NASCAR Media Teleconference, 9/15/03 An Interview with: BRIAN FRANCE BILL FRANCE MIKE HELTON GEORGE PYNE Part 4 of 4 Q: Bill, when your dad founded the sport, he was pretty much the final absolute authority on everything. When you took it...
NASCAR Media Teleconference, 9/15/03
An Interview with:
Part 4 of 4
Q: Bill, when your dad founded the sport, he was pretty much the final absolute authority on everything. When you took it over, it was pretty much the same way for a period of time. Now there are people that say Madison Avenue has as much influence on the sport as Daytona Beach. How does the France family keep its control of the sport with the money coming in from television and sponsors and everything like that? From a technical standpoint, you have that power, but practically how do you keep them maybe from going off on a tangent that you don't want to go? Is that the balancing act that has to be followed now?
BILL FRANCE: Well, there's changes. I think we mentioned before, I can't recall exactly now where it was, but it's been in the last six months or year, there was a period of time when all NASCAR worried about on the new schedule coming out each year was we had to worry with the competitors on where they could be, how far they had to tow, so forth. We had the racetracks to consider on the dates and so forth, what they had to do for improvements, and NASCAR itself. Those were the three basic entities.
Now we're up to five. We have to be conscious of the car sponsors and the other sponsors that are involved with the facilities. That's one area. They're putting a lot of revenue in. Most people that put a lot of revenue in want to have somebody pay a little attention to them.
But the fifth one is the networks. With our new television contract, which a number of people -- I was laying in some hospitals when that was going on, they put that together. There was a lot of criticism about it when it came on line. Now the world says, "Why wasn't it there before?" But, you know, that's America.
We've got to pay attention to people like that. It's smart to do it. It helps hold our ticket prices down. The more money that we can get television and the sponsors to put into the sport is that much less -- we could offset some of the prize money that is required. The expense to the sport, it's not cheap to buy a tire from Goodyear, for instance. They use an awful lot of them.
The world's changed a little bit. You got the lawyers always looking at us now, when you rise up to the level we're supposed to be at, that you guys put at. Whoever is going to run this thing, in a way, I'm going to enjoy some fishing.
Q: Brian, you mentioned an international component to what you hope to do. Are you talking there mostly about television or are you looking at races, too?
BRIAN FRANCE: Well, we obviously can't grow our domestic schedule on the Winston Cup or Busch level, that's a given. We are now in a hundred countries with our television distribution, so that's good. We're going to look. Auto racing is obviously popular in many parts of the world, Europe and Latin America, in particular. We're going to look to have a long-term international approach to not taking domestic events there, but maybe finding a way to get our style of racing more prevalent in certain parts of the world. That's a long-term proposition.
But we're examining that. We need to and we will.
Q: Will this change involve a residential move for you, even living in LA?
BRIAN FRANCE: I have had a place in Los Angeles, but I frankly have been more on an airplane than anything else. It will cut down on my travel, that's for sure. I've had a place in Daytona, too. It's not a change for me.
Q: Bill, when you took over, it was kind of a rough patch for NASCAR in several ways. In addition to the fuel crisis, the factories had officially withdrawn their support. There was not enough commercial sponsorship in the cars. Referencing your comment about keeping cars on the track, could you talk about how you tackled those problems?
BILL FRANCE: Well, I think one of the great things that happened to us, and I'm not sure this is exactly what Bill Sr. thought, I was involved somewhat, and I don't recall the conversation, when Reynolds Tobacco Company came in, we said, "If they'll come in, they can maybe bring in a whole lot of other people in," which is what actually happened at the end of the day. We were so excited about getting a sponsor for the series that we were just looking at tomorrow.
What happened, when you go back and think about it, Reynolds is one of the first companies that ever came into motorsports that wasn't an automotive related product. They didn't make a shock absorber, they didn't have a sparkplug or something of that nature. So they showed that you could take the sport, and if you market it right, you can make it work.
That was the forerunner of what's happened today. We've got most companies that are primary sponsors that aren't auto related at all.
Q: The factories officially withdrawing, how did you tackle the issue of keeping the cars on the track?
BILL FRANCE: The fortunate thing that they did when they left, they left most of the equipment with the teams that were operating. Like Junior Johnson had all of his cars, Lynnwood had theirs. There was a number of people that still had an automobile. Our rules in those days, the latest three years of cars. We used to talk about the new cars coming out all the time. We kind of quit talking about the new cars since we had some older cars. But they ran just as fast, made just as much noise, were painted great colors, had nice numbers and entertaining drivers.
Q: You talked about your dad having the older methods, you had newer methods. How would you characterize his older methods and your newer methods?
BILL FRANCE: Well, where he was, he didn't have the people around him that I was fortunate enough to have. There was a fellow -- there were two other people that were close from NASCAR's standpoint, a fellow by the name of Pat Purcell, our executive manager, and Abe Buckchurch, who was one of our PR guys. He had Jim Hunter's job. That was -- and Norris Freely, who was our technical director, has got John Darby's job now. He had to do pretty much everything. He was a one-man band to speak of with help from Purcell. He was fortunate enough to have other people.
We had enough revenue coming in as we went along where we could even bring more people in on top of that. The sport, as it grew, got more complicated, it took more people. I had that advantage.
I think going forward, Brian has more people now than what I started with. I'm sure the next one after Brian will even have more. It just grows if it's successful. And it should be successful if we do things right, or if they do things right.
Q: With the hurricane coming up, the land fall, what is the latest that you guys could make a decision on whether to postpone or has that been broached yet? Give that to Brian, he's got to make that decision.
BRIAN FRANCE: My first duty is to defer that to Mike Helton.
MIKE HELTON: Obviously, Isabel is a big headliner this week. It certainly looks like the area we go into this weekend around Dover is going to be impacted in some form or fashion by it. Beginning as early as last night, we started organizing game plans to react according to how Isabel reacts. We've got two, three different task forces working on it as we speak.
First of all, staying in touch with the competitors and the players in the industry that would have to travel to Dover, along with the track itself. We'll simply have to wait and see what direction Isabel goes and what it decides to hit landfall, what kind of reaction it creates.
The ultimate goal obviously is to get the Busch race on on Saturday, and the Cup race done on Sunday. We have different methods to create the starting fields if necessary. But there's not much we can do today until we figure out what we're going to be faced with. The forecasts are talking about landfall somewhere late Thursday, even into maybe Thursday night. The next 36 to 48 hours, we'll just have to simply watch the path and try to predict where it's going to go, what kind of creation it leaves us to work with.
Mainly right now we've got several plans in place. We're ready to react on any one of them. But certainly our intention is to try to get the events done this weekend.
Q: None would move the venue from the Monster Mile to another area?
MIKE HELTON: The schedule calls for it to be at Dover Downs. That's where our intention is to be this weekend. If we can't be there, then we won't be anywhere this weekend.
Q: Brian, could you talk about your evolution of appreciation for this sport, where you've come from maybe before 10 years ago, before you started to become involved? Mr. France, could you talk about how you have seen him grow, if there's been any surprises along the way.
BRIAN FRANCE: I actually had a lot of humble beginnings. Notably I was out working with our weekly series in California for Ken Clapp at the time. I ultimately went on to run a dirt track in the '80s, late '80s, in Tucson, Arizona, where as Bill said it was a one-man band in its own right. You had to do everything from promotion to competition. I also spent some time in the Busch Series, actually officiated some events.
Obviously in the last 10 or 12 years or so, I've spent a lot of time in the marketing, merchandising, television side, but always, you know, looking at all aspects of what makes the sport go well. So hopefully I've had a pretty wide and varied background that puts me in a good position to be as successful as I can.
BILL FRANCE: What was the question, ma'am?
Q: If you could talk about how you've seen him grow and if there were any surprises along the way. Did you ever have a doubt that he would fit this position?
BILL FRANCE: We don't have a good connection.
As far as the growth, surprises along the way, I think one of the key historical points, you folks are all sitting around in a little conference sometime in the future talking about historical events, a key thing that's going to happen was when we cut the schedule from 50 some races down to about I guess in the 20s at that time, 24, something like that, with the 250-mile races and longer, basically.
Then I touched than it earlier, when Reynolds came in. I think another deciding point was when we made a decision to televise the Daytona 500 live in 1979. That was I think has turned out to be one of the great decisions that NASCAR made, as well as the management of the International Speedway Corporation, with the Daytona 500. In those days, we were all kind of scared about blackouts and you name it.
Those are two highlights.
When it comes to television, when they created the in-car cameras, put the fan in the driver's seat, that did pretty good to take the onus off we had on us about going round and round and round. When they learned the sport better, they were able to do some side-bar production, going to shops, everything you see today that evolved from the early television days has helped expose the sport.
Right now I'll give you a great example of people talking about why some of these market areas, they wonder how important they are. A rating in New York City, if it's a 1.7, doesn't sound like a very high television rating. But you got to look the 1.7% of the homes in New York, usually week in and week out it's our third largest viewing area for all of our events. LA is second. Atlanta has been running first. There are a lot of race fans watching events in New York. That's moving our sport into 2006 and 2010.
Q: Did you ever have any doubts that Brian would take this position?
BILL FRANCE: Why, absolutely not, or otherwise we wouldn't be doing it.
JIM HUNTER: I want to thank everybody for being on the conference call. Thank you very much. Hope for a wind that is going to blow Isabel back out to sea.