CUP: Ford, Ray Evernham Confident Richard Petty Will Control Race Team

Ford officials as well as Richard Petty Motorsports minority owner Ray Evernham expressed confidence that Richard Petty has put together an investment group to allow the financially strapped Sprint Cup Series organization to operate as a two-car team in 2011.

Heading into a meeting with team officials Saturday afternoon, Ford Motor Company board of directors member Edsel B. Ford II said he was optimistic that RPM will get the deal done.

“We’re hopeful. … Having all of this put to bed and having the focus of Richard Petty Motorsports getting up to speed, getting the chassis done, getting the engines ready, getting the drivers sorted out is of paramount importance to us,” Ford said.

“We need to do whatever we can to help that process. … We’ve done everything we can. A lot of their suppliers have done exactly the same thing. Having RPM as part of our overall stable is a good thing.”

Evernham, who sold the majority of his team to George Gillett in 2007, said he is unsure who owns Gillett’s majority shares of the team while the seven-time Cup champion Petty attempts to obtain control.

“That’s a good question,” Evernham said. “That changes by the hour. There’s paperwork one way and there’s paperwork another way. … It costs me quite a bit [in lawyer fees] as it changes by the hour.”

Less than 18 months after Evernham sold the majority of the team, Gillett merged Gillett Evernham Motorsports with Petty Enterprises to form Richard Petty Motorsports after the 2008 season. RPM merged with Yates Racing at the end of the 2009 season.

Employees were told last month the team might not make it through the end of the season. That warning came after the Liverpool soccer team, co-owned by Gillett, was sold over Gillett’s objections at a price he thought was too low. Gillett sold his stake in the Montreal Canadiens last year.

Earlier this year, Gillett had to restructure a $90 million loan. Getting rid of the debt is crucial to getting the deal done, according to Evernham, who said he owns the second-biggest percentage in the team behind Gillett and more than other minority owners Petty and Boston Ventures.

“The structure for the new organization that Richard is trying to put together, I can’t really tell you who owns that because I don’t know. … He has got the support to get it done, and I think it can be a successful deal if he can get it cleaned up,” Evernham said. “I know he’s got some support there. He just needs to get it through this maze of legal things. I’ve been confident that he had the money to get through this year and I’m confident that he’ll have the support going forward with it.

“I know it is a successful, viable business entity if it’s not mired in tons of debt. Once he gets through, there won’t be tons of debt.”

Jack Roush, whose Roush Fenway Racing leases cars to RPM, has been a “good friend” to Petty over the last month of financial uncertainty, Evernham said. Getting to the end of the 2010 season was key and now there is a lot of pressure off and the group has time to get the deal completed.

“We want to see an orderly transfer of ownership into Richard Petty and his new investment group,” said Ford Racing manager Jamie Allison. “We are involved. We are offering any assistance that we can. But ultimately it has to come down to the investment group and Richard Petty and that group.

“I am more confident today than I was at the start of this development. … I’ve had conversations with the investment team and I have signs of hope. Like you, I await a confirmation.”

AJ Allmendinger is signed to return to the team but sponsor Best Buy has yet to agree to join Valvoline as a primary sponsor for Allmendinger in 2011.

Marcos Ambrose is signed to replace driver Elliott Sadler with Stanley as his sponsor. Driver Kasey Kahne already has left the team for Red Bull Racing while his sponsor, Budweiser, will sponsor Kevin Harvick next year. Driver Paul Menard and his Menard’s sponsorship will go to Richard Childress Racing.

“None of us wanted to see this be in the flux that it is,” Allison said. “It’s hard enough to go compete at the highest level, let alone have a business part derail your attention. But in life and business, we deal with moving parts. This is a moving part. I hope to see a satisfactory conclusion that will allow the teams and us and Jack to focus on next year.”

Allison said Ford has not made any payments to RPM to cover any costs this month. Evernham has not as well. As a minority owner, Evernham has had an exclusive consulting clause with RPM but he said he believes that legally now he could work for another team although he would only want to do so on a part-time basis.

“The communication between Gillett, [Gillett’s company] Booth Creek and I has been strictly through attorneys the last six months,” said Evernham, who indicated that Gillett still has payments pending from the sale.

Evernham said it was sad to see so many employees he knew lose their jobs – the company has shrunk from an estimated 300 employees to about 100. He compared his experience to selling a car to someone and then having the people who bought the car drive the seller back to North Carolina.

“We started driving and I gave you some directions and you said to me, ‘They’re not going to work,’” Evernham said. “And I said, ‘You have to use my directions. I don’t want to go that way. I told you it’s not going to work.’ And then they said, ‘You’re not driving anymore, you have to ride in the back.’

“And when you were riding in the back up there, you realized we weren’t headed to North Carolina, we were headed into the ocean. You started screaming and … they say, ‘Shut up, we’re going to lock you in the trunk.’ Just before the car crashed into the ocean, someone unlocks you out of the trunk. That’s the way I feel.” • Kasey Kahne has been racing in pain all season, to have surgery on both knees