Management changes at COTA, IHRA intertwined

Jason Rittenberry leaves the drag racing sanctioning body, joins Circuit of the Americas.

Management changes at COTA, IHRA intertwined
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On July 20, exclusively revealed that a deal between Circuit of the Americas, the country’s only Formula 1 race track, and a potential buyer had fallen through due to an inability to come to terms, according to a source familiar with the weeks-long negotiations.

The suitor was apparently IRG Sports + Entertainment, a Jupiter, Florida-based company led by Jason Rittenberry, that owns multiple race tracks around the country, though if had the deal been consummated, COTA would have been by far the company’s highest-profile acquisition.

IRG Sports + Entertainment is best known as the parent company for the Ohio-based International Hot Rod Association, which is the second-largest drag racing sanctioning body behind the National Hot Rod Association.

A week after the story appeared, Rittenberry resigned from IRG, and the ownership of the company changed hands.

On September 8, Rittenberry started a newly created job at COTA as the Chief Strategy Officer. Which should have come as no surprise to his Twitter followers, as he had been spending a great deal of time in Austin.

'Did not align with my vision'

“IRG was acquired by a private equity firm and the private equity firm opted to operate differently. I chose to resign and pursue other opportunities. Their vision for the company did not align with my vision for the company,” Rittenberry told the publication Venues Today. Rittenberry also said he has no intention of relocating to Texas from his home in Nashville, Tenn.

At the same time Rittenberry resigned, IRG announced that it had sold Southwestern International Raceway in Arizona to local businessmen.

It would appear that Debartolo Developments no longer is part of the IRG ownership team. The real estate and shopping center development company, which claims $4.7 billion in assets, acquired part of the company in 2011. DeBartolo Developments listed the IHRA has one of it holdings in 2014, but the company web site no longer mentions the sanctioning body. Debartolo Developments President Edward Kobel said in 2014 that the company had spent $2 million in 2011 for a part interest in IRG. To what extent they may have increased their investment after that is unclear.

In 2014, IRG borrowed $50 million from TPG Specialty Lending to pay off debt and make new acquisitions. At that time Rittenberry said in a news report that he valued IRG at $45 million. Exactly how that debt will be handled is unclear, but the man most responsible for it now is Scott Gardner, IHRA president who has assumed Rittenberry's job at IRG. Gardner is a smart, seasoned motorsports executive who is very well-respected in the business, so it seems like the right man has the job.

Making small acquisitions

The privately held IRG Sport + Entertainment has been quietly making smaller acquisitions and building its core business.

The company, which calls itself “a leading purveyor of sports and live entertainment experiences,” owns Palm Beach International Raceway in Florida, Memphis International Raceway, Cordova International Raceway in Illinois and Maryland International Raceway.

IRG bought the IHRA in January, 2013. The sanctioning body also controls the Nitro Jam Drag Racing Series, the Sonic Rush Tour and Street Warriorz.

The IHRA sanctions about 130 facilities in the U.S. and Canada and has more than 13,000 racers as members. IRG is also an equity owner of the Super Chevy Show Series, Fun Ford Series and Mega Mopar Action Series.


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