They’re one of NASCAR’s most controversial race teams; but somehow, despite facing Chapter 11 bankruptcy, BK Racing is set to make its 500th Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race this weekend.
The future of this team is well, to put it simply, not great. But how did they get to this point?
It all started in 2011.
Red Bull Racing, which was able to win twice on the Cup Series level, shuttered operations at the end of the season. That left a fleet of race cars, a race shop and other assets up for grabs. Enter Ron Devine and Wayne Press.
Devine, a Burger King franchisee, hence the name ‘BK’ Racing, and Press along with Thomas Uberall, a former member of the Red Bull Racing team, purchased Red Bull’s assets for approximately $10 million. The team had plans to compete in the 2012 race season. Before that could happen, they needed drivers.
That’s where Landon Cassill, David Reutimann and Travis Kvapil come in to the picture. Those three became BK Racing’s first ever drivers. Cassill drove the entire season in the team’s flagship No. 83 Toyota, while Reutimann made two appearances for the team, including the Daytona 500. Kvapil would drive 35 of 36 races that season for BK Racing.
It was early 2013, before the season even started, that we got our first glimpse at BK Racing’s many controversial moments. Cassill left the team in January of that year and ended up suing the team and principal owner Ron Devine because he allegedly wasn’t being paid by the team. Cassill sued for $205,000 in unpaid winnings and salary—$205,000 that he was never awarded.
Cassill wasn’t the only BK employee who allegedly didn’t receive payment. Several other crew members have reportedly not been paid by the team as promised and Matt DiBenedetto, who raced for BK Racing in 2015 and 2016, earning the team’s career-best result of sixth at Bristol Motor Speedway, reportedly also didn’t receive payment on occasion.
Flash forward to the end of the 2016 season, and the financial problems at BK Racing continue. The team is temporarily locked out of their race shop. Kickin’ the Tires reported in December 2016 that BAM Property Holdings, the company that owned the building the team leased for their race shop, repossessed it in what turned out to be a “misunderstanding” in the leasing agreement. The team was eventually let back into the shop a short while later.
Prior to the 2017 race season kicking off, BK Racing, who had two charters, sold one of them to Front Row Motorsports. Front Row leased said charter to Tri-Star Motorsports. This became a whole debacle, but we’ll get into that in just minute. Sit tight.
In 2017, it became apparent how much debt the team was in. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) issued three tax liens against the team before the season even ended. The tax liens amounted to more than $660,000 in unpaid tax debts. Ultimately, the IRS and BK Racing were able to work out a deal to complete the year.
As this year got ready to ramp up, more financial concerns hit the team. Union Bank & Trust requested the seizure of BK Racing’s assets and both of the team’s charters – yes, even that charter that they sold to Front Row Motorsports that was then leased away to another team. In November 2017, the bank said Devine’s team owed $9.1 million. By January, that debt was down to just over $7 million.
With the Daytona 500 just around the corner, it seemed like it was impossible one of their cars would hit the pavement, but the team mysteriously showed up on the entry list. They were originally listed with no driver and no sponsor. They showed up with a blank white car with no logos – literally a blank slate.
Even after the team made it to Daytona with Gray Gaulding intending to drive, there were still doubts about whether the car would be on the grid for the Daytona 500 – even with an apparent “sponsor” in EarthWater.
During the week of the 500, the team filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, allowing them to continue competing while still trying to formulate a plan to pay its debts. In all, the team says it owes debtors more than $10 million. The team is using its race winnings throughout the season, including the $92,000 it earned in the Daytona 500 with Gaulding’s 20th-place finish, to pay off the debts.
Just as you thought the BK Racing story couldn’t get any murkier, it does. Those quotes around the word ‘sponsor’ in the 14th paragraph weren’t accidental. EarthWater’s CEO C.J. Comu revealed on his LinkedIn page that the company isn’t really providing the team with cold hard cash, but really just cold water. The team is trading its product in exchange for placement on the car’s hood each race weekend.
Now, as the team heads into its 500th start, it appears they may make it to the end of the season. However, the future of this team remains just as unclear as any given foggy day.