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Voices from the Heartland: Don’t Worry! NASCAR is in Capable Hands for 2009 & Beyond

Yes, you read the headline correctly. And yes, you correctly (I hope) recognized right away that it is probably the best example of literary sarcasm ever written by me.

As you read the following words, I want you to remember these two old adages.

– It is better to remain silent and appear a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt, and…

– If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle ‘em with BS.

There is a third, lesser known adage – or question, as it were – that one of my high-school English teachers asked us students on a regular basis:

– Are you stupid, or are you stoned?

When it comes to NASCAR, CEO Brian France has obviously never heard of the first one, as evidenced by the fact that in the last week, he has held not one, but two press conferences! As a writer such as myself – one that is not constrained by sponsorship, fierce loyalties (other than to my girlfriend), and especially political correctness – whenever Brian speaks, my job gets infinitely easier.

Easier because, while Brian may not have been taught the first adage, he certainly has a Ph.D in the second one, which means writing this column becomes more of a cut and paste effort – leaving you to decide if, in fact, Brian sat next to me in my high-school English class.

As a columnist, I pride myself on always trying to shoot straight from the hip when I attempt to unravel the many questionable things that happen or are said concerning the sport of stock car racing. In that light, and considering the third adage, I asked my editors if I may temporarily be exempted from the Frontstretch substance-abuse policy, thinking that maybe, just maybe, if I twisted one up and applied appropriate flame, I might have a better understanding of just what exactly it was that Brian meant during his recent press conferences.

But since the editors ruled 2 to 1 against my request, it is left up to you readers out there to decide for yourselves if you would like to explore that possibility. While I cannot officially condone such experiments, I certainly would love to hear of the results – should you decide to go that route, of course.

While space limitations prohibit me from posting the entire contents of both conferences, I will provide you a few samplings of what we are up against. Links will also be provided to both transcripts so you may attempt to read them in their entirety.

The Question

Is there any role that NASCAR can play in terms of stepping in, helping teams? I mean the NFL, I think, raised a $2 billion line of credit for its teams. Is there a role for NASCAR in sustaining individual teams, or does that work in the NASCAR model?

The Answer

“No, it does work. There’s two things you want to be thinking about. One is the cost model that we have, which is the rules packages or any related items that we have control over.”

“And so, in particular, the Truck Series, which you can imagine the manufacturer support is going to be very challenging in the months and years ahead, because of lack of selling big trucks. So the point is, is we need to be more aggressive than we’ve ever been in taking cost out of the system. We’re always aggressive. That’s always a core requirement on our part.”

“So, that’s the first thing that we can do. The other thing that you don’t really want us to do, and I’ve heard a lot of things about well NASCAR ought to be cutting their own cost. We are going to be as efficient as we can as a sanctioning body.”

“But all the initiatives that NASCAR has ongoing that affect us next year or many years in the future, things like diversity, things like end market promotion or our youth initiatives, things that cost the media group. We’re trying to build out a digital opportunity for the whole industry, that costs millions and millions of dollars, are simply areas that will ultimately, hopefully, grow the fanbase. But the tracks are not going to be able to fund those kind of initiatives.”

“They haven’t been in the past. They’re under increasing pressures of their own. So when I hear people say well, NASCAR, we can do that, and we will be as efficient as we can as a business; but the things that we want to do for the sport, overarching, to look past a tough economy, to make sure that these initiatives that we’ve had in place that may be very close to giving us a big benefit, that we be very careful about not cutting those. So those are the things we think about.”

Voices

Yes, like you, I had to reread it several times, and I’m still not clear as to what he said. Now, I consider myself to be of above average intelligence, and there is simply no possible way that Brian’s intelligence so far exceeds my own that I cannot even get the gist of what he is saying. Mind you, there are no typing errors on my part in the questions or the answers. They are simply cut and pasted from the original transcripts.

Isn’t the question asking: is it possible for NASCAR, like the NFL, to obtain lines of credit for struggling teams, or does that not work in the NASCAR model?

“No, it does work,” says Brian.

Now, given the fact that there MAY be typographical errors on the part of the translator, I tried to imagine every possible scenario to make sense of his response; but alas, I am still left scratching my head. Let’s move on.

The Question

Specifically, on the team side, we’re hearing from teams, sponsors are looking to cut back their initial sponsorship – the monies that they have dedicated these teams. Teams that are looking to merger are having trouble going back to get lines of credit to make those kind of roles. Can you guys get them a line of credit…?

Voices

Apparently, this reporter is scratching too. This is only the second question. Didn’t Brian just explain this?

The Answer

“Well, we want them to look, what can we do? Can we establish lines of credit? They’re individual businesses. And there are literally, there are literally hundreds of them that can be affected, depending on how far you would go in our national series, different teams starting up or exiting all the time. So, we’re not talking about 20 or 25 traditional sports teams where some halo credit line could be established for them. That’s not practical.”

“But what’s important is that we have said routinely, of course we’re concerned about that. The advertising market has come to a screeching halt in many respects. So, I’m meeting with our television partners who are feeling that very, very directly.”

“So, this is not just a, hey, the team owners, some of the team owners are in dire straits. We understand that. But the entire country is in dire straits in one form or another. Quite frankly, we may come out of this, we’ll see how the economy substains in terms of how bad it gets, but better than most. Even though it’s hard sometimes to see that.”

Voices

OK, now I am sitting here scratching my arm pit, seeing as how my scalp was getting sore. Now, a line of credit is NOT practical. Hell, I don’t know. Help me out here if you can! Maybe it gets better…

The Question

Brian, some folks in the garage even this weekend have expressed just kind of a concern about, they’re uncertain about what NASCAR can do to help them. I know you guys have always talked about having an open door policy, but they don’t see you as much, don’t hear from you as much. And with the uncertainty of the possibility of the economy getting worse next year, it’s created a lot of questions and questions about leadership and where things are going to be. Is there a need to meet with these folks? And as you look toward the future, how different is NASCAR going to have to be to address the economic concerns? Because it looks to be worse than better.

The Answer

“I know that question is on everyone’s mind. Let me hit it head on. We like the way we’re structured. We have the president of our company at every event who has the total confidence of me and the entire France family and the board at every event. I don’t know of any sport that does that.”

“I’m at 12, 14 events, certainly not every event. Most of the business elements that happen at NASCAR happen during the week. That’s when we’re meeting with our team owners, our partners in all forms. Mike Helton and myself. That’s when we’re setting policy for the sport.”

“When we come to the events on the weekend, we’re celebrating running the events, which is what we should be. And most of you have told me quietly or I’ve heard the suggestions that you would like to hear less of me and more from the team owners and the drivers and everybody else, which I agree.”

“That’s when we said back to the basics. What that meant was back to the focus on what happens on the track. That’s what we should do. Obviously, we’ve got a different economic climate that has happened.”

“But the structure and how we manage the company is deep in terms of talented people. And as I said, running the events is one thing. Running the sport from a policy standpoint and interacting with our partners to make sure we are doing everything we can, that really happens during the week.”

“So if you saw me every day, that wouldn’t – that’s not going to change what happens Monday through Friday. That’s when you really need to see me. And it’s impossible for you to see me.”

Voices

Two key statements here… “And most of you have told me quietly or I’ve heard the suggestions that you would like to hear less of me and more from the team owners and the drivers and everybody else, which I agree.” And…

“So if you saw me every day, that wouldn’t – that’s not going to change what happens Monday through Friday. That’s when you really need to see me. And it’s impossible for you to see me.”

Folks, now that my arm pits are as sore as my scalp, I find that I am now scratching a bit lower which, as it turns out is pretty apropos… this dude is NUTS!

You may think I am biased, but consider this comment posted by a reader to Tom Bowles’s article that was published yesterday:

“Is it possible??? When Brian France gave his little talk on TV Sunday, my wife said he was drunk (or on drugs). My wife spent 35 years ‘serving’ in the hospitality industry and was married to an alcoholic for more than 20 years. She is definitely an expert at spotting people under the influence, her job and her life literally depended on it. If this is a fact, it certainly explains ‘the less than brilliant decision making’ at the top of NASCAR. (i.e.: Do you really allow an impaired person to make a media appearance?)”

Like I’ve said before, take the time to read them and you will instantly wish the election was still forthcoming. This guy makes politicians look sane!

Stay off the wall (and off the dope, unless you are doing research!)

Jeff Meyer

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