Friday, January 09, 2009
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GEM has merger agreement with Petty Enterprises

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[January 09, 2009]  CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -- Richard Petty's famed No. 43 Dodge was rescued from near ruin Thursday when Gillett Evernham Motorsports agreed to merge with Petty's slumping organization to create a new team.

HardwareGEM had been in exclusive negotiations with Petty Enterprises to combine the two teams into one four-car organization, and an agreement in principle was announced Thursday. The deal is not expected to be closed until the end of the month.

The team will be co-owned by Richard Petty, Petty Holdings -- which is owned by majority shareholder Boston Ventures -- and Gillett Evernham Motorsports. Ray Evernham, who formed his team in 1999 but sold majority interest to businessman George Gillett Jr. in 2007, will be a minority owner in the venture.

The name of the new team was not released, but it's believed the parties are leaning toward re-branding the organization Richard Petty Motorsports to capitalize on the seven-time NASCAR champion's name.

"I want to get back to winning and together we will bring the resources, technology and infrastructure to do that," Petty said in a statement. "This was a big decision for us, but it's something we really wanted to do. We hope everyone in the sport embraces what George and I are doing."


Petty Enterprises was once one of the most dominant teams in NASCAR, as Petty won 200 Cup races and seven championships. But the team hit hard times as it fell behind in nearly every aspect of the sport, and without a merger, it wasn't clear the team could survive the current economic crisis.

A two-car operation this past season, but without sponsorship secured for the upcoming season, the team laid off most of its employees and said it would only field the No. 43 this year. Bobby Labonte announced he was leaving the team shortly after.

Given new life under the agreement with Gillett, Petty said it will be business as usual going forward.

"Nothing is going to change for me," he vowed. "I'm going to be at the track every weekend and really involved with the teams and drivers back at the shop. We are very happy. George and I have a lot of work to do, but we have a plan and we'll be ready for Daytona."

Petty Enterprises is the winningest team in NASCAR history with 268 Cup victories since 1949. But its last victory came with John Andretti in 1999, and the team lost longtime sponsor General Mills at the end of last season.

Faced with mounting economic issues, Petty sold majority interest to Boston Ventures last June, but the private equity firm couldn't stop the slide.

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They then scoured the market for a partner, and found one in Gillett, who was looking to merge with a smaller team to help expand his organization to the NASCAR maximum four cars. The fourth entry is only scheduled to run eight races this year, including the non-points Budweiser Shootout, with additional events contingent on sponsorship.

"To join with Richard Petty and Petty Holdings is such an honor for me and my family," said Gillett, who also owns the NHL's Montreal Canadiens and the Liverpool soccer team in the English Premier League.

"Richard and I have gotten to know each other well over the last few years and both of us believe we have formed something that NASCAR fans will support. We plan to keep the Petty name in the forefront of NASCAR. We ask that all of the King's fans join with us.

"Our goal is to get the cowboy hat and sunglasses back in Victory Lane."

The driver lineup is not exactly clear, less than a month before teams head to Florida for the season-opening Daytona 500. Kasey Kahne is GEM's star driver, and Reed Sorenson signed on to join the team this season.


Elliott Sadler, the third driver with the organization, was reportedly told he will not drive for the team in 2009. Instead, GEM is believed to be negotiating with AJ Allmendinger, who drove the final five races of last year in GEM's No. 10 Dodge.

An attorney for Sadler, who signed a contract extension last summer, indicated the driver will go to court in an effort to keep his ride.

[Associated Press; By JENNA FRYER]

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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