The Frontstretch: It's Time For Brian France To Step Down by Kurt Smith -- Friday August 1, 2008

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It's Time For Brian France To Step Down

Kurt Smith · Friday August 1, 2008

 

“Not every race is a barnburner. If you are a good fan, and you didn’t get what you wanted, it’s OK to be disappointed and we can be disappointed right along with you. We’re here to put on the best races we can, and we do a damn good job of it most of the time.” – Robin Pemberton, during the Indianapolis race

“I can’t say enough how sorry we are. It’s our responsibility being NASCAR that we don’t go through this situation again…I don’t feel real good about it right now. I think if you had talked to anybody that’s been around me the last 48 hours, they’ll probably back me up on that. It’s difficult, it’s hard. We do beat ourselves up.” – Robin Pemberton, after 48 hours of severe fan backlash from the Indianapolis race

These are two statements from the same person about the same event that are decidedly different in tone. It’s easy to think that finally, after two days of fans and writers voicing their disgust, NASCAR has awakened to the reality that this wasn’t a good time to be arrogant about their effort.

But this columnist is going to take Pemberton at his word. The apology is accepted from this end, but The Official Columnist is not going to speak for those who trucked to Indianapolis Motor Speedway and paid for last Sunday’s disaster. NASCAR will have to talk to them.

And that’s really the problem, isn’t it? I don’t remember hearing contrition even remotely resembling this after the Charlotte tire debacle in 2005, a race that I did spend money and travel several hundred miles to attend. It never occurred to me to ask for a refund, but if someone suggested it, I certainly wouldn’t have argued. I was pretty darned angry. And back then would have been a good time for NASCAR to say “this won’t happen again”. But it did.

There are two reasons that the Indianapolis backlash was so ravenous in the couple of days after the race, aside from the actual race itself. The first reason was NASCAR’s initial reaction—that good fans will shut up and keep buying tickets. And the second reason is that this has happened before—Charlotte or Atlanta, take your pick—so there really isn’t much explanation for the problem to have grown this big. Goodyear may bear some responsibility, at the very least since they should be aware that their name is attached to this. But ultimately, NASCAR is culpable for their product being in a decline that is growing steeper with the unacceptable piling up of preventable displays like we saw in Indianapolis. A local short track charging a tenth of what NASCAR collects for seats would have been embarrassed by it. Indy 2008 is going to be historic, and for awful reasons.

The CEO needs to take responsibility for that.

With his statement Tuesday, Pemberton has at least done something to dispel the image of NASCAR ignoring their audience and acting like nothing was wrong. The image that still remains, though, is Brian France counting the money from the gate.

Robin Pemberton and Greg Stucker can make all the excuses they want, but ultimately NASCAR CEO Brian France is responsible for the disaster at Indy.

This isn’t a push for a refund. Any sporting event is caveat emptor. Like everything else in the entertainment industry, seeing a race live is overpriced, especially when parking, hotels if necessary, and concessions are figured in. To anyone who shells out that kind of cash (myself included, by the way), if you don’t get your money’s worth, don’t go back.

And evidently people aren’t. A Fox Sports poll revealed that 40% of the people who watched the Brickyard train wreck—two out of five—said that they are done and will never watch a NASCAR race again. That’s 40% of over 70,000 votes or 28,000 customers that NASCAR may have lost permanently in a day. (The poll has since been removed from Fox Sports’ website.) Exaggeration, angry poll votes in the heat of the moment, people voting more than once, you say? Probably all of that is true. But there never used to be this many empty seats at Indy. It’s not like NASCAR wasn’t headed in that direction. If a 10th of those votes were sincere, it’s still too many.

Where is Brian France in all of this?

Forget that NASCAR is a sport for a moment. Brian France is the CEO of a large entity, and, in his tenure, has done more damage to its image than most stockholders would tolerate. Indianapolis ought to be the last straw. Imagine thousands of Windows customers buying a new operating system that slows their computer to a trickle. Can you even conceive of one of Microsoft’s top spokesmen immediately saying “not every OS is a barn-burner” or blaming IBM? Can you fathom Bill Gates being completely AWOL while his company’s customers are swearing off his products by the thousands?

NASCAR’s CEO hasn’t done anything publicly to address yet another black eye in a sport that doesn’t have a lot of unblackened eyes left. And it continues an ongoing reign in which few positives can be found.

France’s rule has been marked by his apparently subscribing to “megavitamin theory”. If you’ve ever met someone who chokes down those huge vitamin C or vitamin B pills, their thinking is that if a little is good, then a lot is great, which isn’t true. Passing is good for racing. That doesn’t mean cars should all be designed the same so that passing is happening all the time. An exciting finish to the season is good for the sport. That doesn’t mean a good finish should be forced by taking leading drivers’ points away. Moving some NASCAR races outside of the Southeast is good, because there are race fans everywhere. That doesn’t mean moving a longstanding tradition for half a century out of the Southeast is a great idea. There is a reason the XFL didn’t last. More is not always better.

Much of the uprooting of the sport in the past four years has been in the name of capturing the “casual fan”. You know who that means—the guy that turns up his nose and parrots “bunch of hillbillies going around in circles” at the mere mention of NASCAR. One wonders what the “casual fan” who tuned in to Indianapolis thought. Most likely it was: “What in Sam Hill is this? Where’s my remote?”

One way to attract the otherwise indifferent observer is to ensure that they see a good product when they do watch, particularly the events with the biggest likely amount of “casual” viewers. A race at the most storied venue in motorsports would probably fit into that category.

Some out there have said that the Indianapolis Cluster Fart 400 couldn’t have come at a worse time, with attendance dwindling and the economy keeping more fans at home. (Is it really the economy? Baseball’s attendance looks just fine to me, and ballgames sure aren’t cheap.) But in a smaller microcosm of history, the Indy C.F. 400 actually came at a fairly good time for NASCAR—if such a disaster had to take place—taking over the headlines one week after an inexplicable ruling in the Nationwide Series that was clearly meant to slow down only one manufacturer.

How does a major sport not anticipate backlash from fans at the idea of slowing down a manufacturer’s engines in a lesser series—especially when no similar measures were taken to slow another manufacturer who spent last season utterly stomping on the competition in the main series? If a piddling two-bit columnist can see that without blinking twice, how does NASCAR miss it?

Toyota has rightly expressed concern that this ruling could render them much less competitive and could drive their sponsors away, since sponsors want to win and Toyota (actually Joe Gibbs Racing) had been dutifully making them happy. Toyota should ask Richard Childress how concerned NASCAR is about the difficulties of acquiring sponsorships. Geico and Verizon can’t help them there.

This sort of mismanagement has been typical of the Brian France era. NASCAR consistently looks bumbling and unable to police the sport properly or fairly. An unpopular playoff system has created a second half full of careful points racing. They have foisted a new car design that is increasingly seen as a disaster by everyone from crew chiefs to fans, especially after Indianapolis. It seems as though no one making decisions at NASCAR anticipates the consequences of those decisions.

And while paying customers are backlashing like sons of you-know-whats—on the message boards, on the blogs, with their remotes and with their leisure cash—the CEO refuses to take his head out of the sand, instead making excuses…gas prices, tough economy, fans complain too much, popular driver didn’t win.

It’s not as though NASCAR had no problems to address when Brian took over. The broadcasts were abominable even then, local hotels were ripping fans off blind on NASCAR weekends, and drivers were involved in terrifying wrecks at Daytona and Talladega every year. Those flaws are not only still glaring, but a whole new host of fan-turnoff issues have joined them—courtesy of the marketing-savvy efforts of NASCAR’s current CEO. Fixing what wasn’t broken and not fixing what was basically led NASCAR to where it is today. NASCAR could have made the experience much better for fans without more cowbell, and the sport would have kept booming. Instead, they may be one more Indianapolis away from irrelevance.

It’s easy to sit here and criticize, and it probably isn’t fun to have people clamoring for your head all the time. But that is the nature of a CEO’s position. When a sports team has an increasingly worse record every year for five straight years, the coach is going to go. Business is no different.

Even Darrell Waltrip, NASCAR icon and commentator, is puzzled at how NASCAR can rule that Toyota must slow down and how the sport got to the point it did at the Brickyard. And D.W. is no NASCAR basher—he often graciously repeats that “they’re doing the best they can.”

Maybe they are. But if what we saw at Indianapolis is NASCAR’s best, then their best isn’t good enough. And maybe it’s time for the guy who is sitting where the buck stops to hand over the reins to someone else.

Nothing personal. I don’t hate the guy. It’s just business.

Kurt’s Shorts

  • Did you know that Brian France, in addition to being CEO of NASCAR, manages a marketing company called “Brandsense”? One of his clients…I swear, I am not making this up…is Britney Spears. Talk about a joke that writes itself!
  • I know his brother writes for this site and we greatly appreciate it. But what got into Rusty’s head in his insistence that Ryan Newman was fired from Penske? Why would he make a statement like that that can be so easily disproven? That was just bizarre. I don’t think it was a secret even to outsiders that Newman wasn’t happy there.
  • Jimmy Spencer wrote a column deriding Pocono Raceway on Speed’s website this week, complaining about the length of races there, calling Pocono fans “either drunk or bored out of their minds” (as opposed to anyone who can listen interestedly while sober to Spencer’s bloviating), and proclaiming that Joe Mattioli is “stuck” with one of the few remaining tracks in NASCAR that fills seats. Personally, I think Jimmy Spencer should be replaced before Pocono Raceway is.
  • Next week’s Happy Hour, as I head to Richmond for a day, is going to touch on the subject of the Nationwide Series pulling out of Mexico City. Has anyone heard of the Corona Series? The Official Columnist of NASCAR is inviting you to be with us to finally hear me say NASCAR got one right. Be here…aloha.

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Championship Caliber? What Does That Even Mean?
Mirror Driving: Winning Vs. Points, Needing a Boost, and The Lady’s Last Dance?
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SallyB
08/01/2008 04:41 AM
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You’re absolutely right…the one voice that has been noticably absent after Indy is that of the ‘head honcho’, Brian France. As the one ultimately responsible for making the decisions, his ‘track record’ isn’t exactly stellar. There must not have been enough Hollywood ‘D’ listers at Indy to have him make an appearance. When you contrast his ‘style’ with that of his father and grandfather, both Big Bill and Bill Jr. could be seen every week at the track, down in the garage, keeping their finger on the pulse of the sport to make sure it was healthy. Instead, Brian France has taken the Teresa Earnhardt path of absentee ownership.

D. Kimmitt
08/01/2008 05:50 AM
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Brian France would not be the CEO if he was not the son of Bill France JR. Face it, What other credentials does he have that makes him the right guy for the job? None. None of this is a surprise to me. NASCAR needs to get refocused real fast if they expect to keep their present fan base.

Bill B
08/01/2008 07:03 AM
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Good article.
Keep an eye open for any NASCAR goons lurking in the shadow, I am sure they will be on their way once BF sees this article.

Douglas
08/01/2008 08:26 AM
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Just a GREAT piece of writing, and a very well put together description of the ills of NA$CRAP!

And I do not think Pemberton says anything that is not “approved” by the monkey named Brian! I think the entire NA$CRAP organization is run by a bunch of “yes” men, as in “yes Sir, Brian”, No sir, Brian”, what do you want me to say “Brian”?

“Yes Brian, the CoT is really a good car”!!

Etc.

Don’t the on track results indicate that this is true?

MONEY TALKS, RACING WALKS!

Now, we head to Pocono for the latest episode of:

THE “CoT DEVELOPMENTAL SERIES”!

Oh, and my letters have gone out to GOODYEAR, and also ALLSTATE for backing this idiot called Brian and further lining his pockets with what turns out to be “OUR” money!

It is time, and way past due, to hurt the sponsors that support these ridiculous Sunday afternoons!

If NA$CRAP will not listen to us, then maybe pressure on the sponsors will get his attention!

Steve Cloyd
08/01/2008 08:35 AM
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“It seems as though no one making decisions at NASCAR anticipates the consequences of those decisions. “

BINGO!

Johnboy60
08/01/2008 08:59 AM
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Great story, but only if it could be true! Brian will be around until nascrap is just a shell of itself and everyone is watching the IRL. He has probably already done tremendous damage that will never be overcome!

Mark
08/01/2008 09:51 AM
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…..you really didn’t mean (want) to say “sand” did you…..?

Kurt Smith - Frontstretch Staff
08/01/2008 10:18 AM
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Mark, I absolutely knew someone would respond to that sentence.

Mark
08/01/2008 11:00 AM
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Sorry Kurt, I just couldn’t resist… good article and great reporting. Keep up the fine work.

Robert Eastman
08/01/2008 12:15 PM
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Great article and I mostly agree with your observations except one.
I am not a “super-avid” Rusty fan, though unlike many of his critics I don’t think he is “awful as a broadcaster/reporter.” I just think he is still learning his new craft. His positive points are his passionate love and enthusiasm for racing and his vast knowledge gained from his many years of success in the sport.
Rusty totally understands that Roger doesn’t tolerate any disloyalty in his empire. This fact was made abundantly clear years ago when Derek Walker, Penske’s Champ Car/Indy winning crew chief was immediately “shown the door” when he told Roger that he wanted to start his own team.
I think Rusty is correct, but Roger is smart enough to “quench the controversy” by disavowing Rusty’s statement. Penske knows there is nothing to gain and a lot to lose by fueling the turmoil. Ryan would have been smart to keep his mouth shut and not discuss his unhappiness with the press. The drivers need to learn from Mayfield’s stupidity, unless they want to end up like him, without a ride.
Penske’s demand for loyalty from his employees and associates is obviously smart, proven by his amazing business successes. In return, it appears that Mr. Penske is also loyal to his employees/associates, as evidenced by Rusty’s longevity at Penske Racing, long after his “peek productivity!”
Like all of us, Rusty will do better if he matures to the point of “being able to resist the urge” to “dig your rivals” when that tempting opportunity rears its ugly head.

The split will benefit both Newman and Penske, because racing is so competitive that successful results demand a “100% passionate commitment” on everyones part!

Bill Harden
08/01/2008 12:19 PM
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Kurt,One thing puzzles me about the NA$CAR apology,why was it Robin Pemberton?If a NFL team loses the Super Bowl the coach is the one who speaks,not the equiptment manager….Where is Brian or Mike now…still counting money I’ll bet.

Larry Burton
08/01/2008 01:24 PM
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Sorry, but you are absolutely wrong on the Toyota issues. Toyota had a advantage that anyone who wasn’t blind could see and dyno results proved it. Toyota has won like 15 out of 22 races in just their second year in the sport so it was clear they have an advantage. My problem is, they should have tested the cars at the beginning of the season and made changes to keep the cars equal then instead of giving them over half the season. Remember, nascar has said for years that they wanted to leave it up the drivers and crews to determine the winner and not a horsepower or car advantage. Making changes to engines has been done before and nascar has even changed spoiler heights and air dams to try to equal downforce. Again, these changes have been made before. Surely, Darrell Waldrip knows this as do many other long time “core” fans. Don’t reckon his statement had anything to do with his relationship with Toyota and also his brother’s too? As far as chevy winning all those races last year, don’t think it was horsepower that won them as the dyno results show they are about the lowest one on the totem pole with horsepower and nascar won’t let them run their RO7 engines even though toyota was kicking their butt in Nationwide Series. Chevys wins last year were because of the number of quality teams, drivers, they had. Remember, Nascar didn’t “penlalize” Toyota, it simply tried to bring them in line with the other teams as Darrell full well knows has been done several times in Nascar’s History. Again, Chevy’s wins last year in cup and busch series was mostly due to number of cars, quality teams-Hendrick, Gibbs, Childress, and great drivers-Johnson, Gordon, Steward and others. As far as Brian France, I agree with you. He should have been one of the first Nascar Officials to make a statement but has been strangely silent. And, I’ve said all along that Nascar should give fans some kind of refund and not count the race as a “points” race. Wouldn’t it be something if this race cost someone a chance in the chase or even winning the championship? Wonder how Nascar would spin it then?

Kurt Smith - Frontstretch Staff
08/01/2008 01:53 PM
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Robert, that’s a perspective that I hadn’t thought of, and not knowing the inner workings at Penske I can’t claim to have full knowledge of what happened. You could be right, and I could appreciate the intolerance of disloyalty…NASCAR practices it quite a bit. But knowing what I do know, that Newman was unhappy with the way things were going and said so publicly, it isn’t hard to believe that he would decide to pack his bags and that there wasn’t much more to it than that.

Rusty coming out and telling a completely different story from what was almost accepted wisdom was very strange, so who knows. That Rusty and Ryan feuded while teammates suggests that Rusty might still be sore at him, but I can’t imagine someone going to such great lengths to make a former teammate look bad. I can’t make a character assessment on that.

I expect if what you’re saying is the truth, we may know by the end of the year when Roger doesn’t care about the distraction so much. We’ll see. Thanks for your comment.

Kurt Smith - Frontstretch Staff
08/01/2008 01:58 PM
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Larry, I won’t argue that D.W.’s relationship with Toyota may have played a part in what he said. And we agree on the rule change happening in the middle of the season, when it should have been done either before or after the season if it was necessary as you say.

Chevy did have an advantage in quality teams last season, without question, but that is also the reason Toyota is doing so well. Most of the races being won by Toyota have been won by the No. 20 car, owned by Joe Gibbs, a quality team no matter whose name is on the motor. It’s the same thing in Cup, Toyotas are winning because Joe Gibbs runs them and Kyle Busch drives one. NASCAR actually cited the engine for the No. 99 as having the unfair advantage, a car that hasn’t won all year, to make this change.

Bringing teams in line with the competition, or rather, attempts to equalize the competition for better racing, has been done before, yes. That doesn’t mean it’s always the right thing to do. I thought it was wrong for NASCAR to implement a car limit that only affected one team as well. Roush was running better and they were punished for it. Maybe it isn’t as simple as I say, but let the other teams catch up, like the teams did with Hendrick this season.

That nothing was done to slow down Hendrick last year makes the cynic in me think it’s because NASCAR knew their most popular driver would be on that team this season. That thinking jibes with what is happening now…NASCAR is slowing down the team with the most UNpopular driver on it. Not saying that is what is going on, but that is interesting.

Thanks for your take on it.

sparxmoore
08/01/2008 04:27 PM
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THANKS KURT for telling it like it IS!!

Kevin in SoCal
08/01/2008 04:59 PM
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Has Jimmy Spencer completely lost his mind? Why would he say bad things about his hometown and his closest track?

Julie
08/01/2008 05:46 PM
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NASCAR has always managed their competition, and if they didn’t we’d have F1. The difference between Toyota and Chevy is that Toyota had a clear, undeniable hp advantage that showed up repeatedly over several dyno tests – not just one.

Before Toyota came in, back when Jack Roush was warning about how they would dominate the sport we were repeatedly reassured that NASCAR would never allow Toyota to run rough-shot over the competition, so I’m surprised that anyone is surprised when NASCAR clips their wings.

I agree with a lot of what you’ve written regarding Brian France, but when it comes to the ruling they made for Toyota it’s a decision that actually resembles the NASCAR of old. Anyone who was caught off-guard by the new rule hasn’t been paying much attention to the history of this sport.

Marc
08/01/2008 08:47 PM
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Who in his right mind thinks that Brian France cares for one minute what his opinion is?
Brian is head of a closely held private cash cow, and will continue to head it and fleece us all until we get tired of being fleeced. End of story

dawg
08/01/2008 08:57 PM
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It’s a good thing that Brian was able to step into the family buisness. Because if that option wasn’t avalable to him. Say he’d been born into a regular family. This chubby little frat boy would have trouble holding down a 35K a year job.

D Jones
08/01/2008 09:49 PM
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Dang it, I had a sand comment too. Great article Kurt.
I have always referred to BF as the emperor. It’s become more apparent lately. What an arrogant a**.

Marc
08/01/2008 10:51 PM
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BOYCOTT NOW!!!!

Joy
08/02/2008 05:14 PM
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Brilliant and spot-on commentary. The leadership of NASCAR has become a “kingship” whereby the crown is passed from father to son and it’s a joke. Brian France Jr, is well on his way to ruining this fine sport and the Toyota decision and last week’s race at Indianapolis were only two of the latest examples. Nothing made me happier than seeing Kyle Busch win the Nationwide race last weekend in a Toyota. And I’m not even a Kyle Busch fan – far from it. France is a fool and an idiot and anyone who loves this sport should be appropriately indignant at what’s happening.

mike
08/02/2008 10:54 PM
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“Brian France is the CEO of a large entity, and, in his tenure, has done more damage to its image than most stockholders would tolerate.”

I’ve been a fan since ’78 but until last year I left nascar for about 6 yrs out of boredom and frustration. And really, the ONLY thing keeping me interested now is Toyota and Kyle Bush (and Sirius Radio).

So now nascar has punished Toyota for kicking tail while doing nothing last year to Chevy/Hendrick. (yes I know it’s two different series)

We now have the COT that clearly was not ready for prime time. Just HOW LONG has this car been in development anyway? And why are there still so many unknowns about it?

We now have the Chase. Still don’t know what to think of it. What I DO know is that I HATE espn.

I still never watch Cali, Indy, or Pocono. I could care less if we lose Indy. Even Jr. thinks Pocono is too long. And who came up with the stupid idea of going to California after the Daytona 500? What a momentum killer!

“This sort of mismanagement has been typical of the Brian France era. NASCAR consistently looks bumbling and unable to police the sport properly or fairly.”

Nascar is now run by committee instead of one BIG BOSS who knows whats good for the sport.

Oh well, at least the NFL is about to start up.

Creston Bailey
08/03/2008 07:16 AM
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Well conspiracy theorists must be everywhere. I guess I fall into that camp too, because I don’t see one person who disagrees with you. But maybe you are willing to post a dissenting opinion. First of all I am a NASCAR fan. While I don’t think that the Indy race was the best I’ve seen. However, I think that NASCAR the best with the “ugly baby” they had. All of the other posters I have seen respond to this sound what I imagine every New England fan must have sounded like after the Super Bowl. “The fix was in!” Let’s face it, NASCAR didn’t construct the tires. NASCAR didn’t build the track. Mistakes happen. It’s part of life. So everyone who wants to label NASCAR as “Nascrap” and claim ‘it sucks’ or other things, maybe they should go watch IRL or some other sport, I for one won’t be losing interest any time soon.

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