Brian France comments on Wind Tunnel


September 15, 2004

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Brian France

Below are select quotes from Tuesday's Wind Tunnel with Dave Despain on SPEED Channel. Despain's guest was NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France. France talks about the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup and some other issues facing NASCAR.

Despain: Where did the idea of changing the championship (points system) come from? Was it your idea, was it NEXTEL's idea, was it NBC's idea? -- What was the seed for this?

France: The idea, we have a free-thinking way of looking at all new ideas within NASCAR, actually came from our licensing office in Charlotte, and I was in on an unrelated meeting and someone mentioned it and I sat down with a couple of people and I guess that's the idea that can change things for the better, make racing better and make it more exciting. We obviously tweaked it and hashed out a couple of things but when I heard it I knew instantly that that was the future for NASCAR.

Despain: Part one of the season has now played out. The Race for the Chase is over. We have the ten contenders. It's a logical place for a progress report. What kind of grade would you give the new system thus far and what do you use for your yardstick?

France: We can use TV ratings and we can use attendance, and they are all up and are all going in a great direction, including this weekend -- the most watched Nextel Cup race in the history of Richmond International Raceway. But you had to be at the event to feel it, Feel everything that was at stake, I love what the drivers are saying, Mark Martin saying that it was the hardest thing he ever did, and Jeremy Mayfield saying that he felt he had to win that night to earn himself a spot, and he did just that. Anybody watching DJ, Dale Jarrett, run as hard as he did, and Jeff Gordon didn't have a very good race car but he was pretty determined to keep some other guys out, so it made racing better, and that's our big test and we think it passed in flying colors.

Despain: I got to tell you, that said, that I still get an awful lot of e-mail from people who don't like this new deal, now of course it's an axiom in our business, we always hear from more of the people who are opposed rather than those who are in favor. In your business, I would think, success depends on knowing how many people are in each camp. Let me read you an e-mail here that is very typical of the stuff we hear here and I'd like to get you to react to it. It says "From the beginning of this chase gimmick, fans have tried every venue to express their displeasure. It would appear that Brian and the rest of the NASCAR crew is a bit out of touch with the fans. I just hope the handful of new fans he may have attracted will be able to carry the sport into the future." ... How do you respond to the complaint that you are out of touch with the fans?

France: We understand that change evokes some big reactions and our fans are the most vocal, most passionate in sports. Any change confuses people and this is one we think will clearly make racing better, give more drivers a chance to win a title. I would tell the person who wrote that e-mail, give this some time and I think you will see that this decision is the right one.

Despain: Will the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series, Busch Series and Craftsman Truck Series race in Canada?

France: The Nextel Cup Series will not in the foreseeable future because ... we just don't have the dates. The Busch Series of course is going to Mexico next year. But Canada, is something ... there are a lot of race fans and NASCAR fans in Canada. We have about the same TV viewership, although it is a smaller country obviously, on a relative basis, as we do in the U.S. We want to be thinking about how to satisfy that fan demand both north and south.

Despain: How are you going to solve that problem? You're maxed out in terms of weekends. Seattle wants a race track; every place in the country wants a race track. You got a supply issue that you've got to resolve. How do you do that?

France: You do that, number one, without blowing up the model that has made the very sport work. Meaning that, what we don't want to do is have our current tracks looking over their shoulder, wondering when NASCAR is going to unilaterally just pull their date out. That's something we're not going to do. We're going to sit down with our tracks; we've talked about realignment as a strategy that we launched. My father did a couple of years ago, he was right on the money. We're talking to tracks that have other interests somewhere else that may work better. And if we can, we've done that, you'll see two races next year at Phoenix and Texas for the first time. It's important to do it that way to make sure the model works for everyone.

Despain: Do you envision a day when there will be two divisions, when you'll run two races in the premier division on the same weekend?

France: Maybe one day, but we're not even close to that scenario, and frankly, a lot of things would have to change. I think people really want to see Jeff Gordon compete with Dale Jr. and all the best drivers on the same track at the same time. You never say never, but that is not in our plans right now.

SPEED caller: I go to a lot of races and seems like NASCAR's credibility can be improved. One thing evolves around the cautions, the debris cautions. There were three in the last race at California. The debris was never shown and secondly, there are just too many cautions. Some races, one third of the race are run under caution and the fans are really losing a lot of green flag racing.

France: I think you're referring to a stretch of three or four races where we would agree that we were tweaking our scoring system, it was complicated, and we went to work on that. I think you see we click off caution in record time now -- several laps usually to clean up an accident. The debris cautions, a lot of times you can't see it when you at the stadium. I know at Richmond there was a screwdriver on the track. There was a couple of things ... remember what happened at Dover when we didn't put out the caution, we thought we might have, and Kasey Kahne ended up spinning out. So, we're going to error on the side of caution when what we have is a track that we think can be improved when there's something out there that might impair the driver's. We will always err on the side of caution.

Despain: Do you anticipate any officiating issues in the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup in regards to teammates helping each other? What do you expect in these last 10 races - are the boys going to behave?

France: You know, I think they will. They all have a lot at stake. They have their own individual sponsors. They have a lot of a lot of integrity. If someone should drift into a bad area, we'll solve it -- no question about it. We have, arguably, I guess it was in July or August, when we were working on our scoring that was the primary issue. We want to be as perfect as we can. I think you are seeing us get very serious and very good about that.

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