Felix Sabates, part-owner of NASCAR's Earnhardt Ganassi Racing, created a backlash among Michigan NASCAR fans when he suggested earlier this week that Michigan International Speedway's pair of Sprint Cup races should be cut from NASCAR's schedule because of the dismal state of Michigan's economy.
"I mean, there's nobody left in Detroit other than the police and unemployed," Sabates told the Charlotte Observer. "I'd cut Michigan off the schedule altogether. Michigan – I'm talking about the state – is never coming back to what it used to be, so why go there and throw good money after bad money."
Sabates added that he'd also cut one of the two races from Pocono, California, Atlanta and Phoenix, but his anti-Michigan comments gained the most notoriety – and Sabates has now apologized for them.
“In an attempt at humor I made some comments about the city of Detroit and the people of Michigan that were in poor taste and that I sincerely apologize for,” Sabates said in a statement. “I have worked directly or indirectly with the auto industry for over 40 years as both an auto dealer and a NASCAR owner and it was never my intention to put down the auto industry, its workers, the city of Detroit or the state of Michigan. I have such respect for all of them.
“I am so frustrated over the challenges that this tough economy has brought to everyone in this country that I inadvertently joked about one of the areas hit the hardest. Those of us who have the luxury of getting to work in such a great sport like NASCAR owe a great deal to the city of Detroit and their support of the auto industry because without either, the sport of NASCAR would not be what it is today. In fact, Michigan International Speedway, even in this tough environment drew an impressive 100,000 fans to the track at their last race.
“My sincerest apologies to anyone that I might have offended, it was certainly not my intent.”
Sabates' apology comes at a time when MIS and its surrounding communities are taking a hard hit during the tough economic challenges that face the state. Fans issued several statements of their own on the speedway's Facebook page, through e-mails to the track, radio call-ins across the state and phone calls to the track's ticket hot line.