Race Weekend Central

Fire on Fridays: Is Spire Taking Over the World?

In just the past few weeks, Spire Motorsports has grown tremendously.

Earlier in September, the fifth-year NASCAR Cup Series team announced it had bought a charter from Live Fast Motorsports. Spire reportedly paid $40 million for that charter. $40 million!

Zane Smith will drive Spire’s new third entry in 2024, as Trackhouse Racing is leasing him out to the team. So Smith will likely not be at Spire longer than a year or two, as Trackhouse has long-term plans for him.

But make no mistake, this charter very much belongs to Spire, not Trackhouse. When Smith goes to Trackhouse, co-owner Justin Marks will have to find another charter for himself.

But that move was just the beginning of the Spire expansion.

Earlier this week, Spire bought NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series team Kyle Busch Motorsports. The trucks, the building, all of it. The deal even included Rowdy Manufacturing.

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Kyle Busch Motorsports Sale Marks End of an Era

KBM currently fields two trucks full time in the series and prepares Rev Racing’s truck for Nick Sanchez as well. There is no word yet on how the sale will impact any of those teams, but I’m sure we’ll know soon enough. Considering Chase Purdy has a contract for next year, I’m guessing that was part of the sale as well.

I don’t know how much Spire paid for KBM – no financial terms were made public – and I’m bad at estimating those types of things. But you know the price was in the millions. And I don’t think Kyle Busch was necessarily looking to sell. I think he was made an offer he couldn’t refuse.

Let’s say hypothetically Spire paid $10 million for KBM. That’s $50 million the Spire organization has shelled out in less than a month. I don’t know about anyone else, but my bank would’ve capped my spending long before the $40 million charter buy. Imagine having the charter and KBM on the same bank statement.

And those Spire checks evidently cleared, as all parties involved confirmed the sales. But how did Spire get that kind of money?

Prior to the 2019 season, Spire co-owners Jeff Dickerson and TJ Puchyr had to take out a $6 million loan to buy Furniture Row Racing’s charter to start their race team. In present-day NASCAR, that story would normally end with them never being able to pay off that loan and having to shut the team down.

But Spire has not only survived for five years — it’s also grown. It went from one Cup charter to two in 2021 and even started a part-time Truck team last year. Along the way, the Cup cars have gotten better and better, with Corey LaJoie poised to score Spire’s highest points finish in 27th. The Truck team has won twice with William Byron and Kyle Larson driving and Hendrick Motorsports support.

So the Spire guys obviously already had a good business plan of not spending more than they should so their team could make money and reinvest to get better. But even so, nobody gets rich owning a Cup team. You know the old adage: “To make a small fortune in racing, start out with a large fortune.”

I’d be shocked if Spire had payed off that initial loan. There is no way the team had $40-plus million laying around to blow.

So where did the money come from?

Enter Gainbridge’s CEO and possibly even … Michael Andretti.

Nearly three months ago, on July 5, Gainbridge signed a multi-year partnership with Spire. Part of that deal was to be the primary sponsor for several races on the two Cup cars. But not many other details about the deal were released.

If you watch a lot of motorsports, you’ve probably seen the Gainbridge logo before. It has sponsored the Indianapolis 500, Formula 1’s Miami Grand Prix, Colton Herta and Sanchez. But I feel like not a lot of people actually know what it is. Heck, I don’t fully understand what it does.

Here’s what Gainbridge’s website says: “Gainbridge is a proud subsidiary of Group 1001, an insurance holding company with current combined assets under management of approximately $60.9 billion as of June 30, 2023. You can sit back, relax and be confident your investment is safely growing.”

If Gainbridge handles $60.9 billion, $50 million is pocket change. The company itself hasn’t invested in the team but the CEO has already invested in Formula 1. Could NASCAR be next on the horizon for him?

Then, there is the Andretti aspect. Gainbridge is a sponsor at Andretti Autosport in IndyCar and its CEO is also helping fund Andretti’s bid to join the F1 grid (which, by the way, is exponentially more expensive than buying into NASCAR).

But have you noticed the Andrettis hanging around NASCAR more and more as Gainbridge has become more involved?

Back in May, Mario Andretti was at Darlington Raceway as Sanchez’s Gainbridge-sponsored truck ran a tribute to him. As part of that, he joined the FOX Sports 1 booth during the race. In hindsight, I wonder if that was a part of the Andrettis scoping out NASCAR.

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Ever since his championship campaign in SRX last year, Marco Andretti has been vocal about his interest in racing NASCAR. He made his debut in the NASCAR Xfinity Series race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL with Big Machine Racing in 2022, but it didn’t seem like anything more would come of that.

Then Gainbridge signed the deal with Spire, and Andretti’s NASCAR career immediately got going again, racing the Spire truck at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. After that race, he continued to wear a Spire No. 7 hat at every SRX race this season. Now that Spire has an even bigger Truck operation, I expect him to run even more races for them.

All of it makes me wonder if Michael Andretti now has a stake in Spire as well. If he did, he’d be doing so for a good reason.

My Frontstretch colleague Michael Finley pointed out to me that part of Andretti’s pitch to the Formula One Group is how many race series around the world his cars compete in. If he’s a minority owner in Spire, that’s three Cup teams and however many Truck teams he could add to that list. So it’s part of a play to help get him on the F1 grid.

And if Spire helps Andretti get to F1, maybe Spire could get a tiny sliver of ownership of the F1 team. Which would mean that Spire will have gone from being a US-based management agency to having a team that races in the biggest motorsports series in the world.

Even if Spire doesn’t get any association with an Andretti F1 team, that Gainbridge money is setting the team’s NASCAR outfit up for the future. The team will be able to buy speed for a driver stable in 2024 with tons of talent: a veteran in LaJoie, a rookie in Smith and potentially another rookie in Carson Hocevar.

That plus having the means to develop future drivers in the way KBM did will turn what once was a field-filler car into perhaps someday being champion.

Follow @m_massie22

Editor’s Note: This story previously stated Gainbridge the company has made an investment into Spire Motorsports itself. That’s factually incorrect; Frontstretch apologizes for the error.

About the author

Michael.massie 113x150

Michael Massie joined Frontstretch in 2017 and has served as the Content Director since 2020. Massie, a Richmond, Va., native, has covered NASCAR, IndyCar, SRX and the CARS Tour. Outside of motorsports, the Virginia Tech grad and Green Bay Packers minority owner can be seen cheering on his beloved Hokies and Packers.

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boogityboogityboogity

40 million is still a lot of money

JT

Spire’s bold strategy of buying the Live Fast Cup charter might not work out as planned if the NASCAR-race teams’ charter extension negotiations go sideways. Rumor has it that Jim France wants NASCAR to sunset the team charters. Of course this could result in a rash of expensive lawsuits by teams against NASCAR, especially teams like Spire who have just spent a small fortune buying a charter from a back marker team.

TiminPayson

There may be lots of factually incorrect in this story.

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