The Frontstretch: Racing To The Point: Brian France’s Legacy Hinges On Trust by Brett Poirier -- Tuesday April 9, 2013

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Racing To The Point: Brian France’s Legacy Hinges On Trust

Racing to the Point · Brett Poirier · Tuesday April 9, 2013


The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and Sprint Cup Series spent the weekend in Martinsville. You can bet your butt that NASCAR CEO and Chairman Brian France didn’t.

Brian France can be found twice a year at the track. What devious plots is he conjuring the rest of the time?

NASCAR’s leader prefers to watch from afar. He’ll show up during Speedweeks in Daytona and for when the Sprint Cup trophy is awarded at Homestead, but his stops on the NASCAR calendar are few are far between.

When we do hear his voice, it’s as if someone put down a recorder on the table and pressed play — nothing but sound bites.

It’s certainly a different leadership style than either his father, Bill Jr. or grandfather, Bill Sr., imposed. Bill France Jr. and Sr. had a hands-on approach. They were at the track, so they were in tune with what was ailing the sport, and respected by those in the garage and in the grandstands.

Brian leads from the shadows. He’s held his position since 2003, yet most fans still know very little about him. Brian wants it that way, he wants the focus to not be on him, but on the racing, which makes sense.

Meanwhile, in the shadows, Brian plots. He hasn’t been shy about transforming the sport. Under his tenure, NASCAR has signed multiple record TV deals and has switched to fuel injection and 15-percent ethanol blend fuel, and has made a number of safety improvements across the board. Most fans would agree that those were successes. The results might be a little more split on changing the points system and most of all, the Chase for the Sprint Cup playoff system.

Brian France’s latest success appears to be the Generation-6 car.

Despite all of this, NASCAR fans cringe when they hear “Brian France,” the same way they would North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

It all comes down to trust. The same way Americans don’t trust North Korean’s dictator not to drop the bomb on us, they don’t trust Brian France not to drop the proverbial bomb on the sport.

And that’s where Brian’s mystery may be impacting his legacy. The environment has changed drastically since the time Bill France Jr. and Sr. roamed the garage on race weekends. Brian’s marketing and business savvy has benefitted the sport, but his obscurity has not.

In 2008, NASCAR started a fan council to allow supporters to voice their opinions about the direction of the sport. Good move, right? Not so much. During a press conference in November of 2010 (at Homestead of course), France was asked about race fans who prefer the old points format to the Chase?

His response was, “You met somebody who’s telling you that?”

Yes, Brian we did. It’s half the country — and had been for the last six years. How could the chairman and CEO of NASCAR be that oblivious?

But that’s been the status quo. And with answers like that, fans have painted a picture of Brian France as someone who really doesn’t give a crap about NASCAR and its tradition, a billionaire who’s just cashing checks.

How could they not? From 2004-10 at least, he clearly wasn’t listening to fans concerns. And if there’s one thing that is going to truly infuriate a fan base as changes are made and traditions are lost, it’s not be listened to on top of it.

Brian doesn’t have to walk the garage area every weekend. He doesn’t need to show up at every race (although a few more appearances wouldn’t hurt). He just needs to listen and give fans the idea that he understands their concerns — instead of hiding in the shadows and ignoring them completely.

The decisions made in 2013 haven’t done him any favors. Brian recently took credit (weeks after the fact) for the ridiculous disciplinary action levied against Denny Hamlin earlier this season after Hamlin mildly criticized the car. It was a nice of him to step up and take the blame, but he just further asserted himself as a villain in the eyes of NASCAR fans.

Villain is the word. He fits the mold perfectly. He has all the money, all the power, lurks in the shadows, acts as if he is superior and does what he pleases without consequence — sometimes to the ire of the masses.

Brian France has been in charge 10 years, and his true legacy hasn’t been creating the Chase, revising the points system or increasing safety, it’s been sending chills down the spines of NASCAR fans who neither relate to him or trust him to lead.

Contact Brett Poirier

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phil h
04/09/2013 01:19 AM

I feel he plays the role well. Afterall, Nascar has always been a dictatorship. Always has been,and always will.
His father and G dad are smiling I’d think.

Bad Wolf
04/09/2013 03:09 AM

When Brian took over the stands were full; Ten years later they are not. When Brian took the reigns I was glued to the broadcast every Sunday unless I was at the track; Today I could care less.

04/09/2013 07:45 AM

Brian France’s Legacy? He is a close, personal friend of Rick Hendrick. When NASCAR needed a new appellate to make the final decision about penalties, Rick recommended his personal friend from Government Motors for the job and Brian hired John Middlebrook. Brian’s true legacy? He is Hendrick’s puppet!

04/09/2013 08:24 AM

So far I’d rank him a 3 on a 10 scale. If that.

He only started “listening” to fans when the money slowed down.

During his time we’ve had the COT and the biggest gimmick, THE CHASE.

We’ve seen haphazard penalties that have severly hurt or destroyed lesser teams yet barely a slap on the wrist to Hendrick and Chad.

The truck series, once an exciting and rising series, all but a shambles.

I’m sure we all could list more but isn’t that enough?

Brian France has a LONG way to go to make up for the crap that’s happened so far under his wing.

04/09/2013 11:45 AM

Brian France is nothing more then a marionette in the hands of Rick Hendrick. I’ve been following nas$car for 30+ years and the last 10 have been a test of patience. We’ve lost small tracks like “The Rock”, 1 race was taken away from Darlington, we have the chase, (ugh), and the COT. France’s legacy will be his that of the idiot who has tried his best to kill the golden goose. And yea, all those empty seats disguised as people.

04/09/2013 01:11 PM

Brian France is useless and certainly no leader. That totally clueless response about the “chase” says it all, as did his insistence on fining Hamlin.

His legacy has already been established. TV contracts where there isn’t any racing being shown, just a lot of jawing and commercials; stands that used to be full and aren’t; boring races held at boring racetracks.

His legacy doesn’t depend on “trust” since I doubt many fans even think anything he says is worth listening to, let alone trust him as far as they could spit a rat.

04/09/2013 02:40 PM

Actually Gina, in a bizarre way, Brian France is worth listening to. In today’s stressed out world, we need comic relief, and when that clueless nincompoop comes up with one of his so-called “State-Of-The-Sport” speeches, he’s almost as funny as Jeff Foxworthy. (Apologies to Jeff Foxworthy for comparing his humour to that of The Brainless One, but when I hear one of his (Brian’s) speeches, I howl at just how clueless someone in charge of a major sports body can be.)

04/09/2013 03:21 PM

Good one ginaV24.

Sue Rarick
04/09/2013 04:22 PM

I wouldn’t give him credit for Gen-6. My bet is on Ford/Chevy/Toyota/Dodge putting pressure on Nascar to do something about the hated COT.

04/09/2013 05:05 PM

B France reminds of the upper class twit in a Monty Python skit. It’s easy to picture him wearing his underware as a hat as he mumbles out something stupid.

But, to give the devil his due, it does pay well to be friend of Rick Hendrick. Just check out Ricky’s felony conviction. It wouldn’t surprise me to check Googles satellite maps and see a giant pool in Frances back yard with a #48 on the bottom.

No, I have no insider knowledge. I’m just saying, it wouldn’t surprise me.

04/10/2013 08:35 AM

LOL, oh Ken, you must have a far higher tolerance for it than I do. That rambling nonsense that France does in any of his speeches and particularly his “state of the sport” speech is way too painful for me to listen to. Maybe I should take your point of view on it though and start listening for it as humor rather than thinking there will be real information there. That’s the ticket (that one’s for JavaGuy).

On the other hand, someone at least makes sure that he isn’t looking so disheveled that he appears to have just rolled out of bed or wherever else it is he spends his time. (We know its not at a NASCAR race.) Comparing him to Jeff Foxworthy – poor Jeff – he’s funny unlike the tool at the head of NASCAR.

Carl D.
04/10/2013 09:15 AM

I’ve said it before but I’ll say again (and again). If Brian France were a real CEO who had to answer to a board of directors, he would have been sacked a long time ago. Ratings, attendance, and the quality of the product have all nosedived during his tenure. Only the fact that Nascar is a France family business has kept him at the helm.