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Beating NASCAR Is Bittersweet For Ferko

Jeff Hood | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, November 6 2009
Carl Edwards celebrated the first victory at a Texas Motor Speedway autumn ace in the usual way back in 2005. Call it the Ferko Flip. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images)

Carl Edwards celebrated the first victory at a Texas Motor Speedway autumn race in the usual way back in 2005. Call it the Ferko Flip. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images)

By Jeff Hood | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Fort Worth, Texas. – It’s officially known as the Dickies 500.

But to Francis Ferko’s ex-wife, it will always be “Frank’s race.”

When the green flag waves at Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday, the person who was instrumental in bringing NASCAR to the Lone Star state each November will be watching ABC’s telecast of the Sprint Cup event from his home in Chicago.

Five years ago, Francis Ferko’s lawsuit against NASCAR and International Speedway Corporation appeared to be on the fast track to a courtroom.

But just as the case was set to go to trial in 2004, a settlement was struck.

One year later, TMS secured its long-coveted fall date at the expense of North Carolina Speedway in Rockingham, N.C.

Ferko, a Speedway Motorsports, Inc. shareholder, had contended that the defendants violated antitrust laws by not awarding a second race date to Texas.

“I surely didn’t want Rockingham to lose a date. I just wanted (NASCAR) to add a date to the schedule,” said Ferko, who remains an SMI stockholder. “The settlement took the race out of Rockingham, and that’s heritage. But I think that was NASCAR’s goal all along.

“The ultimate outcome was Texas got its race, but I was disappointed with how it occurred. I would have liked to have gone to trial.”

Ferko uprooted from Plano, Texas and established a residence in Atlanta shortly after TMS landed a second race.

He relocated again several months later after coping with a divorce and suicide in his family.

“I moved to Chicago in Dec. 2007 and arrived in a snowstorm,” Ferko recalled. “It was a wonderful greeting.

“I’m living in Chicago, but would probably rather be in Texas. But that’s the way it is. The economy is tough and everybody is doing what they have to do.”

Ferko, who has attended races in Atlanta and Charlotte this year, said he still meets people who associate his name with NASCAR.

“It’s still amazing that people I talk to know I was involved in getting the race in Texas,” said Ferko, an avid Mark Martin fan. “Most people know a bit about NASCAR, but they don’t know the details (of the lawsuit) and how it all came about.

“They like to hear the story.”

While Ferko remains in the Windy City this weekend, his family will be represented at Eddie Gossage’s track by his 7-year-old grandson, Alex Ferko, who is scheduled to meet a Cup driver today.

“He’s about to be surprised,” Ferko said. “His other grandfather is taking him to meet Tony Stewart and get a hat signed.

“Alex is the next generation of NASCAR fan coming up.”

As for the direction of the sport, Ferko believes the recession has forced NASCAR’s top brass to sit up and take notice.

“Now that the economy is bad and fans aren’t going as much and fans aren’t watching as much on TV, I think (NASCAR) is realizing that the fans are the most important person,” Ferko said.

“I think the drivers always knew that their popularity was based on the fans. I don’t think the owners of NASCAR knew that.”

– Jeff Hood can be reached at jhood@racintoday.com

Jeff Hood | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, November 6 2009
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