Brian France - State of the Sport transcript, part 1

THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon. Before we get into what we're here for today, we do not have anything to announce at the moment on penalties as a result of this weekend's qualifying and whatever. But we will have, later this afternoon, an ...

THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon. Before we get into what we're here for today, we do not have anything to announce at the moment on penalties as a result of this weekend's qualifying and whatever. But we will have, later this afternoon, an announcement on penalties.

So with that aside, please welcome NASCAR's chairman and CEO, Brian France.

BRIAN FRANCE: Good afternoon, everybody. I want to do a couple things today. As you guys know, I give a little state of the sport here in February, then in July we try to give another update where we think some of the bigger topics, initiatives are going, how they're working out.

With that, first of all, good afternoon. Second of all, thank you very much. I know it's the hardest working press corps in press, the motorsports press corps. I know another thing, we keep you here a long time, 10 days in some cases. It's a long spell. We appreciate the hard work and the good coverage that you guys provide.

Let me tell you a little bit about '06 as we wrap-up and head into '07. Another congratulatory to Jimmie Johnson, the No. 48 Rick Hendrick Lowe's team. They proved they were the best on the track. Jimmie is going to make a great champion. I also want to make mention of what I think now is being defined as the best rookie class that we've had arguably ever and some say maybe since 1979, but certainly one of the best. Denny Hamlin was the leader of that pack, making the Chase, getting a couple of wins. That rookie class is going to serve us well as we move into '07 and beyond.

I want to also talk a little bit about our ongoing concern, initiative, emphasis on leveling the playing field, lowering that barrier, keeping those costs down as much as possible. I think we like some of the early results we're seeing from the tire leasing program we had last year, how that worked out, to lower some costs, try to balance this field for the Pettys, the Wood Brothers, some of the other single and dual teams here in the series.

With that in '06, now we're in '07, moving on. It's always going to be about intense competition. That's what NASCAR is all about, as everyone knows. That's why I think Toyota is going to add something to the mix. Obviously their engineering, technology and just there emphasis on coming into this series helping so many teams, we're already seeing a real benefit. You can see the car counts going up, the level of competition growing. We're real happy with how Toyota has come into the series. I know it's early, but we certainly like the organization of their teams, how they're approaching it.

We certainly have a lot of optimism for Juan Pablo Montoya, good qualifying run, wins the 24-Hours. We think he can be special. We think the fact he looked at NASCAR as his No. 1 goal, that he wanted to be part of the most competitive form of auto racing in the world, and chose us. I think that's quite an endorsement where NASCAR has come on the global stage in motorsports. And also I think A.J. Allmendinger, who had a lot of success in CART, other forms of racing, is going to be a big plus for this series. I believe, too, that Sam Hornish is going to compete in a number of Busch events and add to what we're doing.

We're excited about some of the drivers, frankly, undeniably here in North America, maybe now in the world, this is the place to be when you want to test your skills against the best drivers in the world.

Of course, Thursday we'll kick it off here with the Gatorade Duels. I think in recent memory, we haven't had so many drivers trying to compete for so few spots. Thursday is going to be an interesting event as we set the field for the Daytona 500.

I told many of you that we wanted to turn the corner, make winning even more important. That's why our announcement last month, five points on the nose, the way we're going to see the Chase when we get into the fall, all going to be based on wins. Whether it's symbolic or whether it's tangible, that's where we're going. We want to constantly keep pushing that, but remaining and making sure that balance for consistency is preserved, but we're headed towards more emphasis on winning.

I, like many of you, are anxious to get the Car of Tomorrow off the test tracks and onto some real competition. We'll do that in Bristol here this spring. I'm optimistic that the teams are by way of having either chassis that we're certifying in Charlotte, the R&D center, that we're going to be able to move along hopefully at a brisker pace of phasing the Car of Tomorrow in. That's going to be based on the teams' capacity to get up to speed. But they're coming online very fast. We have a nice roll-out plan, but we're going to look at that as we go along.

Busch Series. This will be the final year of Anheuser-Busch's long-standing commitment to this series. We want to thank them for their partnership. They've been a great partner. We'll be looking down the road here very shortly at a new entitlement sponsor. This year we'll be headed to Montreal for the first time, headed north, building on the success we think we've had with going to Mexico City. Had a very successful couple years down there. That series, clearly the No. 2 motorsport in the country, is going to be off to a good start. We're going to manage through the sponsorship things in an intelligent way.

The NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series of course debuts on SPEED this Friday night. Full field, lots of competition. Like the way that series has been going and hopefully will continue to go.

I want to mention a little bit about sponsorships because you can't be in this business without understanding that that's part of the lifeblood of the entire sport. I'm sort of pleased to give you a good report card on that. There's more than 100 Fortune 500 businesses investing in NASCAR. Sponsors, of course, will change their mind and come and go to a degree. But investments in corporate America is another positive sign we got the momentum. They're scrutinizing their budgets, scrutinizing their investments like never before. Time and again they're choosing us and we're real proud of that.

To that point, Bank of America, Tylenol, new NASCAR sponsors for '07. Recently renewed Goodyear for a multi-year commitment. They've been the longest standing current partner in NASCAR. Glad to have Goodyear back for many years to come. More importantly than all that are the new team sponsors that you see out on the cars today. I want to make note of a couple of them. Dish Network, Big Red, Wrigley's, Burger King, Red Bull, and (indiscernible). Some great brands that are going to help us in the investment in the teams, make sure we'll got well-funded teams now and into the future.

Also I want to make note some of the new executives that have joined the industry here in recent months. One of the announcements I know is probably coming, although not yet made, is John Henry of the Boston Red Sox looking to make an investment in Roush Racing. Should that happen, that will be an interesting and important milestone. John Henry brings a lot of sports and business savvy. That will be very helpful should they join Roush Industries.

I also want to welcome Max Siegal, DEI. Comes from Sony, the record industry. He's now the president of DEI. He'll bring an interesting perspective. Happy to have Max in our industry, as well.

You can see from a momentum standpoint where we're at. We think that this sport is poised for interesting and great things in '07. It starts, too, with our broadcast partnerships. We start our eight-year television package with FOX, Turner, ABC and ESPN. FOX, of course, the home to the Daytona 500, 12 NEXTEL Cup races every year, and this year, of course, exclusively. Turner returns as NASCAR's longest consecutive broadcast partner. They'll televise six consecutive NASCAR Nextel Cup Series races, including the Pepsi 400. Of course, as most of you have seen, the enormous commitment that the Disney corporation with ABC and ESPN has already made to NASCAR. The production, the promotion, the focus on NASCAR is unprecedented from ESPN. Happy to have an old friend back in the fold.

The SPEED Channel gets an enhanced position, as well. Of course, they're home exclusively to each NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. They'll broadcast the Gatorade Duels on Thursday, and of course the All-Star Challenge in Charlotte exclusively. SPEED has a great package. They're doing a nice job covering the sport. Want to thank them.

We got Sirius radio up and launched January 1st. Lots of 24-hour, round-the-clock coverage. I like their shows, a lot of the things that are going on. Happy to have one of the real interesting and pioneers in satellite radio in Sirius.

And Direct TV. They were nice enough to sponsor my father's hot dog roast last night. They've got the Hot Pass, taking our fans behind the scenes in some cool places for the entire season. Happy to have Direct TV.

In closing here a little bit, I want to thank, again, the hard-working media corps that covers us week in and week out, but reminding you of a theme that I have that's important. Despite the real hard effort and great effort in covering us, we're still an under-covered sport in many major markets. We're doing a lot of things to educate these various markets, various mediums to what NASCAR is all about and why this sport deserves a little bit better coverage. That's on our watch, on my watch, so we're going to be working at that pretty hard.

Yesterday I got an update directly from the Hall of Fame committee. I'm pleased to tell you that it's a much bigger, grander project than even we had envisioned when we drew up the idea. They are really off and running in Charlotte in a big way. Hopefully they're going to stay on schedule and be completed around 2010. But I will tell you, it's going to be the most technologically advanced Hall of Fame ever built. The designers, the architects are hard at work. It's going to be a fabulous tribute to NASCAR's past, present and future when it's completed.

Couldn't give you an update without telling you about diversity, how important diversity is, if we don't get that right, what it means. You know about the initiatives, I'm not going to go into each and every one of them. Our Drive for Diversity is the centerpiece, but there are many others.

I remain not only committed but convinced that if we don't get diversity right, this sport will not achieve what it needs to achieve from a popularity standpoint, won't get the best drivers, won't get the best talent on the management side, won't get the fan base that we deserve, so on. We got to get diversity right. We won't stop until the progress that we think we need to make it made.

With that, I'm going to take some questions in a moment. As I conclude today in my sort of update, I think it's undeniable a few things. I think it's undeniable that corporate America, the funding, the investment in the sport, the belief in this sport, the sport on the move, is better than we've ever had it. Look at the garage, the car counts, the quality companies that are making this investment. So we really feel good about that.

I think another thing that's undeniable is the level of competition and the quality of drivers that this sport has attracted over the last four or five years. It's amazing. I think there's going to be some big names, some talented drivers who won't make the Daytona 500. That is indicative of an extremely strong and competitive field.

I think what's also undeniable is the initiatives at work for a number of years, whether that's diversity, the Car of Tomorrow, our cost-containment strategy, our safety strategy of making things better every time we can, the work being done in the R&D center, we're getting the results from all of that. We're getting the results from the hard work and those initiatives that take many years to cycle through and get the real reward.

I can tell you, you expect me to have confidence, but I'm going to tell you I got a lot of confidence that '07 is going to be a very, very special year for NASCAR. We're really happy about getting underway here in a couple days.

With that, I'm going to take some questions, as well.

Q: You talked about your corporate sponsorship, getting everything off to the big start. The big news on Sunday, you had three guys busted for cheating. What kind of message does that send? What are you going to do about it?

BRIAN FRANCE: I'm glad we're going to talk about this. As Jim said, we're going to announce some pretty strong penalties here later on today. You can't expect with 120 cars, thousands of rules that are out there, that some teams are either going to intentionally cross the line or inadvertently cross the line. Either way, it's our job to protect the integrity of the sport.

What we said in July in Chicago was that we weren't happy with the frequency of those, too many of those. There's going to be some. You can't bat a thousand with a hundred plus cars. As more on the intentional side began to happen, we were going to ramp up the penalties in a strong way. As Mike Helton said, whatever it takes.

Now, whatever it takes ought to be measured because we ought to be looking at, you still got to have the punishment fit the crime as well as be a deterrent. So we'll balance that. You can be assured, you'll read the penalties later on today. We don't know the details on the 55. But as these penalties or as these infractions become more frequent, you will see us undeniably step up the punishment.

We'll find the right common ground to make sure while there will be some inadvertently flop over or make a mistake, but the intentional pressing, trying to get ahead of the rules, will not work. We'll make sure of that one way or the other.

Continued in part 2

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Drivers Juan Pablo Montoya