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Used cars, priced to move

The Car of Tomorrow renders the old model obsolete, so Cup teams are clearing inventory.

By BRANT JAMES, Times Staff Writer
Published November 15, 2007


HOMESTEAD

A couple of NASCAR team owners made sizeable portions of their sizeable fortunes selling cars. Rick Hendrick can work up an offer you can't refuse, and Roger Penske sells high-end rides out of a sprawling amusement park-like campus in Scottsdale, Ariz. But the Nextel Cup series as a whole has a lot of inventory and it's priced to move.

In the market for a race-used stock car, or a really shiny one that never made it onto the track? They make excellent Christmas gifts. Turn it on its roof and it could make a snappy flower planter (better check your homeowners association rules first if you live in Wesley Chapel).

Maybe you could see how it stacks up against the competition on the Gandy on a Saturday night. Or you could follow team owner Chip Ganassi's suggestion: "I got a friend that needs a boat anchor."

With the so-called "Car of Tomorrow" set for a full-schedule rollout in 2008, teams will utilize the "old" model for the last time Sunday in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Because teams handcrafted the soon-to-be-defunct model for different tracks and kept a large inventory at their shops, Mooresville and Huntersville, N.C., are chock with obsolete race cars.

Teams from the minor-league ARCA series have bought some, but their limited budgets can handle only so much. Busch East teams have taken some more. "Country club" amateurs have sopped up much of the road-course inventory for weekend junkets at places such as Virginia International Raceway near Danville, but there are a lot of speedway cars left.

"It's a lot when there's no real need for them," said Joe Gibbs Racing president J.D. Gibbs. "(ARCA) can't pay much, so you'll get about 10 cents on the dollar for all that stuff. Eventually our hope is the Car of Tomorrow will help you recoup that back in years to come."

A sampling of the inventory

Joe Gibbs Racing: 20-25 left, having sold about 30.

Hendrick Motorsports: 80 or 90 left. "We have a lot of fans calling up wanting them," Hendrick said. "I'm going to keep the ones that won races. ... They're trickling out, but there's going to be a little pain when you have to write off a car that is capable of running Talladega or Daytona. You used to get an awful lot of money for that car. Right now there's a lot of them out there."

Richard Childress Racing: 150 left. Some with engines and transmissions for $30,000 because the team needs to rid itself of old SB2 engines to make way for R07.

Penkse Racing: About 50. "We can take a lot of the components of those and put them on COT. We're not worried about it," said Roger Penske, the 149th-richest American, worth $2.7-billion, according to a recent Forbes study. "We've depreciated those cars into what we can sell and use as show cars. Maybe we'll have some sort of series where we can use them as a driving school, who knows?"

Ah, ha

Robert Zinzell is cashing in on an emerging phenomenon called country club racing. Those with the nerve and financial wherewithal can, for a fee, join other like-spirited individuals to race their authentic cars on road courses catering to their hobby. To keep the racing as authentic as possible, he has begun buying motors from Hendrick, he said. In addition to a high-end "motorsports development" and race car museum his company is erecting on 15 acres near Homestead-Miami Speedway, Zinzell is helping develop a country club circuit in the west.

"After Watkins Glen (this summer), me and 10 or 12 of us made a deal with RCR, Hendrick, Dale Earnhardt Inc. and Hendrick," said the Miami-area businessman. "We got pretty much all their primaries and backups. We couldn't use any of the rest because they're for ovals. They can't be driven for the country clubs because they don't turn right."

Car for a drive

Amazingly, it is theoretically possible to drive these cars on the streets of Florida. The reason: The state has no guidelines to make something "street legal," meaning insurance companies, more than laws, make the final determination.

According to Sam McClelland, deputy tax collector for Pinellas County, the state can issue a title to any vehicle as long as it has a "brand" and a traceable ownership. A team's chassis identification would suffice for a vehicle identification number.

To what level a company would insure a 900-horsepower, push-rod engine-powered vehicle with stickers for headlights, no wiper blades nor speedometer, would determine what sort of registration it could qualify for. And how much it would cost.

"There's lots of vehicles with restrictions," McClelland said. "There's horse and carriages, which can only operate in daylight, things that pull floats that can only be used in parades."

And if you do get it on the road, good luck finding 110 octane.