Voices From The Heartland · Jeff Meyer · Thursday April 2, 2009
This past Tuesday, March 31st, BSNews Senior Reporter Stu Padasso had the opportunity to spend a day shadowing NASCAR’s CEO Brian France at the sport’s corporate headquarters in Daytona Beach, Florida. The following is the events of that day as reported by Stu. WARNING: This report is unedited and may contain profanity, off color remarks, sexual content, and violence. Reader discretion is advised.
As I entered the shining tower that houses the sacred offices of the top men and women of NASCAR, my attention was immediately drawn to the polished marble-mosaic surface that I strode in upon. Inscribed into each little tile, in what appeared to be gold inlay, were millions upon millions of names. Most of the names seemed ordinary – Jeff Meyer, Tom Bowles, John & Jane Doe, etc. – while a few of them seemed to ring a bell, although I couldn’t quite remember from where. Shane Hmiel, Kyle Petty, Ricky Craven, Derrike Cope…
“May I help you, sir?” said the beautiful receptionist, interrupting my gaze at the floor.
“Yes. I’m from BSNews…”
“Oh, you must be the Stu Padasso that Mr. France is expecting.”
“Yep, that’s me!”
After showing her my ID and signing into the Visitor’s Log, she led me down a long, mahogany-lined corridor. And as I kept walking … the names on the floor continued. Millions upon millions of names…
“Ah, here we are. You go right on in, Stu. Mr. France has been looking forward to meeting you. He told me to tell you not to be nervous and to call him by his first name. You just be yourself and everything should be fine,” she said as she whirled on her five inch heels, headed back down the corridor before I even had a chance to thank her.
“Well, here goes nothing!” I thought to myself while turning the golden knob of the overly huge door. “Just be yourself. Just be yourself…”
As the door swung open — there he was! Standing in the middle of his office with a tumbler in one hand and a putter in the other. He looked up with a bit of a start.
“Yo, Brian, Stu Padasso,” I said as I extended my hand towards him.
“Here, hold thi… wait a minute! What did you call me!?” France said, as he extended the tumbler towards me but then withdrew abruptly.
“I, eh…I c-called you Brian. Y-your receptionist…she s-said…” (sometimes I stutter a bit when I get nervous.)
“After Brian! You called me what?”
“N-no sir. I said my name. I’m Stu, Stu Padasso from BSNews.”
“Oh, oh my! I’m sorry, yes, I’ve been expecting you. Here, hold this while I finish putting,” he said as he handed me the tumbler. “If I can just get this putt through turns one and two with enough speed to make it down the backstretch and onto pit lane, the ball should trickle right into the Gatorade Victory Lane, which, as you can see, is the cup. Then we’ll get down to business.”
He gave the ball a whack and sent it high and wide into turn one. As it came high out of turn one and entered into turn two, I glanced quickly about the floor of the room and saw what appeared to be several other “tracks.” In fact, the entire room resembled a miniature golf course, and we were standing at the Start/Finish line of what appeared to be a mini-Talladega.
“Damn!” he exclaimed as the ball sped away. “Too fast entering pit lane. Now, it will roll right on by! I’ll have to take a penalty stroke… oh well. Gimme that,” he said as he threw the putter aside and reached for the tumbler in my hand. “Now then, you wanted to ask me some questions? Let’s sit over here so I can gaze out this wide window at the joy I have found.”
In front of the window were two posh leather seats: one colored to resemble a Jeff Gordon paint scheme, the other a Jimmie Johnson. Brian directed me to the No. 24 chair as he slumped heavily into the No. 48.
“That one used to be my favorite,” he said, gesturing to the one I now sat in. “But ya know, I think I like this one best now. For the last few years, this one seems to coddle my ass ever so nicely. Now, let’s get this started. What do you want to know?”
“Well sir, first of all…”
“Brian. Call me Brian!”
“Oh, yes si… I mean Brian. Brian, what are your plans for the diversity…” (Brian’s hysterical laughter cuts me short)
“HAHAHA! I sound just like that sperm fish story! ‘Brian. Call me Brian!’ except that guy’s name was Ishtar or something like that.”
“Ishmael,” I corrected him. “Call me Ishmael.”
“Ishmael? I thought you said your name was Stupid something or other?”
“No, no. Ishmael was the name in the book. And it was a sperm whale, not a fish.”
“Book? What book? I thought it was a movie.”
“No sir, it was a book. Moby Di…”
“Brian! Call me Brian! HAHAHAHA! Just like in the movie… now, what was your question, Ishmael?”
“No! I’m not Ishmael! I’m Stu from BSNews, Stu Padasso!”
“Ah yes. What is your question, Stu Padasso?”
At this point, my head was beginning to spin and throb. The things that had been going on in NASCAR these last few years – falling ratings, the Chase, the CoT – I was beginning to see how they had come about. Having never backed out on a story before, though, I decided to press on.
“Where do you see the Diversity program headed in the next few years?” There! I had finally managed to do it. Get that first question in!
“Well,” said Brian, appearing to be suddenly all serious. “To be honest with you, between you and I, what the Cup Series really needs is a b…”
“Mr. France! It is time for your snack!” said a disembodied female voice that I realized was coming from the speaker on his desk.
“What’s that, Brian?” I asked, hoping to get him to repeat his answer.
“A snack. You know, a little something you eat between meals. But that’s not important. I believe I was answering your question. Off the record, what this Series really needs is a very talented b…”
“Mr. France! It is time for your snack!” said the voice again with added urgency.
Brian pushed a small button on the table between our chairs.
“Yes, Mo, go ahead and bring them in.”
He released the button and returned his attention to me. Forgetting my original question, I decided to go with the flow and just see where the day led.
“Who is that woman?” I asked.
“Who, Mo? She’s my new personal assistant. I couldn’t get through my day without her! She has been a godsend. Just came into the organization recently, and I’ll tell you what — she wasn’t cheap! Cost me almost an arm and a leg, that woman did!”
Just then, the door opened and in walked a beautiful, professionally dressed woman, carrying a golden tray with a couple of bags of M&M’s on it.
“Ms. Grant, this is the reporter from BSNews. Stu Padasso, Ms. Grant,” said Brian, introducing us in a most cordial fashion which took me by surprise.
“What did you call me!!!” shrieked Ms. Grant.
“I-I-I d-didn’t call you anything!” (Now, it was Brian’s turn to stutter!) “This is Stu Padasso from BSNews.”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” said Ms. Grant. “I sometimes hear things the wrong way. Please accept my apologies. Nice to meet you, Stu.”
“The pleasure is all mine.”
“Now then,” said Brian, returning his attention to me as Ms. Grant exited the room. “Let me show you how we develop a new track. Step right over here and see the scale model of the standard ISC track.”
He led me to a table in the corner of the vast room. On it was a scale model of a race track, complete with grandstands, concessions, garages, even campgrounds in the infield. The track itself resembled a slot car track, a perfect circle that appeared to be exactly 1.5 meters in diameter. Something seemed a bit odd about it — but I couldn’t quite put my finger on what was wrong.
“Would you like to race?” asked Brian excitedly.
That’s when it hit me.
“Race!? How can we race? There is only one slot around the track!”
“That doesn’t matter. Just line the cars up in the slot and pull the little trigger thingy right here on the controller,” he demonstrated as the cars began a single file parade around and around the track. “See, it is research like this that has made NASCAR what it is today. That… and the names.”
“Names, what names?”
“Didn’t you see the floor as you walked in?”
“Oh, yes! The names on the floor. I was going to ask you about those.”
“Those names and the ‘research’ you see going on in this room — and it IS research, not just a cool miniature golf course — is what NASCAR is built on. The tracks here on the floor are how we develop ‘soft walls’ and such. At least that is what my sister Lesa tells me — she develops race tracks, ya know. She and the rest of the family had this all built for me, right here in this room. You see, the way a golf ball bounces off a ‘scale wall’ is directly proportional to a car on the real track. Too much bounce, and the ball misses pit lane. Too much bounce on the track in real life, and we have a dead driver — or worse. At least that is how they explained it to me…”
“But what about the names?”
“The names represent the fans, drivers, crews, everybody and everything that NASCAR was built on! We never want to forget that. It represents the dreams and hopes of everyone who loves stock car racing, and we walk on them everyday and every chance we get!”
At this point, the door opened and Ms. Grant appeared once more.
“I’m sorry Stu, but it is time for Mr. France’s nap. I’m afraid you are going to have to conclude this ‘interview’ another time,” she said as she led me to the door and out into the corridor.
Once Ms. Grant had me safely out of the office, she went back inside, softly closing the door behind her. Curious, I put my ear against it, hoping to hear just one more tidbit for my report.
“OK Mr. France, unroll your nap pad and let me get you settled,” Grant said.
“Brian! Call me Brian! HAHAHAHAHA!”
“Whatever, Moby Brian. Do you want to sleep with your new Digger doll today?”
It was at that point that I knew. As long as Brian was in this office, NASCAR was really going to be OK after all — and I made my exit from the building.
I’m sorry if I stepped on your name on the way out!
Stu Padasso reporting.
BSNews: Your first thought is our first name!
Stay off the wall,
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