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MWR calls it quits after Homestead Race Nov. 23; employees get 8 weeks pay


Sept. 3By Dave Yochum. It looks like employees at Michael Waltrip Raceworld will get eight weeks in severance pay as investor Rob Kaufman parts ways with what has been a mainstay of the Cornelius economy for a decade.

The company, which is basically fulfilling all its contractual obligations through the end of the year, will begin shutting down in earnest after the Nov. 23 NASCAR race in Homestead, Fla.

It has some 220 employees at an impressive operation, valued at $17.8 million by Mecklenburg County, on Liverpool in Cornelius. A tourist attraction as well—visitor numbers are said to be up because it is closing—MWR is across Liverpool from Mac’s Speed Shop, a racing-focused barbecue-style restaurant. The lights at MWR go dark at Thanksgiving except for employees parting out supplies, equipment and trailers. The trucks were sponsored by Freightliner. Town and economic development officials, as well as people from other race teams, have already walked the property.

Kaufman, who was once listed among the world’s billionaires by Forbe’s magazine, is taking his investment dollars to Chip Ganassi Racing. The Concord-based enterprise has rights of first refusal on MWR’s equipment.

An interesting issue has to do with costly servers and databases at MWR. They will be shut down, lest proprietary information relating to the Toyotas at MWR be shared with Ganassi, which fields Chevrolets and Hondas in a wider variety of series.

At Ganassi, Kaufman will have more kinds of races to dabble in, including Indy cars Grand Am and Global RallyCross. While he made his fortune in high finance, the investor is playing a key role in reshaping the business side of NASCAR teams. He is chairman of the Race Team Alliance, a partnership of 18 Cup teams that is looking at, among other things, different financial structures to improve profitability in the sport.

He invested on the order of $50 million in MWR.

Ganassi is known as a lean operation in a sport where teams are at the mercy of sponsor contracts. Waltrip himself is known as a sterling talent around sponsor relations, not so much as an operator. A key Kaufman hand, Larry Johns, was the executive vice president and chief financial officer of MWR.

David Jewell, one of the owners of the Mac’s Speed Shop restaurant chain, declined to comment on the impact MWR’s closing would have on the Cornelius location.