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Management Deal Keeps Miller Motorsports Park Racing In 2016

Bentley races to its first North American win at Miller Motorsports Park in 2014. Bentley races to its first North American win at Miller Motorsports Park in 2014.Picture: Bentley Motors
 Neil Tipton
 Sunday, January 17, 2016

A deal has been struck to allow a company hoping to buy Miller Motorsports Park to take on an operating lease, keeping the facility open for business while a sales process is restarted. Utah Motorsports Campus, a division of Mitime Utah Investment,LLC, has signed an interim contract with the Tooele County Commissioners, ensuring that the track will continue to operate as a viable business.

UMC had originally been selected to purchase the facility in August last year, but that sale was set aside by Utah's Third District Court in December, following a complaint from a fellow bidder, which alleged that the Toole County Commissioners had sold the circuit for too little. Centre Point Management, the property development company which brought the suit, had bid $22 million, compared with the $20 million offered by UMC. County Commissioners were however swayed by UMC's guarantees to keep the facility as a racing circuit and further considerable investment, including a factory to build racing vehicles for export back to China and the establishment of an educational campus.

Prior to the setback, UMC had already begun its preparations to take over the facility on January 1, hiring staff (mainly ex-MMP employees) and booking events ahead of the racing season. Around 70 percent of track days are believed to have been pre-booked. Race dates with several sanctioning bodies has also been agreed.

To resolve the deadlock and ensure the property remained a viable racing business which could later be sold, the County Commissioners have now granted a one-year agreement which gives UMC operational control for one year, or until a new owner can be found. A new sale tender process - taking account of the Third District Court's ruling - is also now being drawn up, with Mitime Utah still likely to be among the strongest bidders. The County Commissioners say the winning bidder will this time be whichever company makes the highest cash offer in order to comply with the judge's ruling.

The interim management contract represents a risk to Mitime - a subsidiary of Chinese automaker Geely - who could risk losing all of their current investment if another bidder is ultimately awarded the sale. Nevertheless, Alan Wilson, President of Mitime Utah Investment, LLC and Utah Motorsports Campus (and also the designer of Miller Motorsports Park) said the firm was "honoured" to be chosen to manage the facility.

"We had already been, and remain, prepared to operate the facility, effective immediately," he said. "We agree with the County that it is imperative the racetrack remain open and operable during this time. Racetracks are required to plan their annual events many months in advance, and we already have contracts in place for the 2016 season. We will be announcing our 2016 schedule of events in the near future."

The move has prompted fury from Andrew Cartwright, CEO of Centre Point Management, who claims the judge's decision should mean that his company is automatically the winning bidder. The management contract, he alleges, is an attempt to circumvent the law, describing his bid as "bona fide".

"I think it's their ego," Cartwright said of the three County Commissioners to a local Fox News affiliate. "They can't be wrong at this point. Even when their own judge said they were wrong and said they operated in bad faith."

For his part, Tooele County Commissioner Shawn Milne, who has spearheaded the sale of Miller Motorsports Park, denied that the management deal represents favouritism towards UMC, arguing that with the racing season imminent, staff hires already having been made and booking taken, they were the only feasible solution.

"Tooele County is confident in our choice," he said. "This interim solution provides the greatest assurance of a successful 2016 season and a positive impact to our local community.

"The Tooele County Commission has been consistent since day one; our greatest motivator has been the preservation of local jobs and the continuation of the facility as a world-class racing venue. Tooele County has always recognized Miller Motorsports Park as a valuable economic asset for our community. It is a crown jewel for us, the State of Utah and the North American racing industry, and Tooele County desires to keep Larry Miller's vision for racing in Utah alive through the continued success of the facility."

It seems unlikely that Centre Point Management will go down without a fight, with its counsel reportedly being instructed to look at the latest management deal to see if it has legal recourse or if it was made in bad faith. In the meantime, the circuit will be operated under the Utah Motorsport Campus banner and the 2016 calendar will include rounds of the Pirelli World Challenge, MotoAmerica Superbike Series and the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West.

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