Voices From the Cheapseats · Jeff Meyer · Thursday July 19, 2012
As with most anything associated with NASCAR, I realize that this will be a futile endeavor but I will make an attempt none the less.
WARNING! What you are about to read may cause any number of maladies to any human being who possesses even the tiniest shred of common sense. The reader assumes any and all risks should they choose to proceed. (Commercials for law firms dealing with class action lawsuits for those who have been exposed to the spoken word and reasoning of Brian France are already in the works and will be airing soon during all future NASCAR race broadcasts.) You have been warned. The author of this article may not be held accountable for any frustration it may cause.
If you have come this far, I will assume that you are the adventurous type. In light of that, I will start with the least frustrating part…NASCAR piss tests.
Let me see if I am following this A.J. Allmendinger piss test timeline correctly; Urine samples “A” and “B” are collected on June 29th while “The Show” is in Kentucky. Sometime during the next week, sample “A” is tested and A.J. is suspended just before the Daytona race because sample “A” supposedly failed to study for said test.
Meanwhile, sample “B”, resting peacefully in a lab in Nashville, TN, hears that his brother, sample “A”, has failed and realizes that he must now take the test but does not know exactly when and starts to become a bit nervous. Presumably, if sample “B” has any brains at all, he started to study for the upcoming test a bit more arduously than his shamed brother.
Finally, it is announced that sample “B” will get his chance to shine on “…Tuesday, July 24 at 8:00am CDT and be conducted at the Aegis Analytical Laboratories in Nashville. Pursuant to the 2012 NASCAR Rulebook and in line with the procedures, we have elected to have a designated independent toxicologist present on AJ’s behalf. Along with everyone else, we are looking forward to hearing the results as quickly as possible.” So says Tara Ragan, Vice President, Walldinger Racing Inc. Sample “B” is extremely grateful for the extra study time!
Really? It takes NASCAR that long to set up a second test for a bottle of almost a month old pee? It never takes any employer that I know of that long! Heck, I recently took TWO pee tests in one day for the same company! (Passed both with flying colors, by the way, contrary to many people’s assumptions and bets.)
What is the shelf life of a bottle of pee anyway? I assume it has the ‘born on’ date written on it, but how long till it goes skunky?
Seems to me that a NEW piss test would have been in order immediately after the first one failed. I mean, even if the original pee is still good (as good as a bottle of pee can be at any age) what is another test of the same stuff gonna prove? If the second test passes, does that mean the testing process is bad? If it fails, and it should if the testing process is the same and above board, what is the point? One could (and one probably will) argue the test and the testing process is bogus because you’ve essentially proved that having a sample “B” is pointless if it is the same test used and the same pee as sample “A”.
Anyway, as you ponder all that, I will share with you the very first thing that popped into my mind when I heard A.J. was suspended.
My, my! Isn’t THAT a convenient way to open a seat for Matt Kenseth!? Think about it, if you’re Roger Penske, who’d you rather have in the seat of the No. 22, A.J. Allmendinger or Matt Kenseth? Not saying that that is what will actually happen but gee, the timing was impeccable!
And now for the really scary part. Excerpts of the recent interview on the state of our sport with Brian France!
BRIAN FRANCE: Good afternoon, everybody. We’re obviously at the midway or a little further than the midway point and making the turn into our version of the playoffs. I think if you see some of the things that are going on, we’re encouraged by that.
By that I mean some of the story lines and how it’s shaping up. You’ve got Dale Jr., obviously, in contention, won a race, competing hard, could be a factor in the Chase. That would be a good thing for him, for sure, and everybody else.
I think there are also some interesting things with Jeff Gordon and where he is on the outside looking in, and probably is going to have to win a wildcard slot, going to have to win a couple of races at least as he goes down the stretch.
So that’s kind of what we want shaping up to try to match the intensity and competitive zeal of last year’s Chase which was probably our best ever. Our goal is to build on that. We’ll talk, and I’ll be happy to take any questions.
I know talking earlier with some of you regarding how I feel about the racing and some of the hot topics of the day, and I’ll be happy to take any questions, but I want to say a couple of things that I had mentioned in May.
We had moved Steve O’Donnell to take a much more direct role with the R&D center, and we also did a second thing with that which is we split out from competition. They’re still closely aligned and they’ll come together wherever we’re solving rules packages or innovation or any other issue which has to do with the racing product. But to give the group at the R&D center more clarity and more autonomy, frankly, to get at some of the things that are going to be critically important for us to get right. One of those is the racing product.
Our stated goal is to have the most competitive and close competition as we possibly can. I look at that over long periods of time with snap shots as we go along. It would be fair to say at any one time, although it would be subjective to say it’s really, really good or it’s not as good as some would like it to be.
When the new car came out several years ago, it would have been a fair argument at the time to say we didn’t have the rules packages just right for that particular car. We worked on that, later achieved that. We can go to tandem racing, go to any number of things that change around on us.
So our goal is to use what I’ve said, which is a lot more science than art for us to keep up, solve issues, create rules packages on intermediate tracks and alike that produce closer, more competitive racing. That is the stated goal. We’re doing a number of things to achieve that.
Then the last part of that discussion is technology and innovation. There are a lot of things on that agenda. Things like drying the racetrack off in a much faster way than we currently do it today, which obviously would have a huge benefit to our race fans and the sport in general. It’s going to mean doing things with technology inside the car, balancing that issue that we always have — which is not to drive the cost unnecessarily up on the team owners, but be more relevant in the technology space.
We’re working on a glass dashboard that is in the early stages, which is not inconsistent because the car manufacturers and some already there are coming with their own version of glass cockpits in passenger cars. So we’ll be very careful how we get there, but we’ll be looking at such things as that and many other things.
So that was our goal with what we’ve done strategically with the R&D center, and we’re only a few months into that plan. But it’s going to accelerate our ability to achieve solutions to sometimes complicated problems.
With that, I’m happy to take any questions.
Jeff Meyer: For the love of Bob! All that and we haven’t even had any questions yet!? I think my left ear is bleeding!
Q. Could you go into more detail in terms of what the technological innovations may be? Is the object to get the cars harder to drive to make them closer, put more emphasis back in the driver’s hands, things like that?
BRIAN FRANCE: Simply put, it’s to make the competition closer, more competitive. That is the stated goal of ours. Now how we get there, how fast we can move on those kind of sometimes problems, sometimes they’re just a circumstance of how things have evolved. Tandem racing would be a good example of that where it just evolved on us in a way that we, obviously, moved quickly to solve because it wasn’t popular.
But whatever it is, it is to make sure when you’re watching NASCAR that it’s as we’ve stated. That it is the closest, most competitive form of auto racing in the world. That’s going to mean a lot of different things, but we’re going to use — here’s what’s important — we’re going to use more science than we’ve ever used in getting those rules packages where we want them.
Even when we get them where we want them, they’re going to change. That’s just the nature of this business, the nature of the teams and so on. I do want to make one mention. One of the things we did a few years ago was involving — most of you know this, is involve the teams, their personnel and others, to share information not only where the sport was headed on business issues, but technical issues about what can we do to make racing better, safer, and different things? Before that exercise occurred, years before, whenever we’d solicit teams for their advice or information, we used to get very self-serving data back or very self-serving suggestions back.
Today, my guys tell me and I see, that’s largely changed. What we get back now engineering simulation reports, whatever it might be for us to look at and maybe change the rules package for the future is much more focused on what’s best for creating this closer, competitive racing. That is a nice change to see. The teams really have mobilized to work a lot closer with us to get a better result for our fans.
Jeff Meyer: I’m not sure why but the first thing that came to my mind from all that was the 1982 Thomas Dolby hit, ‘She Blinded Me With Science!” (Look it up on youtube!)
Q. Are you hiring any outside consultants or taking any advice from outside the garage or from people that you currently have on staff in trying to work on this project?
BRIAN FRANCE: Yes. We frequently use the smartest people in any given industry. We can’t employ everybody that’s best in class, so the answer is as we do in all other parts of our business, absolutely.
Jeff Meyer: “We can’t employ everybody that’s best in class…” uh, no kidding! I’d like to introduce as ‘exhibit A’, the interviewee, Brian France…
Q. You said you all want to increase the competition and increase the action and all. Where is the fine line you walk between maybe getting artificial and creating that and improving things?
BRIAN FRANCE: It’s a very clear line to us. What we’re not going to do are gimmicky things. I’ve heard we ought to throw a caution every ten laps. That’s nonsense. We won’t do gimmicky things. But we’ll do things that incentivize performance, incentivize wins. That we are open to. The wildcard does that. It does it in an authentic way.
Double file restarts get us better racing action. Anything that gets something better on the track and doesn’t employ a gimmick, we’d be reasonably open to.
Jeff Meyer: “Incentivize”? Really? Yeah, I typed it into Google, and they did come up with a definition but seriously, I’m 47 years old and I have NEVER heard anyone say that even once, let alone twice, in one sentence! Auto spell checker on Microsoft Word apparently has heard anyone use it either…or at least strongly suggest they don’t!
Personally, I think Brian is going by the old adage, “If you can’t dazzle ‘em with brilliance, baffle ‘em with bullshit!” here.
Q. When you say glass dashboards in cockpits. What is the purpose of that? What does that do? How does that enhance things?
BRIAN FRANCE: Well, there would be phases of that. It’s one of — I only share that with you because it’s one of many, many things from an innovation standpoint that are on the drawing board, not all of them will happen. But, for example, that is the future if you talk to the car manufacturers, which they’re always insisting and we understand why.
They want us to be as in-step with them as possible. That your car dashboard in the future is going to be like an airplane cockpit. You’ll be able to do different things with that and set it up the way you want to set it up. So the first step is for us to have a look and feel that is consistent with what they see their cars looking at on the showroom down the road.
Second part of that is there are going to be any number of things once we get this digitally done where that information out of the cockpit can be part of the racing experience for our fans in the stands or anywhere else.
I think that’s our step towards technology, our step towards innovation and a step towards being aligned with the car manufacturers.
Jeff Meyer: Yeah, I wondered about that too. I’m certainly glad he cleared that up! Do we really need ‘glass dashboards’ in racing? What a crock! Whatever happened to “trying to keep the costs down for the teams”? Just because a certain technology is out there doesn’t mean you need to use it. We also got the technology to strap a frickin’ rocket to a race car and shoot it into outer space if we want to…doesn’t mean we should!
Q. We hear a lot about your five-year plan. What parts of that plan might you see results the soonest? What would you expect out of that?
BRIAN FRANCE: Well, many of you work with our IMC Group and see many, many changes we’ve made to better service the media, better get at some of the things that we think can be improved on our end. You see our efforts to take our digital rights and social media and alike that we’re working very hard, hiring a lot of people, putting a bunch of resources against, and we’ll have those rights. We’ll be managing them fully in 2013 when the light comes on, you’ll see a big change there.
I mentioned throughout this discussion about innovation, about what the R&D center, and how they’re accelerating things. I got an update today from Steve O’Donnell and Robin Pemberton and Group at a very fast pace. But they’ll all take time. There won’t be anything we can do. There is nothing we should do just for the sake of being in a hurry. We want to make sure all of these things that we’re doing are best for the race fan, that make the racing better, make the experience better, align better with our partners. All of the things that we say all the time
What you’re seeing from us is putting a lot of those plans into very formal motion. I think we’ll all be happy. I know it gives the industry, the drivers, teams, tracks, a lot of reassurance that these important things that we’re all trying to get right, that we’re leaning on them. We’re investing lots of money and resources in a time where that’s not always easy to do.
We have a very, very clear plan, of which they’re participating, contributing, and we’re all going in one direction. That is a pretty big change from where things were four or five years ago, as many of you may remember where there were a lot of confusing messages or whatever that you may have heard from different people in the industry.
I’m really proud of that. That is a whole collection of efforts in the entire group at NASCAR, and the entire industry that’s figured out that these are big things to get done right, and we can get further together.
Jeff Meyer: “ I got an update today from Steve O’Donnell and Robin Pemberton and Group at a very fast pace. But they’ll all take time. There won’t be anything we can do. There is nothing we should do just for the sake of being in a hurry.”
What? The update you got was fast paced? They didn’t want to spend time with you either? I’ve read that multiple times and it still makes no sense! But remember, I did warn you!
Q. What are your feelings in general on shorter races and considering the sort of short attention span world we’re living in, can you see the sport short term or long-term going to things like maybe a pair of 20-mile races on race day as opposed to a four or 500 mile marathon? Are you looking at all of those things down the road?
BRIAN FRANCE: We are. I think you have to acknowledge that’s real. Any information shows that people have more to do, more devices to play with and get information from, and as a result, their attention span is shorter. We’ve shortened events. It’s generally worked well. At Pocono it worked well, California worked well, Dover has worked well. Some of the events that we’ve done. We’ll look at that.
We’ll also look at one of the great features this sport has, you know, the technology is a real part of this sport – in the cars themselves, in the way information is flowing back and forth between the teams, the drivers, and ourselves. We’ll be able to enhance that experience for our race fans in ways that other sports may not be able to do.
That will be something — I said the glass cockpit, and we’ve said our digital rights. They’re all designed as people are watching, and maybe this convergence which has already happened a fair amount, where people — and I was talking to somebody today — they don’t watch the event without having their computer on to interact digitally in some way. All those things are on the table.
That’s why you have to have a plan to deal with those things. You have to have a plan to look down the road, and you have to have great people that can figure outcome indicated issues to make the sport better.
Jeff Meyer: Gee, what a novel idea…take some of the most boring races on the schedule and shorten them! Thank Bob they did it at California!
Here’s a five year plan for ya, Brian…sit back, look around and wonder where the hell everybody went!
Well there you have it. As you can see, the sport is in very good hands, as usual. If you have come this far, first I want to offer my condolences and second, I suggest you seek immediate medical attention…or better yet, a strong beverage, you deserve it!
Stay off the wall,
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