is available. Murstein said he has offered Wallace a "huge" pay raise for next year.
"We have been approached recently by three other drivers inquiring about the 43 ride, one of which is a current star," Murstein said. "However our focus is on Bubba."
Murstein hopes that loyalty goes a long way. The team took an unfunded race at Martinsville and worked with Wallace to put the Black Lives Matter hashtag on the car as well as other messages about love and compassion that Wallace wanted.
"He has the perfect mentor in Richard Petty, who has embraced and supported him in every way possible," Murstein said. "I don’t think Bubba would be the type of person to ignore all of that and turn his back on the King. After all he does have a tattoo of Richard Petty’s signature on his leg."
All of that is true, but Wallace would have other things to consider beyond loyalty when it comes to staying at RPM, even with an ownership stake:
- While the team is competitive, it still does not have the engineering depth of some of the top teams nor does it have the ability to work with a range of teammates that multiple-car teams offer.
- Beyond the worth of a charter – charters have been sold for less than $2 million to as much as $6 million, depending on the past performance of the team, which increases the amount of future payouts – the team doesn’t have many assets as it works in a shop on the Richard Childress Racing campus. Their sponsorships aren’t significant long-term deals that would add value.
- With an ownership stake comes the ability to have a bigger voice in the direction of the team. While that sounds enticing, there could be added responsibility that would weigh on a driver trying to focus on racing craft rather than the bottom line."
- Staying at RPM would allow Wallace to play the underdog role, rather than having the pressure where anything outside the top-10 is considered a bad day and potentially not good enough for him to keep his ride if he’s not competing for wins nor advancing deep into the playoffs.
Give credit to Murstein, though, for thinking outside the box in a move first reported Sunday morning by Forbes. Sure, Rick Hendrick gave Jeff Gordon a piece of Hendrick Motorsports, but they already had won a few titles together.
"We view Bubba as a lot more than just an employee or a driver," Murstien said. "We view him as a partner. From my perspective there is now zero reason for Bubba not to re-sign with us."