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Red light for racers – Pacific Coast Motorsports files Ch. 7

By   /   Friday, May 29th, 2009  /   Comments Off

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Tyler Tadevic is losing his house but not his drive.

A lifelong motorsports fanatic, he went from cleaning wheels and sweeping up a shop to building and managing his own racing team, Oxnard-based Pacific Coast Motorsports.

In just a few short years, it came within fractions of a second of racing in the Indianapolis 500, the pinnacle of open-wheel racing. Tadevic rose from worshiping names such as Andretti and Penske to sitting in owners’ meetings with them in Indianapolis.

But a huge change in the open-wheel racing industry and crashes on the Brickyard and in the stock markets brought it all to an end.

In mid-May, Pacific Coast Motorsports filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, listing $710,000 in assets and more than $4.1 million in liabilities. Because Tadevic mortgaged his house and bought out a former partner in a last-ditch effort to keep the team alive, the bankruptcy is in his name.

“I’ve lost my home, my business, all my employees,” Tadevic told the Business Times. “It has dimmed my entrepreneurial spirit, but it has not squashed it.”

Pacific Coast Motorsports had about 25 employees when it quit doing business earlier this year. They worked long, hard hours with no pay in the team’s final push, and Tadevic said he intends to compensate them.

“These guys bled for me, both literally and figuratively. They could have walked away any time,” Tadevic said.

For now, Tadevic has taken a job at a company in his home state of Oregon that makes racing fuel cells. He said he plans to work, repay his debts and return to racing. Pacific Coast Motorsports was the only IndyCar team on the West Coast.

“We were really proud to represent California in open-wheel racing,” Tadevic said. “I just picked the worst possible time in economic history to try to make a go of it.”

Tadevic started Pacific Coast Motorsports in 2003 and began racing in the Atlantic Championship, a development league for the Champ Car World Series, the former competitor with the IndyCar Series for the hearts and dollars of open-wheel racing fans. In 2004, only its second year as a business, Pacific Coast Motorsports won the Atlantic Championship.

The Atlantic Championship is racing stripped to its essence – no pit stops, just one grueling run to see who’s fastest. In 2005 and 2006, Pacific Coast Motorsports switched to racing closed-wheel Corvettes and Daytona Prototypes to get a feel for the complexities of longer races, with an eye toward returning to open-wheel racing in the Champ Car World Series.

“We wanted to get into pit stops and fuel strategies,” Tadevic said. “The crew and the team play a lot bigger role in Champ Car racing.”

The team struggled in those years – it won only one race, in Phoenix, and scored a handful of top-three finishes. “A lot of that had to do with the very reason we were there in the first place — which was to learn,” Tadevic said.

The next year, Pacific Coast Motorsports returned to open-wheel cars to race in the Champ Car World Series. At its height, the company ran two cars and had 40 people on the payroll.

“2007 was rough. I think our best finish was a fifth place,” Tadevic said. “Both the driver and the teams had learned from that. Then they pulled the rug on us.”

Back in 1995, open-wheel racing split into two factions – the IndyCar Series and the Champ Car World Series. The schism had divided fans and, more importantly, their dollars.

Champ Car filed for bankruptcy in February 2008, just a few months after Pacific Coast Motorsports had brought on Mario Dominguez, a star driver from Mexico City.

Dominguez won third place at Champ Car’s farewell race in Long Beach in April 2008. But after Champ Car went under, Tadevic’s business partner wanted out, so Tadevic mortgaged his house to buy him out and keep the team going.

The IndyCar Racing League absorbed Champ Car, so the only place for Pacific Motorsports to head was the Indy 500 – even though it had no IndyCar program and Dominguez had never driven an IndyCar nor driven the track at Indianapolis.

Tadevic was able to strike a sponsorship deal with the tourism board of Mexico City, who hoped Dominguez’s popularity would help draw visitors.

The IndyCar organization gave cars to the top Champ Car teams so they could compete in the May 2008 race, but Pacific Coast Motorsports got a used beater.

“Within four weeks of having the car, we were trying to qualify for the Indy 500,” Tadevic said. “Most teams spend their whole year preparing for the Indy.”

The team rushed to learn the car. In qualifying rounds, Dominguez gained enough speed to make the cut, but then crashed on his first day. The team worked feverishly to fix the car, and Dominguez had enough speed, but crashed again the next day. “We did a half a million dollars in damage just in May,” Tadevic said.

Dominguez’s times placed him 34th, but, by tradition, the Indy 500 takes a field of 33.

“After we were done, I stood in the garage with 25 grown men crying,” Tadevic said.

For the business, Tadevic said, “that was the beginning of the end.”

“We had a $3 million contract with [the tourism board of Mexico City]. They paid me about $600,000 of the $3 million I was supposed to get,” Tadevic said. “We tried to purse legal action in Mexico. As you can imagine, trying to sue a Mexican government agency in Mexico – pretty much they laughed at me.”

Negotiations on a deal with a Mexican appliance and furnishing store with a growing U.S. presence also fell through. “We had a $4 million deal agreed to on a handshake. But over the course of time it took to do that, their stock fell 80 percent in four days,” Tadevic said.

The team made it through a few more IndyCar races, but eventually laid off all its employees and filed for bankruptcy May 12, with Tadevic on the hook for nearly everything.

“My wife hasn’t left me, my kids love me, so all the important things are still intact,” Tadevic said.

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