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Talking NASCAR with Felix Sabates

One of NASCAR's most well-known team owners opens up about the state of Charlotte's favorite sport

Perhaps at the top of the list of Felix Sabates’ vast knowledge and worldly experiences are business and sports. The Cuba native and longtime Charlottean was one of the original part-owners of the NBA's Charlotte Hornets is currently a part-owner of the Charlotte Bobcats and has been one of the most well-known team owners in NASCAR for the last 25 years. On a recent afternoon at the headquarters of Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Sabates in Concord, wearing two gold, diamond-encrusted NASCAR Sprint Cup rings, Sabates opined on the state of motorsports.

Felix Sabates with NASCAR drivers
Aric Almirola, Felix Sabates and Juan Pablo Montoya (Courtesy Action Sports Photography)

On what is great about the experience at racetracks: Every weekend in NASCAR, before the race starts there are so many fans on pit row. You can walk up to the driver on his way to the driver introductions, and he’ll sign an autograph. Can you imagine doing that at a football or basketball game?

Describing NASCAR fans: It used to be that the generation that came to races the most, I’ll call them Generation B. Generation A were the young ones, and C were the old ones like me now. B were the 30- to 50-year-olds, who were the hardcore NASCAR fans. Generation B from back then is now Generation C—they’re old—and we haven’t been able to recapture the middle generation. We’re pushing to try to attract the young fans.

How to draw new fans: If we make racing better and more competitive, then around the water coolers at the office people will begin to talk about it. At every racetrack, you gotta have a pack of 20 cars running together. Our cars today, they’re so sensitive to the wind. The car that gets up front, it’s hard to catch him. We need to fix that, because the race becomes boring in a lot of places.

The growth of race teams: It used to be that if you had a competitive race team, you had 20 employees on the car side and three on the engine side; you had a PR person and a marketing person, and a bus driver. So you had about 30 people, and you won races with it. Now, we got about 200 people working in this building.

Charlotte Travel Tip from Where Editors:
Charlotte has a storied connection with NASCAR, and it's all accessible and open to the public. There's the NASCAR Hall of Fame in downtown Charlotte and the Charlotte Motor Speedway just outside Charlotte in the town of Concord, N.C. In addition, Charlotte is home to a number of NASCAR teams, some of which open their facilities to behind-the-scenes tours.