BREAKING: Drag strip deal blows up

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The deal for the National Hot Rod Association to sell assets including O’Reilly Raceway Park in Clermont is dead.

Glendora, Calif.-based NHRA had said in May that it would sell O’Reilly Raceway Park and other professional racing assets to HD Partners Acquisition Corp., a Santa Monica, Calif.-based investment group led by the developer of DirectTV.

But HD officials announced Jan. 31 that they were pulling out of the $121 million deal, which included NHRA’s Powerade Drag Racing Series.

HD Chairman and CEO Eddy Hartenstein told NHRA officials earlier this week that his company’s shareholders voted down the acquisition due to the changing economic climate.

“Unfortunately, in the time since we first announced this transaction in May of 2007, we have witnessed a dramatic shift in both the financial markets and the perceived strength of the U.S. economy, which we believe adversely impacted the final outcome of this transaction,” said Hartenstein, who launched DirecTV a decade ago.

NHRA said racers, sponsors and fans should expect no changes in business operations within the drag racing series and its tracks in the upcoming season.

“The 2008 season will move forward regardless of what happened yesterday … business as usual,” said NHRA spokesman Jerry Archambeault.

While the U.S. economy is down, NHRA and the O’Reilly Raceway Park have a strong ledger, Archambeault said.

“We’re in the best financial position we’ve been in in years,” he said. “We plan a full season of racing, and O’Reilly Raceway Park will have a full schedule as planned.”

The local track has been a cornerstone facility for the NHRA for more than 40 years. The U.S. Nationals have been held here since 1961.

When the deal was announced in May, NHRA said it was selling the assets to focus on its business as a not-for-profit sanctioning body and on its amateur drag-racing activities. It also was shedding $11.5 million in debt and liabilities.

Read more at IBJ’s sports blog, The Score.

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