France: NASCAR Racing Going in Right Direction

Brian France (HHP/Alan Marler Photo)

Brian France (HHP/Alan Marler Photo)
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — NASCAR CEO Brian France usually sits down in the lion’s den at Daytona in February and again in July, for a sort of “state of the sport” meeting.

On Friday, it was time for another session, and the third-generation leader of NASCAR touched on various items of interest for NASCAR fans and competitors alike.

First, there was the overall 50,000-foot view from the top floor of NASCAR headquarters.

“We were just talking about all the things that are going on this weekend with the new Nationwide car and bigger plates, a little activity yesterday in practice,” France said. “So the racing action, as you might think, certainly how we see things, has got a trajectory that it’s going in the right direction.

“We’re real pleased. There’s always an event here or there that, you know, you could be critical of. But by and large, some of the policies that we announced back in January feel good to us. And the drivers have been terrific, mixing it up differently, not being in most situations crazy about that, but giving our passionate fan base what they want most, which is the close, competitive racing action. So we’re pretty pleased.”

France mentioned the 2011 schedule and the recent talk that the Chase format would change for 2011 as well. One thing he didn’t want to talk about was the economy.

“I don’t want to have a big discussion today about the economy and all that,” he said. “The economy is what it is. It’s still difficult. It was difficult six months ago. It doesn’t appear to have improved much for our fan base, a lot of our corporate customers. That’s sort of the bad news.

“The good news is we’ve got 400 different sponsors within the sport. Most of them are renewing their sponsorships. It may look differently, but they’re renewing their sponsorships. The car manufacturers, despite a very difficult climate for them, have made a lot of improvements in their own business models and are more stable. They, as well, are reinvesting in NASCAR for the long term. So that’s good.”

France met with each individual team and driver over the off-season, and has rekindled those talks recently.

“A couple weeks ago we began reengaging, we’re always talking, but in a very formal way, in a small group of our drivers and team owners, we’re talking about 2011, both in the rules packages, the Chase format, whatever it might be, that we’re looking at getting their input on.”

France was asked, since the increased competition on the track was not leading to better TV numbers and attendance, if it was a matter of economy or changes that NASCAR needed to make to bring people back.

“You do things that are working, but you don’t see,” France said. “The answer is because there are always a number of things that are working against you or for you at any one time. Take this year. We did get the on-track product…we thought the on track product was pretty good last year. There was a perception where it wasn’t. Certainly we have a tendency over many years to at some points in time over-regulate the sport for whatever the reason. We obviously dialed that back.”

France said that deadlines for changes to the 2011 schedule have come and gone, and the sanctioning body is in the process of sorting it all out. He’s also looking at improved methods for drying the tracks in the event of inclement weather, among other things.