Brian France - NASCAR Homestead press conference, part 2

Continued from part 1 Q: This weekend can turn out to be pretty significant in terms of the Hispanic attendance, let alone the Hispanic media attending the event. Where do you feel NASCAR is in terms of reaching out to that Hispanic fan base?...

Continued from part 1

Q: This weekend can turn out to be pretty significant in terms of the Hispanic attendance, let alone the Hispanic media attending the event. Where do you feel NASCAR is in terms of reaching out to that Hispanic fan base? How important is it to get to that niche?

BRIAN FRANCE: In our situation, we've got a lot of diversity plans and programs that you're familiar with. They're working well.

But ultimately, you know, we get graded on the fact of who makes it to the national divisions, and from there what drivers of a diverse nature succeed. You know, having Juan Pablo have the success he's had this year is very helpful to that. There's no question that he has an affinity with the Hispanic fan base.

As the future unfolds, our diversity programs will deliver drivers, and there's several now that are recognized in the farm system of the major teams, that will ultimately -- it's hard, because there aren't many seats in the national division, but they will. We'll inevitably have somebody that is going to change the look and feel in a good way, in a very good way.

Juan Pablo has done that sure but steady. My strong belief is in the future, maybe over many, many years before these opportunities reach a place where someone is having success on the big stage, but it will happen.

Q: Brian, obviously dynasties can define glorious eras in sports. You have been very pointed in stressing the historical significance of a Hendrick ninth title and Jimmie's likely fourth. Hasn't NASCAR lost something valuable with the disappearance of the underdog? Do you not see kind of a downside in this dominance, the fact that all the teams legitimately challenging Hendrick or have their engines built by Hendrick are certainly not underdogs?

BRIAN FRANCE: Well, look, I'm sure every sport would have that same sort of dilemma of, you know, watching some dominant performances occur at the expense of smaller teams or others. Those are always questions that you would ask, How do you get to the perfect world?

All I can say is what is here upon us, it's historic. It is an incredible achievement that Jimmie is putting forward in NASCAR. That's what's before us. The rest of it, would it be better if this happened, this happened, that's up for other people to decide. I just can grade the performances as they come.

Q: Brian, in terms of the affordability to the teams, is NASCAR looking at boosting the purses in the Camping World Truck Series in terms of you putting the money in the purses yourself?

BRIAN FRANCE: You mean me personally (smiling)?

You know, the purses are part of the equation. The sponsorship is a bigger part, frankly, of how you sort of keep teams well-funded and whatever else. It all obviously comes together.

We've been pretty pleased with the Nationwide support. Frankly, they may be a benefactor as sponsorship values get pushed down or pushed around, that they're going to be a place that it's easy, more affordable for some companies. That's always been the case. It's probably highlighted now with a tough economy.

But we're looking at trying to get their costs down as best we can. We certainly help on the revenue side for them whenever we can, with television revenue or other ancillary revenue, sponsorship revenues. But where we can be the most impactful is helping them control costs with policies we write that affect their teams. That's what we're going to continue to work on during the off season.

Q: Brian, the very first year of the Chase you probably couldn't have planned it any better, you had five guys eligible going into the last race with a shot at the title. Since then we've seen Jimmie's dominance. Do you think the true value of this format won't be known until you look at it over a 10-year period?

BRIAN FRANCE: Probably. I think that's fair. Any models we ever did on anything of how things would likely play out never included somebody who would be so dominating at the right time. It's pretty incredible what they have done. Like I said, you can look at that a lot of different ways. The only way I think that is fair is to recognize it for what it is, not to pick apart the format. This isn't a formula exercise in a computer all the time to get you some result that you want. This is about sports and live things that happen by the best drivers and the best teams in the world and who performs at a high level and when.

You have to say that is what we look at ultimately in deciding what is a good outcome or not a good outcome.

Q: Brian, what are your hopes for gains you can make from the banquet being in Vegas in a couple of weeks versus New York? Do you anticipate somewhere down the road the banquet itself being open to fans?

BRIAN FRANCE: Well, there is a fan component now because we had the room to do that in Las Vegas. There will be some number of fans. We're obviously happy about that. We're going to be looking to expand that over time. We want to walk before we run here.

But, look, Las Vegas will be a nice, refreshing thing, shot in the arm a little bit this time of year for us and for the industry. It's going to save a lot of money, starting with that, which is important in this economy. But also the fact that the City of Las Vegas is so welcoming, the Wynn hotel has been incredible. My anticipation is it's going to be a fun week and attendance is going to be at an all-time high, in part because we have the capacity to expand because the venue lets us do that, and in part because I think people just want to come to Las Vegas in December. So we're looking forward to getting there in a couple of weeks.

Q: NASCAR has always been described in the past as the benevolent dictatorship. At this tough time, it seems that NASCAR is listening to the fans more than ever before. Is that true? How do you balance listening to public opinion, not tipping your hand, altering how you would have run the sport in the past?

BRIAN FRANCE: Well, you know, I can comment to my time at running NASCAR, since 2004. I said when I started that we were going to be the most inclusive that we have ever been in our history. We did that with a new car. We did that with a lot of things. We continue to do that. We've started the Fan Council where we speak directly to 12,000 fans every week on a variety of issues, and obviously with our teams, which we've done town hall meetings, we'll do more. The idea is to get as much input as we can.

In the end, you know, you want it to be where we can be decisive and make decisions, and we are. That's the way you get progress and you get to move forward. You want to take all the information in. But, look, we're a sport where there's a lot of opinions of how to do this, that or the other thing. And 43 teams in each national division all have different agendas. They have different goals of how things affect them, who likes this rules package better than the other person or this tire or whatever it is.

So the good news is we have a lot of people that have been doing this for 10, 20, 30 years, who understand how to filter the opinions, the reactions, and the advice that we get into a way that gets the best outcome for the sport. We're not perfect. We'll make mistakes. But by and large, year after year, we will make far more good decisions than we will poor ones. And the poor ones that we make, we'll try to fix them as fast as we can.

Q: I wanted to ask you about the car. Do you feel like you need to make any tweaks to the car or do you believe it's good enough as it is? There's also been talk about allowing the manufacturers a little more freedom with the body. Is that a priority? How close are you on that?

BRIAN FRANCE: You know, we did have, as I said earlier, some very fluid, good exchanges in our town hall meeting that Mike Helton and I chaired in May. We had most of the team owners, a lot of the crew chiefs, some of the drivers. It wasn't just on the new car, or the car, but obviously there was a lot of focus on that.

What we came away from it with was there probably were some things that we could consider, but there was no unanimous, Boy, if you just did this, it would improve that, whatever. What we netted out was we will take a look at some things in the off season as you would expect us to do. There are a couple things we'll be looking at.

But one of the things we felt strongly about is if we change something in May or June, it would counter what we had said in the beginning, which is the car is going to take a little while to figure out, but when you did, we were going to have better racing by far and we were going to have safer racing. If we change things too much too fast along the way, we'll never get everybody comfortable with what they have.

So that was the decision that we ultimately, after listening to everything, because there's not anything that -- most of the drivers are ge, tting comfortable and they don't feel like they need a lot of help one way or the other. But we will look at some things, in the off season, going into Daytona, to see if we can make a car and the racing better than it is now. That is absolutely our goal, and it's always our goal.

Absent having passes every three seconds and photo finishes every race, which we would prefer, love to see that, if we don't achieve that, then we're going to keep pushing forward and looking at ways to achieve somewhere between great racing that we have now and Utopia, which is up here.

Q: Brian, I wanted to ask you about the Jeremy Mayfield case. His attorney this week publicly made the comment in light of NASCAR asking the judge to make a judgment on the pleadings, his comment publicly was a desperate attempt by desperate people, referring to NASCAR. I wanted to ask you about that comment and also their side, looking at additional depositions, including yourself, but also including your exwife in that, your feelings about that situation.

BRIAN FRANCE: Well, I will say it this way. You know, I've had a lot of experience with trial lawyers, more than I would like, and I didn't see the comment that you're referring to, but with trial lawyers, I've never been surprised with them, what they will say, to get some outcome for somebody that they're representing.

We're going to deal with it like we said we would. We made all the comments we can make in terms of what we think has happened. We are going to go forward. It's regrettable. Our preference is never to be in litigation over anything. We make rules and we hope everybody abides by them. If you go get a trial lawyer and you go do something, that's out of our control. Our only control at that point is to do the best we can in representing the entire sport's interest in matters that affect them. We will continue to do that.

Q: Just about them trying to bring your exwife in.

BRIAN FRANCE: I said nothing surprises me with trial lawyers in the 21st century. They're an amazing group of people.

Q: Mr. France, as an outsider, I'm looking at some of the things that are happening in the series. After Dustin wrote an article with an interview with three of the series commentators from television, it seemed like they got sat on. For the record, would you state what the organization's policy is on your media partners and the people that you credential giving criticism, and is there going to be any kind of retribution?

BRIAN FRANCE: No, we don't operate with retribution, and we don't have a policy with our broadcast partners. They're our partners by definition. They have an enormous investment in the sport. They're professionals. They're networks that cover all sports. They understand how to cover individual sports better than we could tell them how to do that.

It doesn't mean that we don't have differences as we go along. We do. But there is no policy at NASCAR that demands they do one thing or another thing. They're all different. All the networks operate differently. The talent on the broadcasts operate differently. They're different people obviously. That's the extent of our policy. There isn't a policy.

Q: The ratings from the beginning of the year to the end of the year seem to just take a gradual decline, even in the Chase. I'm wondering if there are some structural factors outside of the Chase that you're looking at to sort of steady that, especially as the season sort of winds down in the final 10 races?

BRIAN FRANCE: Well, look, there are a lot of reasons that ratings go up and down. You've heard me say, you know, there are literally a dozen different things that factor into that. I won't get into all of them. Needless to say, if you're a sport that has rising rates or slightly declining rates, you want to be mindful of all of those things and do the best you can to help drive interest in your sport. We're going to do all those things that we possibly can and more.

It's important to note that, you know, with our ratings, you know, on any given weekend we still remain the second or third, depending on which weekend it is, most popular sport. While we always want to be having our ratings go like this, an upward trajectory is not always possible. Because of those 12 variables, different headlines and so on, you're going to have some things in terms of peaks and valleys.

You measure it over a very long time, and you work on the things that, as I said, can create more interest and create more viewers and, frankly, create more people going to events, more people buying merchandise, more people interesting in NASCAR in general. That's a core, fundamental issue that we take very seriously. We're going to spend a lot of time in the off season seeing how we can improve. I think any sport league does that. I think that's a cornerstone of the popularity of a league over time.

Q: Even with the economy, what has occurred in the last 24 months, when you look at the overall numbers, would it make sense to back off this 38-week schedule, this monster that has been created, have a stronger core product rather than depleting it to the numbers we've gotten to today?

BRIAN FRANCE: Well, it's easy to think that this late in the year, at the final event. We're all tired a little bit. It's understandable to think that.

I think you have to look at it a couple steps back and determine that, you know, we don't have the amount of volume in terms of games that other leagues have. We don't have 30 games a week, 40 games a week. We have one big event or more per series per week. When you start dialling that back, it has a lot of effects on you.

It's certainly understandable to be a little fatigued this time of year. But I think when you pull back, like we do, the teams do, there's great value in having events that happen once a week, where they happen, to keep the interest level where it is. Normally that outweighs some of the reasonable positions people can have to want to dial an event back or off the schedule. Usually the other things totally outweigh that, the benefits outweigh it.

Q: Would there be any interest in looking at shortening some of the races and even shortening some of the weekends, having more two-day weekends? You talked earlier about Juan Pablo Montoya, what he's meant. It looks like there's a possibility Danica Patrick will come to NASCAR. What do you think that would mean to NASCAR if she did?

BRIAN FRANCE: Well, I would sort of say reducing some of the lengths of the events, we've done that in the past at Dover, some other places. We have done that, when that makes sense. All of it would be, Does that make that a better race for the fans? We wouldn't just cut the laps back or the distance back unless we thought it would make a big difference. We'll be looking at that, working with our tracks to come up with the same conclusion that we might if that were to be the case.

Juan Pablo I said earlier, I think he can be a star here with his credentials, his aggressive style, his connection to the Hispanic population is very good for us. I've always said that. The question is, is he good enough at this style racing to be a star? And I think he is, but he's got to prove that. I think he thinks he is. He's done a lot to put his best foot forward this year.

Danica, you know, she has obviously taken a very hard look at this sport. She's obviously a very recognizable, accomplished driver in her own right. I would love to see her compete at the highest form of racing in the world. I think she's thinking about it. If she does, you know, as they say, that's why you play the game. I don't know how well she'll do.

She has a lot of talent. She will be good for NASCAR. How well she will perform is like any other driver that comes through the front door and sits in the car: you never know until they do it. She probably doesn't know. We'll see what the future brings, but she's certainly very welcome in NASCAR. I've told her that directly and I know others have, too.

THE MODERATOR: Thank you very much, everyone.

-credit: nascar

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series Automotive , NASCAR
Drivers Juan Pablo Montoya