News and Analysis

Qatar businessman/racer Sheik Al-Thani trying to buy Gateway International Raceway?

ADRL CEO Kenny Nowling involved in negotiations

DRO has been informed that Dover Entertainment, who recently sold their Memphis Motorsports Park facility to a group led by NASCAR superstar Dale Earnhardt Jr., is now in preliminary negotiations with a group of businessmen/racers to sell the Gateway International Raceway facility located near St. Louis, MO. Both Gateway International Raceway and Memphis Motorsports Park host an NHRA national event each year.

The group in negotiations regarding GIR is led by 22-year-old Sheik Khalid bin Hamad Al-Thani of Qatar and also includes American Drag Racing League President and CEO Kenny Nowling. Mr. Al-Thani is very involved in drag racing: he owns several professional Pro Mod teams in the U.S. and Qatar and NHRA professional Funny Car and Top Fuel teams under the Al-Anabi name, he built a premier dragstrip in Qatar, and competes as a driver in drag racing series held at tracks in Qatar and other countries in the region.

Since last year the investor group Marathon Partners (led by Mario Cibelli, who holds a significant number of Dover Entertainment shares) have been urging Dover Entertainment to sell off its Midwest tracks. Dover Entertainment sold  the Memphis facility recently for a reported $7.5 million  and at that time there was speculation that Dover Entertainment’s  Gateway track complex would be next to be sold. Rumors around the industry had the selling price at $10 million.

There can no doubt that the Dover Entertainment management have been encouraging buyers to make offers. However, the fact that, according to Marathon Partners in their letter to the Dover Entertainment people, both the Memphis and St. Louis tracks are losing money doesn’t make the job of selling it any easier.

It is not known if any other potential buyers are competing against Mr. Al-Thani and his group. Part of the problem for the Dover, Delaware, company is that they themselves have stated that revenues at their tracks with major drag strips was down considerably from 2007 to 2008.

It is not currently known what the new management group at the former Dover-owned Memphis track has in store for the NHRA national event after the race scheduled for Oct. 2-4 of this year or how many years are left on the current contract between the NHRA and the St. Louis and Memphis tracks.

It is a sure bet that the ADRL principals would love to have a home track.  With the headquarters of the ADRL being in the town of O’Fallon, Mo., just a 30-minute drive from downtown St. Louis and the GIR track across the Mississippi River, Gateway would certainly provide a track the ADRL could make their “home” track.  

Interestingly, the rumors circulating around the auto sports community is that the Earnhardt group bought Memphis Motorsports Park with the idea of closing any NASCAR races there so that another NASCAR track the group owns would benefit from the lack of competition.

If that rumor is true, perhaps selling the Memphis track is on the table. Wouldn’t it be interesting if the Earnhardt group sold the dragstrip at Memphis to Sheik Al-Thani and Nowling with a proviso that they would not hold any NASCAR racing at the track?

Should Mr. Al-Thani actually buy the St. Louis and Memphis tracks that would give him -- and perhaps the ADRL -- control of two Midwest tracks that currently host NHRA national events in major markets.

If the ADRL management team, or those that hold the title to the ADRL series, get control of two tracks hosting NHRA national events, it could make for a very interesting power struggle between the two most successful sanctioning bodies currently in drag racing. Perhaps Sheik Al-Thani has no interest in owning dragstrips in the U.S., but if he and ADRL principals Kenny Nowling, Dave Wood and Tommy Lipar want a global Pro Mod series, what better way to do it than buy a couple of premium dragstrips on the North American continent?