By JENNA FRYER
The Associated Press
Thursday, July 26, 2007; 1:26 AM
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Bobby Ginn had grand plans to build a contender when he bought a NASCAR team last summer. But he learned rather quickly that winning takes a lot of money, and without solid sponsorships, it's almost impossible to do.
Faced with scaling back his program to a noncompetitive level, Ginn instead merged his organization with Dale Earnhardt Inc. on Wednesday to form a four-car team that will debut this weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
"We absolutely would have survived without merging, but what we would have wound up doing is taken on lesser sponsors," Ginn told The Associated Press in a Wednesday telephone interview.
"We would have had to continue to cut costs, and that is disgraceful to me. I am proud of the merger. I would not have been proud of putting a car out there that couldn't compete."
The new deal makes Ginn a partner at DEI, which had been owned outright by the late Dale Earnhardt's widow, Teresa. She remains the majority owner under the merger.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. will continue to drive the No. 8 Chevrolet for DEI for the remainder of the season, and Martin Truex Jr. remains in the No. 1 Chevy.
Paul Menard, who has struggled to make races this season in the No. 15 for DEI, will get the owner points from Ginn's No. 14 entry. That car had been driven by Sterling Marlin, who had locked it into the field each week based on owner points. Now Menard is assured a spot in the field.
Ginn driver Mark Martin will now pilot the No. 01 Chevrolet for DEI and split seat time with Aric Almirola. Ginn's third car, the No. 13 that had been driven by Joe Nemechek, has been parked and won't compete under the merger as NASCAR rules limit a single organization to just four entries.
"Teresa is very excited about this merger," said Max Siegel, president of global operations at DEI. "She wakes up every day making sure 400 people have a job doing what they love, and today she has done something that has strengthened her company and positioned it for another 25 years."
Ginn, who will be listed as the car owner for Martin and Menard at least this weekend, thinks he's done the same. A Florida-based land developer, he made a splash last summer when he bought controlling interest in MB2 Motorsports.
He quickly pumped money into the cash-strapped team and was determined to pull it above its midlevel status and turn it into a contender. Ginn built a new 200,000-sq. foot race shop, bought expensive equipment that only the elite teams have, assembled a deep driver development program and lured Martin away from Roush Racing in a deal that expanded the organization to three Cup teams.
Then the team shocked NASCAR by nearly winning the Daytona 500 _ Martin was nipped at the finish by Kevin Harvick, but his strong start to the season made him the points leader through the first four races of the season.
Even though he was on top, Ginn stuck to his word and allowed Martin to keep his plan of running a partial schedule this season. So Martin climbed out of the car at Bristol in March and forfeited the points lead as he turned the wheel over to Regan Smith.
That strong start should have lured big-money sponsors to the organization, but they never materialized and Ginn was forced sponsor Marlin and Nemechek himself with his Ginn Resorts brand.
He stopped doing that in early June, allowing the two cars to run with plain black paint schemes _ Martin's car is sponsored by the U.S. Army _ and he was forced to let employees go as they scaled back operations.
"We were forced with either having to cut expenses or keep running the cars," he said. "And when I cut expenses, I noticed our performance level was going down. That really weighed on my mind."
Convinced that merging teams is the way of the future in NASCAR, Ginn set out to find a partner that would help create one fully funded super team.
Ginn found it in DEI, which has been trying to move back into elite status after several lean years following Earnhardt's 2001 death. The team took another hit in May when Earnhardt Jr. said he would leave at the end of the season _ he's going to Hendrick Motorsports, based partly on a poor relationship with Teresa Earnhardt and partly on his belief that DEI isn't in position to win championships.
DEI has made strides since that May 10 announcement, focusing on building the team and preparing for a future without Earnhardt Jr. Siegel said Ginn was the perfect opportunity.
Ginn's shop is just four miles away from DEI, and will immediately house Martin and Menard's teams. Earnhardt and Truex will move into the building if they are eliminated from Chase contention, or when the season ends. DEI's existing facility will be used for the Busch and driver development programs.
DEI officials and Ginn will spend the next several weeks merging the personnel from both companies, and it's not clear who will make the cut. Smith, who has shared seat time with Martin this season but was expected to get a Cup ride of his own with Ginn, is now in limbo. He's entered in Friday night's Truck race in Indianapolis for Ginn, with nothing else immediately announced on his schedule.
Ginn said letting employees go _ particularly Marlin and Nemechek _ is the hardest part of the merger. But he's convinced it's for the best for both companies.
"I look at this like I may have sacrificed some ownership, and it doesn't have my name on it, but at the end of the day I have bettered everybody for doing this," Ginn said. "Even if the sponsors had come in, we probably would be talking about something like this anyway. This is just going to be the way teams operate going forward, and we needed to be invited to the party before it was too late."