Brian France - NASCAR Homestead press conference, part 1

NASCAR News Conference Transcript - Brian France Novemeber 20, 2009 An interview with: BRIAN FRANCE THE MODERATOR: Good morning, everyone. We're joined by NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France. He will give a few opening comments and we'll ...

NASCAR News Conference Transcript - Brian France
Novemeber 20, 2009

An interview with:

THE MODERATOR: Good morning, everyone. We're joined by NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France. He will give a few opening comments and we'll go into our normal Q&A session.

BRIAN FRANCE: Good morning, everyone. One way or the other this weekend we're going to make a little bit of history or a lot of history depending on how it goes. Jimmie Johnson could make history with his fourth consecutive championship, quite an accomplishment. We could make history if Jimmie has a problem and Mark Martin wins, he would be the oldest champion in NASCAR history to win a title. We could make history either way if Rick Hendrick, and he will, wins his ninth championship and ties Richard Petty. Either way, however it goes out this weekend, it will culminate a good season of racing and we're excited about that, whatever the outcome is.

Obviously the big thing is the dominance of Jimmie Johnson, the 48 team, what they've been able to accomplish. I don't think even historians in the past that were looking at different things in any particular season could have predicted how successful they are, how good they are. Everyone at NASCAR certainly congratulates them.

We have had on balance a very good season. You expect me to say that, but it has been. We're not without our ups and downs. In a long season, as many races as we have, we're going to have some of those. But we're real pleased with a lot of the things we did accomplish through what still remains a very difficult economy, very difficult on our race fans.

We continue to be pleased with the initial promise to the teams that we were going to react in an accelerated fashion, if we could, with everything from testing to rules packages and everything in between with policy to see if we could take additional cost out of their race operation budgets. We've done that in a lot of ways. We'll be doing more of that because obviously it's important and obviously we don't believe that 2010 looks, from just a pure economy standpoint, an awful lot better.

So we'll be having that accelerated thought in mind for our teams to continue to help them as they have. The sponsorship front is getting better. There are companies joining the sport. That's encouraging. But it's still not what we all anticipated and hoped it will be in the future.

The tracks I want to say have reacted to these issues very well. Here in South Florida or anywhere on the circuit tracks have taken an incredibly big step to be mindful of this economy. They've cut ticket prices pretty drastically. They've worked with hotels in every market to try to get better fares, better rates.

They've worked with all the pricing that they possibly could control to lower prices, whether it's merchandise, whether it was food and beverage, trying to do everything they can, particularly in a lot of places where we race like Michigan or California, that have been very hard hit, harder hit than other parts of the Midwest, the Northeast, mindful that a number of places we go unemployment is high, they're hearing that from their ticket customers, all the rest. My hope and my belief is that they will continue that.

We will continue our part in making it more affordable for the teams to race. We'll be working with them in a substantial way to help the sponsorship piece, which they're so reliant on, we're all reliant on, do as well as it can do. Certainly with the car manufacturers, we're certainly happy that all the car companies have stabilized. We didn't know this a year ago, what all would have occurred, transpired, but it did. The good news is they're out and doing business, doing better than they had been in the past. It's a very encouraging thing. They're a very integral part of what happens at NASCAR.

We've worked carefully with all of those companies to make sure that they stay in NASCAR, they're a good value, we're a big part of what they do in the future. On balance, that was all achieved. No small thing on everyone's part.

When you look at all the things, when I talked to you in February, we're going to have full fields in all national divisions, there were a lot of question marks there, this was going to happen, that was going to happen. On balance, we got through things fairly well, not easily. But we're poised to get onto the off season, give everybody a much-needed break, including people in this room.

With that, I'll be happy to take questions.

THE MODERATOR: We'll open it up to questions.

Q: We're all familiar with the challenges in the economy going on these days. Where do you see opportunities for NASCAR that maybe you haven't looked at before or new things coming on deck for 2010?

BRIAN FRANCE: Well, you know, to me it's about making sure that race teams, starting with the teams, that they have their new business model figured out, because it's changed drastically. Same with our tracks. So I would say that's still the priority.

Obviously, you know, we're on our way to doing some things that are going to be more appealing to what we see as an emerging green economy, where new companies, new technologies are coming out. They're going to need to build their brands, build their companies' awareness, their technologies. We're going to be a very, very important place for those companies to invest in in the future. We're doing a lot of things in that area that will give us a chance to convince them to join into this sport.

And then, you know, we obviously have a variety of things. We've got a new car coming online that everybody is very excited about in the Nationwide Series. We have the car in the Sprint Cup Series, I think where most of the teams and drivers have now figured that car out and then some, and the racing always can be better, but we're looking to keep building on that.

Then we're going to have an historic thing. It's very likely that Jimmie Johnson is going to be a reigning four-time champion. I can't say that with any more admiration than I have, what that means to the historic dynamics of this sport, and can he go for number five. We'll be looking at all the things you would expect us to look at in the off season to make the racing in 2010 even better.

Q: The two hot topics this year were the Jeremy Mayfield situation. How confident are you in the drug policy you have? And also Talladega, the drivers were so critical there. What are you looking at doing specifically there, if anything?

BRIAN FRANCE: Well, look, taking the first things first, on the drug policy, we believe that we made the right decisions to make an already tough policy even more tough. We think we have to do that with the circumstances that go on in the country today and in sports in general, and the fact that we have a 200-mile-an-hour racecar, we think it was very imperative that we improve our follow, which we did. We will stand behind that, very clearly.

In the future, when it comes to Talladega, there were a lot of things that were sort of in my view mis-presented. We had an exciting race. I know a lot of people will debate that. In Talladega, when you look at lead changes, whatever else, we had an exciting race. But we always look very carefully at Talladega in the fall, because it changes. It was the bump-drafting that we didn't create a new rule, but what we obviously did was made sure the old rule was carefully followed.

But usually what comes out of Talladega in the fall, as to what we adjust, if anything, but usually we'll make adjustments going into Daytona, because it's a similar package for the teams, the superspeedway, plate racing, all that. We always learn things out of the last Talladega race that serve us better when we kick off the Daytona 500.

I know our group has already had some tests. We tested Monday and Tuesday after with various packages at Talladega. We'll be looking at those in the future. Those are our signature races, no question about it. Starting with the Daytona 500, going to the Pepsi 400, going to Talladega twice, those are the highest television-rated races. We've got to make sure that the racing is safe for sure, and then we need to make sure that it's a typical Talladega, Daytona kind of race. That's what we'll be working on.

Q: Brian, I'm sure you saw there was a story this week talking about how a lot of top teams still have inventory available for sponsors next season. By my count there are at least five teams that ran the full season this year that are either going away next year or looking to scale back because of sponsorship. With all that in mind, do you think there will still be full fields next year? Is it a case that maybe NASCAR needs to adjust its business model for a Sprint Cup team? It seems, with the economy getting back in things, the cost structure is out of whack.

BRIAN FRANCE: The cost structure is a function of the free market and what is available at the time in terms of sponsorship, in terms of other related revenues that the teams can obtain. We had this same conversation this time last year when the economy was even worse. There were a lot of predictions.

There are always teams at this time of year that are under-funded, that are looking for sponsors. That's not anything new. I think clearly the sponsorship market is tougher than it's ever been in my memory. I don't anticipate that getting remarkably better. Although I will tell you we're starting to see, get inquiries in our New York group, the teams which do the selling of the sport, they're starting to feel the ice thawing on that. I think you'll see some companies over the off season that are very close to joining us at one level or another.

It doesn't mean it will be all perfect from a sponsorship standpoint, everybody will have everything that they want from a sponsorship on the car standpoint, you know. For that matter, the tracks are working hard to renew and secure their track sponsorships. They're doing a pretty good job of that.

My sense is it will be difficult, but it's going to be fine. It will get better because we still have the best value proposition in sports. Despite any of the other dynamics going in or around us, it's still the only place you can brand on the playing field in the manner that we do. We're very proud of that, and we've always built around that, and we will continue to.

Q: On the topic of cost containment, is there any low-hanging fruit left? If there is, what areas would you like to go into to contain costs?

BRIAN FRANCE: Well, there's no low-hanging fruit, but it's a core competence of ours historically to be able to take costs out of the system. It's fundamental to us. We've been talking about it for 60 years. There are a lot of motorsports divisions that sometimes it's important and sometimes it's not, depending on who you are.

The reality is there are some things left. I talked about accelerating policy that obtains that. You'll be hearing about the scoring, electronic scoring, that we use, and we have used, and can we go fully electronic. If we did that, what would it save the teams who have to provide scores, other related things. It's in the millions of dollars. We'll be looking at that obviously very carefully. We'll be looking at anything we can on the track's behalf, on the team owners' behalf to do things that don't affect the quality of racing, per se. I understand that's sometimes a subjective proposition, but what are the things we can do to take their cost model down. We'll be working very hard on those over the off season.

Q: This has been the first full year of the no-testing policy. The policy is announced for next year. It relaxes the restrictions a little bit and broadens the universe of racetracks they can go to slightly. Do you anticipate looking at that on a year-to-year basis and perhaps as the economy improves to evolve back to the policy that was in effect prior to this year? Have you seen any perceptible effect of the no-testing policy versus testing on the level of competition?

BRIAN FRANCE: You know, I would answer this way. There's some balance between no testing at all, which is the best savings equation for the teams, for sure, and having testing the way it was done in the past, which was a lot of testing. There's more publicity for the markets when teams are testing, getting the events revved up in advance. Rookies, teams that are behind from a competition standpoint, can make up some ground in the testing deal if it's available to them. So there's some perfect balance.

We obviously have chosen to go the route of the cost savings, knowing that that has some consequences that are not perfect for all the things I just described.

As we can dial it back, as the economy gets better, we will. I don't think we'll dial it back to the level we were two or three years ago where there was an enormous cost, some benefit, but too much cost. So we'll be dialing it as we go, as we watch the economy.

Q: The format was intended to do a lot of things, the Chase, like get more publicity during the time when football is starting up, the baseball playoffs, so forth, maybe cause more excitement. With Jimmie about to wrap up his fourth straight championship, there's a lot of people complaining it's become boring. This year particularly there hasn't been a whole lot of excitement. What is your feeling about the Chase? Is the format right? Does it need changes?

BRIAN FRANCE: Well, look, what I wouldn't want to do is take away the accomplishment that Jimmie, his team, as I said earlier in my remarks. In this format, to dominate four straight years is incredibly difficult to do. But we could not have predicted anyone having as good a performance as Jimmie has had, to be able to achieve what he did, therefore taking away some of the things that the Chase will deliver in normal sets of circumstances.

To me, you know, it's all in how you want to look at it. If you want to look at it that some of those teams that you would think would have been closer coming into today, you're missing that, yes, but you're getting a performance that's historic. You know, you can certainly look at it any way you want. But obviously we look at the adjustments in terms of the format every year anyway. You've heard me say that. We will be looking at that again to see if we can make it better.

But we love the premise of the Chase. History, specific performances dictate how it plays out. That's where we are today.

Q: For maybe 18 months or so you've said you want to open it up, let these guys get back to being personalities, whatnot. Last weekend we saw some old-school retaliation in the Nationwide race. What did you say to Brad Keselowski? How bad does the sport need that old-school kind of payback fun?

BRIAN FRANCE: Look, we don't go into private discussions we have in the trailer with our drivers. But suffice it to say what we want is drivers who are driving hard, that are driving to win. When that happens you're going to have some situations where there's contact. We're a contact sport. You didn't see us overrespond when that happened. What happened in the Nationwide race in Phoenix, what you're always worried about, with retaliation, all those things, is escalation, unintended consequences.

But on balance, there's no question, we're encouraging drivers. When Carl last year made the last-lap attempted pass, Kansas City, you heard us applauding that. You didn't hear us saying anything other than that was a daring move by one of the better drivers. So we're pretty much committed.

But we also regulate the events. You have to make sure that there are limits to hard driving and rivalries and whatever. But we certainly want them. We know how important they are. We're going to do what we can to encourage them with some obvious limits as we go along.

Q: Brian, in regards to scheduling in 2011 and for the foreseeable future, I know Kansas wants a second date, Kentucky wants a date, some tracks are struggling to sell tickets. When that schedule comes out for 2011, do you foresee a major shake-up at that point?

BRIAN FRANCE: It depends on what you say is 'major'. For some people one race moving anywhere is major, certainly major for the track that loses a race or one that gains it.

It's certainly possible. Kansas has got a nice track record of a fan base they've built, success in their market. They have a big proposal that is going to be voted on shortly on a casino, a variety of other things, to expand that whole facility. My sense is that that all comes forward, they'll be wanting to have another date there. We'll talk about that, try to make the best decision we have. Kentucky is in the same boat in terms of wanting another date. We've long had a realignment policy that we have worked with the tracks.

It's tough because we balance the historical interest of the sport with the current realities of markets that work better in one place than another. We try to make sure that all works out, that the fans get what they want, which is the right racing at the right place at the right time. We'll be working on that as we always do.

But it's certainly possible that changes could happen in 2011.

Continued in part 2

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About this article
Series Automotive , NASCAR
Drivers Jeremy Mayfield , Jimmie Johnson , Richard Petty , Brad Keselowski , Mark Martin