CHARLOTTE, NC (Brendan Marks/Charlotte Observer) - Felix Sabates, a Charlotte businessman who is part of a local group preparing a bid to purchase the Carolina Panthers, told the Observer last week that two NASCAR drivers are affiliated with the the group.
And although Sabates declined to name the drivers, that didn't keep rumors from spreading about who they might be. At the top of the list? Dale Earnhardt Jr., who is a Kannapolis native and recently retired as a NASCAR Cup series driver.
Forbes estimates that Earnhardt, 43, has a net worth of approximately $300 million. He is also a noted football fanatic, although he supports Washington instead of Carolina. But on Tuesday, Earnhardt told the Associated Press that he is not one of the two drivers Sabates was referring to.
"(Felix) did not ask me to be involved," Earnhardt said. "I did call Marcus (Smith, the CEO of Speedway Motorsports) and I said, 'Hey, Marcus, if you guys are in the middle of it and you think it's a good business deal, I definitely have some interest.' But I am not one of the guys that Felix is talking about."
Sabates also told the Observer last week that he contacted the Smith family about becoming involved in the ownership group he is already part of. Smith and his father, Bruton Smith, both have expressed interest in the past in buying Charlotte's NFL team if it ever was for sale, with Marcus saying in a 2016 interview that it would be, "such a neat opportunity and property for anybody to be able to shepherd into the future."
Panthers owner Jerry Richardson, responsible for bringing the franchise to Charlotte in the 1990's, announced in December that he would sell the team after the conclusion of the 2017 season. Richardson's announcement came the same day Sports Illustrated reported allegations of workplace misconduct by Richardsonduring his tenure with the team.
The Panthers are currently valued at $2.3 billion, but with multiple ownership groups potentially bidding, experts have said the team could go for as much as $2.5 billion to $2.8 billion.
Since retiring in November, Earnhardt has signed with NBC Sports as an analyst, and the network announced Tuesday he will make his debut in February, first at the Super Bowl in Minnesota and then the Winter Olympics in South Korea.
So while the Smith family may be involved in a potential Panthers ownership bid, it appears for the time being that Earnhardt is not.
"I wouldn't have the kind of money where I would move the needle too much, but it would be something to have a lot of pride in, and a good Charlotte NFL team is good for the city of Charlotte," Earnhardt said. "I wish them success because of what it does for our community, not only from a pride standpoint, but an economical standpoint. I wouldn't be a big player, and it wouldn't be an investment that would really create a big change in my life.