Junior’s attempt at ownership has hit a snag

Published 9:50 pm Monday, April 23, 2007

By By JENNA FRYER, AP Auto Racing Writer
CHARLOTTE — Taking control of DEI, his late father’s company, might come at too high a price for Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Last week, ESPN reported DEI offered Dale Earnhardt Jr. 51-percent ownership, which NASCAR’s most popular driver quickly denied. That’s not to say there weren’t informal discussions, rather it could be Junior simply stopped listening once he heard the asking price.
Several people familiar with the contract negotiations told The Associated Press that DEI has not made a formal offer and that any discussions centered around the 51-percent ownership share came with a steep asking price — $55 million or more — that the Earnhardt Jr. camp didn’t take seriously.
That number would be in line with the going rate for a stake in a NASCAR team. Boston Red Sox owner John Henry is believed to have spent about $60 million in February for a minority stake in Roush Fenway Racing.
Those familiar with the negotiations requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak.
When reached Monday, Junior’s sister Kelley Earnhardt Elledge declined comment, citing the reporting of inaccurate information over the weekend in her desire to refrain from commenting until a formal announcement.
Junior has been steadfast in his demand for majority ownership throughout the three-month negotiations. But who knows if he can even afford to meet the asking price?
And should he even be expected to pay for a stake in the team?
He and Elledge have said they believe Dale Earnhardt started DEI as something to leave behind for his four children.
If Dale Earnhardt were still alive, would he have sold shares to his son or simply handed over control when Junior was ready to run an empire?
Stepmother Teresa Earnhardt might know the answer, but she’s not saying. Instead, she has appointed Max Siegel, president of global
ant to publicize the ongoing contract talks. He broke that rule last Thursday, telling ESPN that DEI has ‘‘worked hard to address everything’’ that Junior sought, without discussing specific percentages.
Since the report came out, Siegel has gone silent again. Neither Siegel nor other DEI representatives responded to m
ajor decisions, according
He doesn’t want control to get rich. He wants it to win championships. And his desire to run the company is what he and Elledge believe it will take to get DEI to NASCAR’s upper echelon. Although the team is competitive, it has yet to consistently challenge for a Nextel Cup title, and Earnhardt hasn’t been a legitimate championship contender since 2004.
Elledge recently issued a 45-day deadline to settle the contract issue, putting pressure on DEI to get moving. But ESPN’s report of a majority ownership stake offer caught Elledge and Junior off guard — something Junior was less than pleased about.
That might backfire on DEI.
With only six weeks left in Elledge’s timeframe to come to a formal agreement, it seems the two sides have never been farther apart.