Michael Jordan is expanding his business empire with a new Nascar team
NBA billionaire Michael Jordan is starting a new Nascar Cup Series race team to start competing during the 2021 season. The team will include a couple of racing heavyweights, with three-time Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin serving as a minority owner and up-and-coming driver Bubba Wallace signed on to drive under a multi-year deal.
Jordan purchased a charter from Germain Racing that guarantees a spot in Nascar’s 40-car field each week. He will be the first Black majority owner of a full-time Nascar team since Wendall Scott owned and raced his car into the early 1970s. Hamlin will continue to drive the No. 11 car for Joe Gibbs Racing, with whom he has won 43 races in 15 seasons; he currently sits second in the Nascar playoff standings.
“Growing up in North Carolina, my parents would take my brothers, sisters and me to races, and I've been a Nascar fan my whole life,” Jordan said in a statement announcing the news. “The opportunity to own my own racing team in partnership with my friend Denny Hamlin and to have Bubba Wallace driving for us is very exciting for me. Historically, Nascar has struggled with diversity, and there have been few Black owners. The timing seemed perfect as Nascar is evolving and embracing social change more and more.”
The team will feature just Wallace’s car to begin. Other details around sponsorships, car manufacturer, team name and other aspects will be announced at a later date.
Wallace is currently the only Black driver in Nascar, and is the first to race full time since Scott. He drove for Richard Petty Motorsports the last three-plus years, before announcing his plans to leave the team earlier this month, despite a reported contract offer that would have included a stake in RPM. Wallace rose to prominence on the Nascar circuit this year when he pushed the sport’s governing body to ban the Confederate flag—a popular item at races—which it eventually did.
Wallace was the center of attention again when a noose was found in his garage stall at a track. The FBI investigated and found that the noose had been in the garage since 2019 and that Wallace was not a target. His sponsorship profile soared this summer with Beats, Columbia Sportswear COLM -0.9% and Cash App. Wallace has won six races in Nascar’s Truck Series during his career.
Jordan, who owns a tad over 70% of the Charlotte Hornets, is the richest athlete on the planet, with a net worth of $1.6 billion, according to Forbes estimates. Nike has built a $3.6 billion-in-revenue brand on the back of Jordan since it signed him as a rookie in 1983 and pays him an estimated $130 million a year. Nike’s U.S. share of the lifestyle basketball shoe market, including the Jordan Brand, is 96%, according to market research firm NPD.
It’s been a big week for for the five-time NBA MVP, who scored his first Emmy Award on Sunday in the Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Series category, as one of the producers of The Last Dance.
Jordan is a longtime motorsports fan and in 2004 launched a motorcycle team that raced on the pro circuit for a decade. Jordan and Hamlin have been friends for over a decade and are golfing buddies. MJ showed up at the final Nascar race the last two seasons to cheer on Hamlin’s attempt to win his first championship. Hamlin has had a personal endorsement deal with the Nike-owned Jordan Brand for ages.
Nascar has struggled with declining ratings and attendance for a decade, and execs are certainly hoping Jordan can bring some of his star power to the sport. Not many Americans are more famous; his 82% awareness level in the U.S. ranks second among all athletes, behind only Tiger Woods, according to Q Scores.
This year, MJ and the Jordan Brand committed $100 million over ten years to organizations “dedicated to ensuring racial equality.” Jordan’s Nascar team is expected to further that commitment. “I see this as a chance to educate a new audience and open more opportunities for Black people in racing,” he said in his statement.