The Associated Press
CINCINNATI (AP)- The former owners of the Kentucky Speedway are asking a federal appeals court for a green flag to pursue their antitrust claim against NASCAR.
"They were squeezed out," attorney Stan Chesley, who helped file the lawsuit in 2005, said after arguments Thursday in front of a three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
A lower-court judge last year rejected the speedway's claim that the racing body and a sister company that operates tracks and promotes races have conspired to monopolize control over who gets the top stock car events.
The Kentucky track, some 40 miles south of Cincinnati, has new ownership that wants the case ended to help its chances of gaining a coveted NASCAR Sprint Cup race. But Chesley said there are important issues for a trial, and that the former owners also want hundreds of millions in damages.
"People have theright to have their case heard in court," Chesley said.
NASCAR attorney David Boies said the lawsuit against the racing body and its International Speedway Corp. represented impatience by the Kentucky Speedway to get a Sprint Cup race.
"They want one. Everyone wants one," Boies told the judges.
Boies noted that the speedway has hosted other NASCAR series races since opening in 2000 and was in effect saying: "We want it all and we want it now."
Plaintiffs' attorney Charles Rule, who headed the Justice Department's antitrust division during the Reagan administration, said the alleged conspiracy is meant to keep independent tracks from gaining top-tier races.
"This is a classic case of anti-competitive illegal conduct," Rule told the judges.
Rule said the new Kentucky Speedway owners, Speedway Motorsports Inc., were co-conspirators. Boies told the judges there was no evidence of that claim.
Kentucky became the eighth NASCAR-sanctioned track in SMI's portfolio, but the only one without a Cup date. NASCAR has said the lawsuit must end before Kentucky Speedway could get a Sprint Cup race.
"We're not a party to it, and we'd like to see it resolved," Mark Simendinger, general manager for the Kentucky Speedway, said in a telephone interview.
Appeals judges typically take months to decide and prepare their opinions.
They repeatedly questioned Rule on his contentions they should overturn the January 2008 ruling by U.S. District Court Judge William O. Bertelsman.
Judge Ronald Lee Gilman asked whether a premium race was "in the eye of the beholder." Rule replied that NASCAR's top-tier races draw the most television revenue, fan interest and other benefits to tracks, and are the "major league" of racing.
NASCAR officials say there are limits to how many premium racesthey can run in a year -the Sprint Cup series currently has 36 points competition races and two "All-Star" races.
"Like other sports - the NFL, Major League Baseball, the NBA - NASCAR has the right to create its schedule and host events where it wants to," said NASCAR spokesman Ramsey Poston.
On the Net:
6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals: http://www.ca6.uscourts.gov