For decades Felix Sabates has been a trusted community leader throughout the Charlotte region for a myriad of reasons but most notably because of his business, civic and philanthropic endeavors. If the city of Charlotte had a Mount Rushmore, Felix’s likeness might be found on it as he has been active in promoting the community for over 40 years. This fun-loving Cuban American is also one of the most widely known and respected team owners in the NASCAR garage – a result of his over 20 years in the sport, his keen business sense, his close relationship with the France family and most of all because he is simply a “good guy."
Sabates first entered the world of stock car racing as an owner in 1987, when he purchased a research and development team from then-owner and popular Charlotte businessman, Rick Hendrick. SABCO Racing was founded and a new NASCAR Cup competitor entered the scene. For Sabates, it was just the beginning of a long, successful career on the NASCAR circuit.
In his 11 seasons running full-time Cup teams, Sabates and Team Sabco picked up seven wins, 33 top-fives, 104 top-10s and 15 poles in nearly 600 starts. His teams finished in the top five in points in two different seasons – both by Kyle Petty.
During the 2000 season Sabates and then CART owner Chip Ganassi announced a partnership that would form Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates (CGRFS) beginning in 2001 along with a new partnership with Dodge Motorsports.
The two-car operation that Sabates and Ganassi initially started with has now grown into a multiple car program in partnership with Dale Earnhardt, Inc. as Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates. Sabates and Ganassi also field a Daytona Prototype in the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series, where the team has won an unprecedented four Rolex 24 At Daytonas and five championships in the No.01 car.
Sabates has had as much success off the track as he had has on. He left his native Cuba when he was just 16-years-old and worked odd jobs until he was able to get what he considers his first real job – selling cars at City Chevrolet in Charlotte in the early 1960s. He soon accepted a position as a manufacturer’s representative for Top Sales Company (TSC) and in 1973 at the age of 32 was able to parlay his sales success into the purchase of the company. At its peak, TSC became the largest, most successful manufacturer’s representative company in the United States with over $6 billion in sales. In a 2000 move that shocked the business world, Felix Sabates sold Top Sales Company 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 2000, the father of three and grandfather of six bought the number one custom yacht builder in the world, Trinity Yachts. 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 owns a Mercedes Benz auto dealership and also owns a Smart Car Franchise. Felix is also the president and CEO of FSS Holdings, Inc., a North Carolina based company with holdings in several U.S. and international companies.
Sabates, who has been a Charlotte resident since 1963, has always had a soft spot in his heart for sports. In 1988 he became an original owner of the Charlotte Hornets basketball team and played a key role in negotiating with the NBA to grant Charlotte a franchise. He is also the only person that had ownership in the Hornets to now also have ownership in the Charlotte Bobcats. He has also been an owner of the East Coast Hockey League’s Charlotte Checkers, who won the Rally Cup representing the league championship in 1995. In addition, in the early 1980s he started the first indoor professional soccer team and was one of the first investors of the World Football League.
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 bestowed upon him an Honorary Doctorate and he received a "Special Blessing" in writing from Pope John Paul II. He serves on the Board of Directors for Carolinas Health Care Systems, the University of North Carolina Charlotte, the Applica Corporation (Black & Decker), Simpson Products, the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce and the North Carolina Institute of Medicine. Additionally, 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 Levine Children Hospital, where a special plaque in his honor is in the main lobby.