Voices From the Heartland · Jeff Meyer · Thursday February 7, 2008
I honestly didn't want to start my year out like this, but I have been given no choice. You see, what happened was Brian France opened his mouth and spoke — the ramifications of which are further proof that the world has gone totally insane. That’s right, insane … it’s to the point that I would rather listen to a year's worth of presidential candidates than 20 minutes of Brian France.
That’s bad… but the really insane part is that, put side by side, I would be more inclined to put my trust in, and understand, the politician. If you continue on through the rest of this column, you too will be more than willing to tune into the next Presidential Debate, if for no other reason than to bring a bit more understanding and mental stability back into your life. At least with politicians, you know and they know and they know that you know that they are lying to you. Well, Brian France simply isn't that sharp.
A disclaimer: what you are about to read is real. It is a few questions and answers that were recently asked of Mr. France during the NASCAR Media Tour last month. These questions and answers are taken from the Official NASCAR transcript of the event and are presented here, word for word. I apologize in advance for any migraines that you may suffer; hopefully, my commentary — which will be injected intermittently — should alleviate some of the pain.
To start you off slowly and to give you some sort of preview of what you are up against, the following statement is from Brian's opening remarks.
Brian France : We certainly are proud we’ve been able to attract new fans virtually every year NASCAR has been in existence. But we’re also proud of those fans who have been with us for many decades.
We’re also proud the very first NASCAR superspeedway, Darlington Raceway, is still on the schedule. Several years ago, we took what was perceived as a gamble. We moved the Darlington spring race to Mother’s Day weekend. As it turned out, it wasn’t a gamble at all. It was a sure thing, thanks to the power of the Darlington tradition and the loyalty of our race fans. That event has quickly turned into one of the season’s highlighted events.
I believe, if I am not mistaken, the very fans that Brian is suddenly so fond of are the ones he tried to run away from just a few scant years ago. You know, all of us patriotic, beer drinking, wrench-turning, rubber burning, possibly Rebel Flag waving, factory working, middle class types that have been watching and following for how many years now? What was that word Brian called us? Oh yeah, now I remember. NASCAR wanted to get away from its “redneck” image! Now he is proud of us again? Well, ain't we the lucky ones!
And then, there's that power of Darlington tradition and fan loyalty! Is this true? Did he really just say what I thought he said? Does he really have the testicular fortitude to mention Darlington, tradition, loyalty, and Spring race in the same sentence!? Can you spot the omission?
Yes, Brian, for the last few years those loyal fans that you are now so fond of again have talked of nothing else but the fact that the that moving the Darlington Spring race to Mother's Day weekend was what the rest of us were too stupid to know was best for us and, most importantly, the sport. Somewhere, tucked neatly in a drawer in his resplendent office desk, I'll bet Brian has figures to prove that more NASCAR fans than ever before are spending their Labor Day Weekend in sunny Southern California! But let's forget all that for now. Let's move on to the questions. (And remember, I am NOT making any of this up).
Q. The possibility of an economic downturn, recession, how important is it for the economic health of your teams in terms of sponsorship, but more importantly, the fans to be able to maybe work with your promoters, make some value packages available so some of these people don’t get hit quite as hard trying to attend your races when it may be tough for them to pay their bills at home?
Brian France : That’s happening. That’s happening all over the circuit. We’re not obviously immune to any downturn in the economy. As a matter of fact, we may be more at risk than most in that our fans drive further, stay longer … you guys know we’re in the mega event business, not (for) just a season ticketholder. So, it is costly for our fans to get to the speedway. I know our tracks are already trying to make sure they’re offering the right amount of value. They’re as aggressive as they can be. I’ve talked too many of them … they’re on that very point.
What Brian (NASCAR) fails to see is that, in many instances, less is more. What the average Joe wants is good old-fashioned racing … not hyped up “value packages.” But don't take it from me; take it from some of the comments left by ordinary fans from Monday's FS.com feature article on how NASCAR can keep from bleeding to death.
This is typical of Big Business. The 3rd generation makes changes to the business model that has brought success in an attempt to make their mark. It usually failsâ€¦ as for TV coverage they need to make the TV experience more like the on track experienceâ€¦ Their success in the future is in keeping up with their past.
As several people pointed out (on these comments), ticket prices need to be affordableâ€¦ the average family of four can't afford to go to a race. I don't even want to know what the profit margins for ISC and SMI are. It all seems just a bit out of balance.
No more stupid music acts and other sideshow crap: This is supposed to be racing.
That is just a few comments from what the disgruntled fans had to say. However, while we are on the subject of the economyâ€¦
Q. Brian, there’s going to be a lot of talk this year about the economy, the trends in the sport. As you talk to the senior people in NASCAR, at what level would you say your concern is? I don’t know how you would do it on a scale. Are you guys in sort of — I don’t want to say in crisis, but what is your concern about the so-called lull or whatever? What is your level of concern about that?
Brian France : I would disagree with you on one point: there won’t be a lot of discussion from my chair or anybody on our team. Look, the economy is what the economy is. I’m not an economist. I don’t know if we’re in a recession. Of course, it will have an impact. It has an impact on every leisure activity.
What you’re not going to hear from us is statistics and worry about all that. We’re worried about how good the racing is on the track. That’s what we’re going to be talking about in our internal meetings. We’ve got one starting tomorrow that we do every year with our senior staff.
We’re talking about going back to the basics. We’re talking about the Car of Tomorrow producing the best racing in the world. That’s what you’re going to hear from us, not statistics and downturns, upturns, sideways. That will take care of itself. We’re getting back to the basics.
Did you catch all that? Brian is not an economist. He does not know if we are in a recession. Why doesn't Brian France know if we are in a recession? Because he is a gazillionaire, that's why! A recession does not affect the very rich. Oh, I'm sorry, it does affect them — it slows down the pace at which they are accustomed to getting richer. At any rate, according to Brian, there is no lull. NASCAR isn't going to worry about that. They are not going to point out empty seats or other useless statistics. No, we are gonna race! Do not pay attention to that other stuff. It does not exist because we are not going to talk about it! Just watch the race please. Ah yes, the racingâ€¦and just exactly why is the racing so good nowadays?
Q. Brian, last year at Homestead you indicated NASCAR was going to have a renewed emphasis on working with core fans to try to energize the long-time fan base. Can you give us some specifics about what you’re going to be doing in that direction in 2008?
Brian France : Well, somebody once told me that you’re good at whatever you talk about being good at and you focus on. It starts with me. It starts at the top.
What’s important to what we talk about going forward is making sure we’re not missing anything. This whole change item that I spoke about in my earlier remarks, we’re fans, too. It’s hard to keep up with all the moving parts and different things that are going on. So we want to just focus on — it’s one of the reasons we sped up rolling out the Car of Tomorrow, Car of Today, the car, for now, for every event, so we didn’t have more gradual this, that, and the other things to keep up with. It’s one car, it’s the car.
I think you’re just going to hear us when there are initiatives. I think the 50th anniversary of Daytona, the 500, all those champions are going to be back at the Speedway, so we’re going to be able to go back and recognize our history a little bit. That’s important to our core fan. They like to reminisce and hear about that. We’ll get an opportunity to do that. And we’re going to minimize change and we’re going to zero in on the best racing in the world. That’s what we’re going to do.
That's right core fans, the COT or the "car" as Brian so eloquently put it, was rushed into production and use because you wanted it for the better racing it creates. But wait! There's more! At this year’s Daytona 500, there will be 24 past winners attending! Oh, thank you, M'Lord! Oh, how we have longed for these days of yore. We return our allegiance to thee and shall follow you blindly for evermore!
OK, I admit, I might be getting a bit carried away here; but why does Brian think the way he does? Why? Does he actually believe this stuff?
Q. Brian, talking about the change, you’re not going to add change now, race fans spend a lot of time debating you. Do you think the race fans don’t know you? Do you ever listen and think, They don’t know who I really am? Talk about why you made all the changes. There’s a lot of talk about why you’re not changing now.
Brian France : I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about, you know, what everybody understands. I certainly want them to know where we’re coming from. That’s the most important thing. Where we’re coming from is to try to keep delivering the best form of auto racing in the country. I have made changes. Mike has made changes. We all have made changes. You have to make changes.
What we’re saying is that our thinking is, because we’re race fans and sports fans as well, and if you change all kinds of different things in any particular sport, there comes a point when you need to slow that down. It needs to be very compelling if you have to make additional changes. That’s where we are. Once again, there were a lot of things that we did that were out of our control from a timing standpoint. Anheuser-Busch decided it was the end of a 26- or 27-year run, that was a decision that was made. When Sprint buys NEXTEL, rebrands the series, that’s a change, a big change, but those are the kind of things that were out of our control that will ultimately benefit the sport.
We want the discussions that happen on talk radio, in publications, any form of media, to be on not trying to keep up with this change and another, but on the drivers, on what’s going on, who’s winning what, who’s doing what, who’s performing well. That’s what my hope is for 2008.
When I say “get back to the basics,” that’s what I mean, that the story lines on Monday aren’t television ratings, this sponsor, that sponsor, it’s what happened on the track. That’s the most important thing. We’re going to get back to that.
"I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about, you know, what everybody understands." Oh, my! That is classic. All I will say is that it really must be lonely to be that much more intelligent than you and I.
Here’s what I think he’s trying to say: all these changes, do not focus on those. Do not try to understand what they do… just look at the pretty cars on the track. Watch them go â€˜round and â€˜round. Besides, us fans are too stupid to care or understand what it takes to run this business. How do I know? Well, Brian said so, of course!
Q. Brian, you just touched on, you said the sport has had as much change as it can stand. At the same time, we all know you’re not sitting back doing nothing. Long-term, five years down the road, what is your vision for where this series is?
Brian France : Listen, those kind of things are necessary to run the business side of the sport. What we want to focus on, what we want to talk about, most of our race fans, most of them could care less about any of the management moves or moves that we made. They may care in the end when we manage things correctly.
The fans care less about management, eh? Oh fans! What have ye to say?
_To fix NA$CAR : “Can” Brian France.
â€¦to me, the over-arching problem is the unbridled contempt that the France family has shown to the people who made them extremely wealthy. Big Bill and Bill Junior kept the rough edge from showing. (But) Brian just can't contain himself. Want to bring NA$CAR back? There needs to be one more change: a big "under new management" banner down in Daytona Beach.
Bottom line is, NASCAR's Bosses are greedyâ€¦
Currently, NA$CAR is a very sick organization. And for the record, this will be the first 500 I will either not attend in person, or watch on TV!
Well, from that small sampling, it would sure seem to me that the fans care about management issues; but hey, I could be wrong.
And what about the NASCAR rule book? Let’s discuss…
Q. Brian, certainly the last year or so in other sports, officials have been questioned. There’s certainly been some officiating issues. You mentioned the impact a special Dale Earnhardt, Jr. season could have. Some people could interpret that has helping him out in a way. What kind of assurances can you give the fans that some of these officiating issues you’ve see in some other sports won’t creep over here with all the advertising?
Brian France : _I’m not going to comment on other sports’ challenges that they’ve had. That wouldn’t be appropriate.
I will tell you we have never felt better about our group of officials, about the regulatory arm of the sport, how we get at it. I think our officials have the toughest job in sports from an officiating standpoint, just simply because of the mechanical side of the car that we have to deal with. I think they do a magnificent job._
One of the things you get over 60 years, you hope you get, by doing the right thing all the time, not that we’re perfect, we’re not, but doing the right thing with the highest level of integrity over six decades, people will either believe that it’s done properly, and it is. I think by and large there’s a high degree of confidence that we’re going to continue to be able to execute that. And obviously, we always say of course it would help us if Dale Jr. wins. I also remind you and remind everybody else, he’s got to earn that. This is a performance business. He either will or he won’t.
Again, this is one where I'll let you, the fans, do the talking for me.
I would suggest that NASCAR should put their rulebook on the web so we can all see it. I think it would do a lot to change the perception that NASCAR has an ever-changing rulebook that changes to benefit certain parties with the most money and/or influence. Having some integrity and eliminating the conspiracy theories is key to gaining respect and maintaining a healthy series.
No victory for illegal cars. It sucks to see a car not pass post-race inspection keep the win.
(NASCAR’s) "Rules Controlled SHOWS" lack any credibility. Real FANS do not trust NASCAR and it's Rules Controlled SHOWS because it bears little resemblance to the real racing from about 1969 back.
Folks, I realize that this has been a longer than usual column, but it is one that has practically written itself. Brian France spoke. The fans spoke. I just copied and pasted a lot, and threw in some sarcasm for good measure. I just feel it is my obligation to let you know exactly how Brian sees you and, hopefully, give you a better understanding of just exactly who is piloting this ship. Before I conclude, I want to throw out one more part of a quote that Brian said.
Brian France : For all the things that are quoted, I think most — I know about every auto racing series or league would like to have NASCAR’s problems, I can tell you that. I can tell you that we’re very pleased with where the sport is on balance.
You know, NASCAR fans are a generous type — and they know what they want! So, all you other racing series that want our problemsâ€¦ TAKE BRIAN!!!! Then you, too, will have our problems.
Give me a politician any day!
Stay off the wall,
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