NASCAR Chairman & CEO Brian France June 29, 2004 Part 2 of 3 Q: I have a couple of questions. In light of the death of the NHRA driver, does that hit home across the industry of no matter how much safety you do, there's always more that could...
NASCAR Chairman & CEO Brian France
June 29, 2004
Part 2 of 3
Q: I have a couple of questions. In light of the death of the NHRA driver, does that hit home across the industry of no matter how much safety you do, there's always more that could be done?
BRIAN FRANCE: I think it does. I think it does, any time there's a tragedy in any sport, you realize competition and you realize these circumstances happen, so we've paused and looked carefully at things, any time an incident in, frankly, any sport occurs.
Q: Does it hit home closer though, being racing-related?
BRIAN FRANCE: Well, I'd say any tragedy hits home pretty close to us. So it doesn't have to be motor sports. You know, every sport has had unfortunate tragedies, and it just makes you really understand that you're a competitive, hard and fast business here, and that's why we are so proud of where we are headed with safety.
There's much to do, but we've made so many strides as an industry. And we think we're leading -- if we're not leading the world, I don't know who would be ahead of us, with at least the commitment of the R&D Center, engineering, the Car of Tomorrow. With a dedicated group of people, we feel like we're doing a lot and we've got to do more.
Q: I want getting back to Tony Stewart, have you or will you talk to Tony Stewart about his latest incident, and with regards to that, you said there's something that would come out shortly. Is this going to be your decision or something you're signing off with that Mike Helton's decided to do?
BRIAN FRANCE: Well, I'll sign off on anything that is substantial. Mike will, as he always does, make his recommendations and we'll do that as a group.
We have talked to Tony and I'm sure we'll talk again with Tony. That's where we are.
Q: And you're talking about the hard liquor situation relating to the television partners and some of the regulations there, how is that different from what you guys had to go through with the cigarette advertising? I know it wasn't too long ago that Jimmy Spencer had a car sponsored by Winston, how is that different from the hard liquor?
BRIAN FRANCE: Well, one of it was that we had tobacco starting in the early 70s before all of the restrictions and all of the things that eventually impacted the industry, the way it did in the 90s. They were already a partner of ours, unlike the spirits, where we have a policy where they are not in the sport. So that's the most important thing.
And then you had all of that loyalty built up in a time when they didn't have any restrictions and they were just a normal company doing business to where that changed in the midst of them being a partner within the sport.
So we had to look at that differently and we'd look at cigarettes coming into the sport out of the blue today differently. You have to look at all of the circumstances, but RJR was a great partner for a long time and you just can't dismiss that when restrictions swirl back and forth.
Q: The process of trying to get the track in New York, that broke a month ago, is there any update on ongoing talks?
BRIAN FRANCE: Well, look, ISC is going to make the announcement when they have something to announce, and I don't want to get out in front of anything that they are working on.
I know they have -- it's been in the paper and they have been very serious about that market, and there's been much progress made as was reported on one of their calls, I heard that.
No one knows more than I how important it would be to obtain a track in the New York market. It's a tremendous -- obviously it's the No. 1 market. But our TV viewership now, growing substantially, I think it's our third market in the mix behind only Atlanta and Los Angeles for NASCAR fans, so we'd like to see a New York track get figured out.
Q: I just wanted to ask you a little bit about the Car of the Future thing, how that's progressing and do you see that probably coming to fruition by 2006 or maybe even before the end of next season? And where does all of that stand, is that a very important project for you and obviously it's a major change for the sport.
BRIAN FRANCE: Yes, it is. Mike Helton feels strongly about it, as does Gary Nelson and everybody who is working on it and they are doing good work.
They are on schedule, and one of the challenges they have, this will be a project where we have reached out like never before to the industry, they have their input, their ideas, because we are all going to be living in this car for a long time. So there's a lot of work being done now to sit down with every crew chief, team owner, some drivers, and that's ongoing.
We are hoping to get that car on the racetrack sometime next year, and then we are going to be announcing a phase-in system, as we've obviously got a lot of equipment that we've got to deal with that needs to be cycled out. So those are all timelines we are working on but the project is going great.
Q: So the only thing that's confusing me is if you brought it in in the middle of a season, basically everybody would have to switch cars in the middle of the season. That seems difficult at best. Is that really the plan, to do it that way, rather than try to do it at Daytona because it's such an aerodynamic track?
BRIAN FRANCE: We never said we were just going to drop it in in the middle of a season. You're right, we will have to be very intelligent about that. Although, you know, there are some tracks like Talladega being one and others; Atlanta is a very fast track where people are building certain cars for certain tracks maybe.
But listen, those are all coming as we finalize the time line. You're right, we never just introduce it in the middle of a season and hope for the best. It would be a coordinated effort as we do unveil that car.
Q: You spoke a little bit before about the Truck Series, could you expand on that a little bit in terms of your satisfaction with the direction it's going and the future of the series?
BRIAN FRANCE: The Truck Series is having its best year in recent memory, and in part because Toyota has definitely energized the series. I think SPEED Channel is hitting their stride with producing and distributing and it looks great on television. The fan support, now that everybody has figured out how exciting those events are at Daytona, Atlanta, Charlotte; and they were up in Mansfield, Ohio for a sellout race and sold out and had to add seats. We're getting a call a month from a track who would like to host the series.
So, there's no doubt now that it's arrived and it's going to be with us for quite a long time. And the racing is great. We've got a nice mix of veterans and young stars, Kirk Busch and a couple of others have proven you can go right from there in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series. So it's a breeding ground for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup, which is always helpful.
So we are really excited about the Truck Series.
Q: I was just wondering, you said on Tony that we'd know something soon. Can you be a little more clear on the timetable, is it going to be today or tomorrow?
BRIAN FRANCE: It will be before the Pepsi 400, that's for sure.
Look, we'll do it as fast as we can. We are still reviewing a few details to make sure we understand exactly what occurred and then we'll be reacting as soon as we get that completed.
Q: Because a normal reaction to some-thing like this would be a fine, probation, points deduction, things like that. Because this is something of a continuing pattern, I guess, is it at least being discussed of doing something even more harsh than that?
BRIAN FRANCE: Well, Tony is not on probation now. And he is like any other driver and we are going to look at the circumstances open-mindedly.
But we are on record, and I'll say it today, that his behavior at Sears Point is not acceptable. And so just how severe the punishment need to be to make a point that we are not going to accept that, and punish somebody for what they did, that's something we are going to have to work through.
Q: Earlier today, Jimmy Johnson said that the new Chase to the NASCAR Nextel Championship is more entertainment than sports, and I think that falls into a category that all sports are having to find a fine line between entertainment and sport. How fine a line do you think there is between entertainment and sports, and when does it cross over and is that a difficult thing for you guys to engage?
BRIAN FRANCE: No, I don't think that we look at it that way we don't look at lines that cross over or not. We look at two things; that we have to be objective and a fair, balanced playing field for the drivers. And whatever happens, happens.
If we do the first job right, getting the drivers the opportunity to showcase their skills, and the more the better. They are going to make it exciting and that's entertaining. It's not either/or. The more exciting you make the racing, the more entertaining it becomes and there's no line. We'd love to see every race as exciting as possible.
Q: And talk a moment about the new deal with TSN in Canada. What does that mean to NASCAR, and does this mean that at some point, we may see NASCAR racing maybe in a road course configuration since there's no huge ovals up there or something of that sort?
BRIAN FRANCE: Well, we said a year ago or so that we needed to have a thoughtful international strategy beyond distributing our events on television, and that's what you're seeing now. You'll see more probably as we look at Mexico, to the south, sort of what we would call the low-hanging fruit. Because already in Canada, our television ratings, obviously it's a smaller country, but our television ratings are the equivalent of what they are in the U.S.
So we have got a lot of fans there. And how we satisfy that fan base and grow the fan base from there is something that our international strategy, which this latest announcement is intended to do, and there's all kinds of talk about an oval being built in one place or another in Canada, a couple of the big sponsors that are Canadian companies have indicated all kinds of positive things.
So we are going to take it one step at a time and we are going to shore up our distribution on television. We are going to -- if we can take some events and I'm not talking about NASCAR NEXTEL Cup events, because as everyone knows, we domestically are stretched. But there are other things we can offer and we'll be looking at those.