Felix Sabates

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Félix Sabates (Cuba, September 9, 1945) is a Cuban-born entrepreneur and philanthropist living in the United States.

He is currently a partner in Chip Ganassi Racing Teams, which fields teams in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (as Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates), GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series and the IZOD IndyCar Series.[1] Sabates previously owned his own NASCAR team, SABCO Racing, until the end of the 2000 season when Chip Ganassi and Felix Sabates became partners.

Early life[edit]

Sabates, was the oldest of seven, three boys and four girls. As a youth and growing up in Cuba before Fidel Castro's regime conquered the Island, Felix remembers his fortunate and blessed lifestyle. Sabates' hard-working and prosperous Cuban parents had established great wealth and prestige through wise investing and a variety of businesses which carried their family name. The successful business included Sabates import and export, Sabates jewelry and Sabates optical stores, Sabates insurance, sugar, cattle, service stations and pharmacies. Suddenly, at the age of 15, everything changed when Fidel Castro and his guerillas seized government control, establishing a communist dictatorship still in existence today. The family businesses were seized by the government and they lost all of their personal possessions to the hands of Fidel Castro.

After being stripped of their wealth, their assets confiscated and faced with the struggles of Communism, the Sabates family slowly migrated to the United States. The effects of Castro's new imposed laws of forbidding Cubans from leaving communism; forced the family to strategically and intelligently escape the Castro regime at different times. At age 15, Felix was the first member of the family to enter The United States. Soon after his arrival; he was reunited by his mother and six young brothers and sisters.

Forbidden to leave the country, it was many years later before Dr. Sabates Sr. was allowed to join his exiled family in America. Responsibility to help support his mother and siblings fell on the shoulders of Sabates. Upon their arrival to Boston, where the family originally settled, Felix found work at the local hospital washing pots and pans, and later in Columbia, Missouri, again working in a hospital. An American-based Catholic charity, active throughout Cuba before and after the Castro takeover, established Lexington, North Carolina as a resettlement site for Cuban refugees who fled the new regime. The Sabates' were among the new arrivals to that city.

In Lexington, Felix began working 12-hour shifts in a furniture factory, sanding furniture to help support the family. One year later he moved to Charlotte, North Carolina, and began working at National Car Rental as a parking lot attendant and washing cars at the Charlotte Airport. While washing cars and starting a family, Felix kept his eyes open for opportunities to better himself and provide for his growing family. Seeing such an opportunity, Felix creatively persuaded the local City Chevrolet car dealership to give him a shot at selling cars. Although the dealership was not hiring, Sabates offered to work for free on the condition that if he out sells the other salesman within a month, that he would be compensated and offered a permanent sales position. Sabates was successful with record car sales. When a local newspaper article had recounted this story about the top salesman, it caught the eye of a local businessman who proceeded to offer him a different sales position with potential growth as a manufacturer's representative.

Business success[edit]

After he accepted a position as a salesman for Top Sales Company (TSC), in 1969 at the age of 25 he was able to parlay his sales success into the purchase of the company in 1971. At its peak, TSC became the largest, most successful manufacturer’s representative company in the United States with over $12 billion in sales. In a 2000 move that shocked the business world, Sabates sold TSC to his employees at what was considered a well below market rate to “reward the people that helped him build the business.” The goodwill gesture gave all employees a once in a lifetime opportunity - to become owners of the company.

In 1988, the father of three and grandfather of six purchased a Hatteras fishing yacht dealership in Stuart, Fla. and within two years Sabates had turned it into the largest Hatteras dealership in the world. Sabates, along with his partner John Dane, followed that up with the purchase of the number one custom superyacht builder in the world - Trinity Yachts in 2000. He also owns IYC, one of the largest yacht management, charter, brokerage and new construction yachts companies in the world, with offices in Monaco, the Bahamas, Saint Martees and the U.S. He is also the president and CEO of FSS Holdings, Inc., a North Carolina based holding company with holdings in several U.S. and international companies.

In his further commitment to the Charlotte region, Sabates still owns and operates, with his partner Terry Taylor, a Mercedes Benz dealership that is a four-time recipient of the - the Best of the Best Award given to only the top 10 percent of dealers nationwide. He also operates the largest volume Infiniti dealership in North Carolina as well as Bentley, Hyundai, Mazda, Sprinter and Smart Car auto dealerships.

Other ventures[edit]

Auto racing[edit]

In the 1980s, Sabates established himself in another area of the business world - professional sports. In 1987, he joined the NASCAR motor sports elite with his purchase of a Hendrick Motorsports research and development team from a popular Charlotte businessman, Rick Hendrick (who also owns Chevrolet dealerships[2]). SABCO Racing was founded and a new NASCAR Winston Cup competitor entered the scene. For Sabates, it was just the beginning of a long, successful career in the NASCAR circuit that includes building one of the most visible and respected of all Winston Cup teams. He started with the hiring of driver Kyle Petty in 1989 (he was a huge fan of his father, Richard Petty).[3] In 1992, Sabates' team branched out into the Busch Series. Petty found his groove in the Winston Cup circuit, finishing in the top-five in the final point standings for the season. The team fielded both cars in the Winston Cup circuit the following year and Petty again finished top-five in total points.

As many more successful years followed, SABCO Racing changed to Team SABCO at the beginning of the 1996 season. Sabates expanded his operation and became a multi-team power-house. During those years, many famous drivers and sponsors would change hands for Team Sabco. Drivers included Sterling Marlin, Bobby Hillin, Jr., Tommy Kendall, Kenny Irwin, Jr., Kenny Wallace, Bobby Hamilton, Robby Gordon, Greg Sacks, Wally Dallenbach Jr., Joe Nemechek, Jeff Green, Ted Musgrave, Jason Leffler, Scott Pruett, Jimmy Spencer, and Martin Truex Jr. to name a few.

In 2001 Sabates' Team Sabco partnered with Chip Ganassi to become Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates. Prior to the 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup season, that team merged with DEI, citing the global economic status as the main reason.

Currently, the team's drivers include Jamie McMurray in the No. 1 car & Kyle Larson in the No. 42. In his nearly 30 seasons in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Sabates’ teams have 17 wins, 130 top-five and 352 top-10 finishes as well as 40 poles in nearly 1800 starts. His team made the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup in 2009, finished in the top five in points in three different seasons and won the 2010 Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400. In addition, Sabates and Ganassi also field a Daytona Prototype in the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series, where the team has won an unprecedented five Rolex 24 At Daytonas and six championships in just nine years of operation. Their No. 01 team is the winningest team in series history with 40 victories.Past drivers include Luis Diaz, Stefan Johansson and Cort Wagner. Their GRAND-AM operation is the winnest team in history with 40 wins, including five Rolex 24 at Daytonas and six championships in just nine years in the series.[4]

Later on, he became responsible for hiring the first Latino driver in NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series in 2006, former Indy 500 champion Juan Pablo Montoya.

A leader in Charlotte sports[edit]

Sabates has spread his influence across other sports, as well. In 1988, as an original owner of the Charlotte Hornets basketball team, Sabates played an intricate part negotiating with the NBA to grant franchise rights to Charlotte. Sabates sold his interest a few years later. After starting the first professional indoor soccer league in the 1980s, the grandfather of six was one of the first investors in the World Football League. Also in the 1990s, he established The Charlotte Professional Sports Team, Inc, along with Hornets executive Carl Scheer, and his NASCAR driver, Kyle Petty, and his father Richard, which returned professional hockey to Charlotte for the first time since 1977, when the ECHL placed an expansion franchise in Charlotte for 1993. In 1996, Sabates' Charlotte Checkers won the Jack Riley Cup championship after competing in the ECHL for just three years. The Checkers were sold shortly after their championship season at a then-record price for a minor-league professional franchise, to Tim Braswell, who sold the team in 2000 to George Shinn and Ray Woolridge, the Hornets owners.

A tumultuous 2002 ended with Hornets moving to New Orleans, and the Checkers on the verge of being sold again and potentially moved (Woolridge and Shinn eventually forced out an ECHL team in New Orleans), Sabates once again teamed with Carl Scheer to purchase the Charlotte Checkers. In November 2005, Sabates' Checker's hit an all time attendance record of 10,894. He is also the only person that had ownership in the Hornets to now also have an ownership stake with Michael Jordan in the Charlotte BobcatsThe Charlotte Bobcats.

Civic leader[edit]

In addition to his successes in sports, Sabates also focuses much attention on civic activities. Sabates has served on the Board of Directors for Carolinas Health Care Systems for the past 27 years. He also serves on the Board of Directors for the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, the Applica Corporation, Simpson Products, the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce and he also was the co-chair of a North Carolina Institute of Medicine Task Force on Latino Health.[5] Additionally Sabates was appointed to two terms on the North Carolina Banking Commission. In fact, he has been appointed to commissions by three different North Carolina governors, Jim Martin (R), Mike Easley (D) and most recently by Governor Pat McCrory (R) to vice chairman of the Oversight committee of the Airport Authority of North Carolina which oversees the Charlotte airport, the sixth busiest in the world.

Philanthropist[edit]

Sabates is also well known for his many philanthropic contributions and has received several honors and awards for his generosity. Belmont Abbey College in North Carolina has named its dining hall after him, Elon College and UNC Charlotte bestowed upon him Honorary Doctorate degrees and he received a "Special Blessing" in writing from Pope John Paul II. Sabates became a member of the philanthropic Dream Makers Society of the Boys and Girls Club of Broward County, Fla., in recognition of his 12-year commitment to and support of special fund raising events. In his honor, the Felix Sabates Athletic Center was dedicated in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in November 2000. The facility is the largest Boys and Girls Club in the state. He is also a large contributor to the North Carolina Health Care System Foundation, the Allegro Foundation to benefit children with special needs, as well as the Levine Children's Hospital that bears a special plaque in his honor is in the main lobby.

Political affiliation[edit]

Felix is a member of the Republican Party and supports local Republicans as well as former Presidents of the United States, George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush. During Governor Jim Martin's term in office of the state of North Carolina, Felix set another first and became the first Cuban to be appointed to a position in N.C. by Governor Jim Martin to the Banking Commission of North Carolina. Felix served for two terms under the Governors term in office.

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