KANSAS CITY, Kan. | George Gillett leaned into a microphone, prepared to answer any questions that might end the swirling speculation surrounding Richard Petty Motorsports.
Just as Gillett began to speak, his cell phone chirped with the tune of the Liverpool soccer club’s adopted theme song. He stopped “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” mid-ring, quickly told the caller he’d get back to him, and returned to his audience.
Gillett, owner of Richard Petty Motorsports and Liverpool, is a busy man these days. He’s working deals with all of his interests, including an agreement to sell the NHL’s Montreal Canadiens while also trying to keep Kasey Kahne on track for a NASCAR title.
Kahne heads into Sunday’s race at Kansas Speedway last in the 12-driver Chase standings, 189 points behind leader Mark Martin. His bid for a first title comes amid an appearance of chaos at RPM, and Kahne admitted just two weeks ago that he wasn’t sure what is going on with the organization or who is in charge.
Gillett dismissed the notion this his star driver is in the dark about the wholesale changes confronting the race team.
“He is a very dear young man,” Gillett said. “He is not used to media. He doesn’t particularly like the process, and I think he believed that he was trying to give an answer that would hopefully shut the conversation off. Kasey has been fully aware of and apprised of the conversations going on.”
There are several conversations surrounding the race team. Gillett just doesn’t have many answers.
c A planned merger with Yates Racing is moving forward, and Gillett said RPM would drive Fords in 2010. “We’re going now from letter of intent to a formal contract,” he said.
c The team will be at least three drivers, but Gillett would not reveal the lineup. “We’re very early in the process,” he said. “I’m trying to answer the general questions here today; I don’t have the specifics.”
c It has not been determined where the race shop will be located. Gillett said the team has looked at leasing different buildings or moving into Yates’ current facility. Although many believe the Yates shop is too small for a big organization, Gillett said it’s doable if parts of the operation are still handled in RPM’s current building.
c Executive vice president Robbie Loomis likely will still handle the day-to-day operations after the merger, but co-owner Richard Petty will be at the top of the ladder. “This man will always be the leader,” Gillett said.
c A business agreement with a group that represents a Saudi prince could potentially lead to the sale of a share in RPM. “They had an interest in buying a small - un poquito - small interest in RPM,” Gillett said. “Majority? Heck no.”
c How could the talks with Prince Faisal bin Fahad bin Abdullah Al Saud affect Liverpool? “No comment,” Gillett said.
Despite the lack of details, Gillett sought to calm a storm that has been brewing most of this season but seemed to explode after the Sept. 10 announcement that RPM and Yates had signed a letter-of-intent to merge. Petty has been unable to answer any questions about the deal, and Kahne hasn’t had any insight.
“When we issued the press release regarding the LOI, that seemed not the right way to do it in retrospect,” Gillett said. “We raised more questions than we answered.”
But Gillett said he remains confident that the deal with Yates will be completed, which will allow RPM to strengthen an organization that, like many NASCAR teams, has been hit hard by the slumping economy. RPM has had at least two rounds of layoffs, restructured pay salaries across the board and spent much of this season searching for a new manufacturer after Dodge reduced its support as parent company Chrysler reorganized.
“Every day documents are being shared back and forth,” Gillett said. “I’m not aware of any significant open issues at this point, so I have no reason to think that in normal course we’re not going to be able to get things done.”