NASCAR Chairman & CEO Brian France June 29, 2004 Part 1 of 3 BRIAN FRANCE: Thank you to all of the media members that have joined us this morning. I want to start by saying when we started out this year, we did have a lot of questions to ...
NASCAR Chairman & CEO Brian France
June 29, 2004
Part 1 of 3
BRIAN FRANCE: Thank you to all of the media members that have joined us this morning.
I want to start by saying when we started out this year, we did have a lot of questions to issues that we're facing in the industry and one of them was how would Nextel in their inaugural year do in replacing Winston. We obviously announced the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Championship format and there was a lot of questions on how that would play out. Toyota's interest in the Truck Series, how would that be received, and how would they spice up that series. And of course, you had a major antitrust lawsuit that was hovering over the industry.
And I think now that we are almost halfway through, we're feeling very good. I think No. 1, Nextel has done everything they said and more. They have been a tremendous partner to the industry. They have been very respectful to Winston and have brought new and exciting ideas and promotions for our fans.
Toyota has done a terrific job. It has indeed boosted the Truck Series and given it greater awareness. The lawsuit, the industry's better off by putting that lawsuit behind us and focusing in on realignment and other important places for our top series to go in 2005 and beyond.
And I think finally, you're clearly seeing the benefits as we hoped they would be concerning the Chase for the NASCAR Nextel Champion-ship. You're seeing drivers that were out of it in previous years that are not out of it today. I mean, Jamie McMurray sitting in the 11th spot, Kasey Kahne, Jeremy Mayfield are in this championship hunt; in the past, they wouldn't have been. And that doesn't even account for a guy like Bobby Labonte sitting in the sixth or seventh spot, he's going to be a factor, and Kevin Harvick and the people who make up the Top-10 of the day.
So it's going to be what we all hoped for, a lot more excitement, a lot more drama, a lot more fan bases energized as a result of the system and frankly, the competition has heated up. I think if you look at nine different winners, you look at nine different pole winners, you see the urgency that the drivers have today that maybe they would not have had under the old system. You had better get going right now, and now is the time to get moving into mid-September and be in the Top-10.
You hear the drivers, even the ones that are in the top, Jimmy Johnson has a different view of, and his view is: "It allows me to go out and win now. I'm probably in the Top-10." He's now getting ready for battling down the stretch.
So on balance, you can hear my enthusiasm that we think we are poised for a great second half and very proud of what has gone on in the first half.
So with that, I'd be happy to take any questions that are there.
Q: Looking ahead to the Chicago race, could you talk about how the series has felt the reception has been here in Chicago and what Chicago brings to the series?
BRIAN FRANCE: Well, obviously, it's the nation's No. 3 market. I think we believe that we've actually built -- usually you make a big splash into the market, and the next two, three, four years, you've still got great awareness, but it drops off a little bit.
It's really been the reverse in Chicago. Every time we come back to Chicago the reception has gotten a little bit better, a little bit stronger, more awareness of what NASCAR is all about. If you look at the television ratings in the market, they are going in the right direction. It's now our No. 8 in terms of markets that NASCAR viewers watch every weekend.
I tell you, we are excited about Chicago and looking forward to getting there next week.
Q: As a follow, any initial thoughts on, talk about the track, more grooves, improved racing, have you heard or seen any indications of that?
BRIAN FRANCE: Yeah, I think that's true. As more rubber gets on the track over time, that's a known thing in NASCAR, a new surface will work better when it's older. It's a fast track. The drivers like it. It's a challenging place. There are multiple grooves to pass on, and racing has gotten better and we are looking forward to seeing you next week in Chicago.
Q: There's been talk about green 0x2022 white-checker, and Rusty Wallace thinks it might not work, but where is NASCAR looking at races finishing under green and are we going to see a change on that in the near future?
BRIAN FRANCE: Well, we are studying that whole idea of how we might give ourselves more opportunities to finish under a green flag scenario, which is what we want. If we find the right system, I know we have one that works in the Truck Series, but remember those are shorter races. And we are having to factor in a number of other things of where the NEXTEL Cup Series races on, how many tracks, and really, most important thing is how long the events are.
But if we can figure out a better approach, I hope everybody knows us -- or knows me by now, that we will implement it if we can and we are looking at it closely.
Q: I wanted to look ahead at New Hampshire, which is also coming up, it seems like this track has become a bit of a player in terms of its station in the schedule, and of course, in the Chase for the NASCAR Nextel Championship. Why so? Why has New Hampshire become so important?
BRIAN FRANCE: Well, it's worked out that way, in part because of where the traditional events have come on the calendar. Of course they are the first race out of the end of the ten-race scenario. And then they have a race coming up shortly that is going to play into who gets into the Top 10. So it's more of a function of that.
But I will tell you that that is in an area that's frankly underserved by definition of how many Nextel Cup events are in that region. So, it's a great place to have two important races.
Q: Did you feel that it was meriting two events this season, going forward with the schedule?
BRIAN FRANCE: Oh, yeah, I think -- listen, they have a tremendous fan base. They sell the events out in record time. They have made some improvements with the facility, with the track surface, to make it even racier, and Bob Bahre, I'm happy to hear -- he was back at the track recently, recovering from that car accident. So the Bahre family has done a great job with growing that facility in a good, smart manner over the years.
Q: Just wanted to get a little assessment from you about your first six, seven months on the job, whatever it is, and how you feel that things have gone for you in this first half of your first season being in charge?
BRIAN FRANCE: Nice of you to ask, but it's not really about me. I've enjoyed the responsibilities and it's obviously action-packed. We have three of the four top national series in the country. We've got our hands full. But working with the team we've got in developing new ideas and trying to make racing better has been a fun first year for me.
Q: I am curious as to your thoughts on the latest Tony Stewart incident, is this a big deal in your mind?
BRIAN FRANCE: It is a big deal. We're going to see how big it is here shortly. But his behavior at Sears Point is unacceptable. We will be dealing with that shortly.
Tony has to work within the same rule structure and behavioral expectations that we have for all of our drivers. And one way or the other, we will figure that out.
Q: How big of a fight is it to -- I have a suspicion that you would pull the trigger tomorrow on a green-white checker finish or something close to it, I know you're not going to fill us in on the internal struggles that might go on in the front office among those that are for it or against it, but how does that process play out? I mean, do you guys go through a lot of scenarios of what could happen, what could go right, what could go wrong, but I assume at the end it's a matter of dragging some folks along with you who are against it; is that a fair assessment?
BRIAN FRANCE: Well, we have a lot of smart people who have good views, and they don't always agree with me and I don't always agree with them. But we have always in NASCAR, we want to hear the opposing views, because you never know when somebody might make the right point.
We are going through that process now as we are with three or four -- we always seem to have three or four things that we are looking at for next year, for this year. We are looking at our rules package, which we are going to have out three months earlier than we have ever had with more input than we have ever had, with our team owners and drivers.
So, listen, NASCAR is an industry that you have to reach out and get all of the ideas. And if we can find one, as you know, we will make a decision if it promotes better racing or safety or anything that we think improves the industry.
Q: Do you find kind of a humorous, for lack of a better word, excuse or complaint among some of the drivers to be against the guaranteed green-flag finish? Their argument seems to be, hey, we can't be trusted with a shootout like that.
BRIAN FRANCE: We know at 53 years of managing the sport, we know what the drivers are up against in terms of finishing under green or not finishing under green. Most of them have said recently that they would support some version of it, and we are going to look at -- listen, we want to finish the races under green. That's what we are all about.
There are all kind of elements we have to factor in, and if we can manage through those elements and figure out the right package for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series, a five-mile race is not as simple as one might think, and we want to be very thoughtful of going through the process.
And if we can find a better solution, you've heard me say this on a variety of topics, we are going to be open-minded to change. We've got to find the right solution.
Q: Going back to... can you figure out why beer and wine sponsors are acceptable and yet hard liquor isn't? Do the fans recognize the difference?
BRIAN FRANCE: Well, they may or may not. What's at issue here is a long-standing rule going back into the '70s of a cooperation that the network television partners would have when it comes to hard liquor and spirits, and you know, a lot of our events, 80 percent of them, are on network television. That's a different challenge than other motorsports series have or other people might have.
So, we have to understand that we've got to be in step, and that's not to say that our television partners are for or against allowing spirits. That's one thing that we've got to understand as we go along. Another is the hard liquor and cars have another element that you have to consider. And timing of such a thing, we're all going through now, the incident at the Super Bowl and other incidents where there's a real crackdown of what's, you know, broadcast on national television, how it's treated, how it's presented.
There's a lot we have to consider before we just throw out a 30-year policy. And that's what we did consider. We looked at all of the circumstances that we thought Roush could provide. They did a nice job of laying out some things in the end. We think the timing is just not right now, and we're going to leave it at that and we'll review it down the road.