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Q&A with NASCAR CEO Brian France

Talks about drug policy, other issues confronting NASCAR
Saturday, May 16, 2009

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NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France answers questions from the media
Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR
THE MODERATOR:  We're now joined in the infield media center by NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France.  We'll start off with a few remarks, then we'll take questions from the media. 

BRIAN FRANCE:  Well, just a couple quick things before we get started.  I'm going to devote most of the time to your questions.  But first, it's NASCAR Day.  Most of you in the room who have helped us generate awareness and attention to raising money for a lot of really good causes, so I would tell you on behalf of everybody at NASCAR, thank you for that. 

I would also tell you that, as you know, I typically address this group, A, from time to time, but B, usually in December and February when we kickoff the Daytona 500, and then often at the Coke 600 I'll give a little bit of a review about where I think we are at a given time. 

Now, in light of a number of items that are going around the horn today within the sport, I thought it was important that I checked in here in advance of the All-Star Race, which we're really excited about.  Ticket sales, my understanding for next weekend and tomorrow night, are ahead of schedule, so we're looking for some exciting racing and big crowds. 

I would also tell you an often-asked question on the economy, how is it affecting NASCAR, its teams, its tracks.  Obviously, it has had an effect.  But we're starting to see some positive signs in that area, too, some new companies that are signing on, taking a look at NASCAR.  Also ticket sales, as I mentioned here at Charlotte, but other facilities, although it varies, of course, from market to market, but we're starting to see our fans get more comfortable with their jobs and their everyday life.  So as a result ticket interest is getting better, and that's a good thing. 

The final point is that I never want it to go unnoticed, which is the competition on the track.  It will always be a debatable topic and issue, but I heard some drivers last night, Jeff Burton being one, a couple others, that were talking about the most intense racing in their careers in the last three or four events that they were a part of.  They thought that was pretty exciting.  Certainly in the last three, four, five races, the new car continuing to get more comfortable for the teams, individual drivers, and we're getting the kind of racing action that we hoped that we would. 

With that I'm going to open it up to some questions.  I'll be happy to talk about any topic, as always. 

Q.  Brian, in light of the suspension of Jeremy Mayfield, a lot of drivers have come through here last night and today and said they're not really sure what they can and can't do.  Mark Martin specifically said, Everybody's nervous right now.  Nobody wants to take anything.  Nobody knows what they can do.  Are you comfortable and confident that your drug policy is clear to these guys and that there's avenues for them to rapidly answer questions about what is okay and not okay? 

BRIAN FRANCE:  Yeah, let me take that head on because, number one, we have had in terms of punishment, if you should test positively for a banned substance, depending on what it is, we've always had the toughest enforcement in sports.  We're testing more often as a result of the industry, frankly, wanting us to.  So we made an already tough policy much more difficult. 

But the drivers realize and understand, we go through this with them in the off-season, all of the various substances that would be off-limits if they should test positive, and then there are a variety of things that will be tested, prescription medications, whatever it might be, that our tests might show or demonstrate. 

The drivers are encouraged to talk to Dr. Black directly and his associates at the laboratory to explain, get an explanation, and we will assist in this, many of them have, of exactly what they're going to be tested for. 

Let me make this point.  Many of our drivers, crew members and others, have prescription medications that they're taking.  That is not uncommon for them to talk to us about that, and certainly in communication with Dr. Black, to work that out, because what you need to know about our particular test, is it's very, very thorough.  It will pick up almost any substance that should not be in your body basically.  Now, that's basically overstating it.  But the point is that our drivers are encouraged to understand that if you should test positive for over-the-counter medications or, again, a prescribed medication that you're on with your doctor, even though it would be identified, that doesn't result in NASCAR suspending you, or you may not be in violation of the policy.  You will undoubtedly be talking to Dr. Black or one of his associates as to explain why you had a certain substance that was identified in a test.  That's happened a lot.  And it doesn't get you a suspension. 

What we have said, and I'll say it now, last weekend we had a serious violation of our test, of our substance abuse policy, which gets you in our situation an automatic and indefinite suspension.  That is where we stand with Jeremy today.  We've been down this road with other infractions of our policy in the past.  We said it's serious.  The process going forward is a process.  It's not just NASCAR says or the laboratory says, You tested positive.  That would obviously be true.  But there's a process for the road back, a variety of other things.  There's clarification of the test for Jeremy's benefit.  That process is ongoing, that process is still going on now. 

Q.  Brian, one of the other things that a number of drivers have talked about is wanting to know is reveal what the drug was or what caused Jeremy to fail the test because of their concerns.  Will you say what that is?  If not, at what point does the need of the many override private needs in this case, the need for the other drivers to know as opposed to one person's privacy? 

BRIAN FRANCE:  Well, if you look back over the last 20 years of our policy, we just haven't disclosed that.  Let me tell you why.  There's a couple of reasons. 

Number one, we do say it's serious.  Number two, there is a privacy area because we're talking about someone's medical records and someone's health records. 

Our view of it is that there's nothing to be gained by disclosing exactly what the substance that tested positive in Jeremy's case or anyone else's case, other than to say it was not of the variety, as I said earlier, in a wide spectrum of things that you could test positive for in theory, and be resolved without a suspension.  Under our determination, something didn't impair your ability to drive the car at any one time.  And that is entirely possible.  Even then we would not disclose because there's no benefit to the competitors, there's no benefit to anyone to jeopardize someone else's privacy. 

If we thought there was a benefit, we would probably rethink that.  But there is no benefit in our eyes to revealing the substance.  What's important to know is when it's serious, and I just described what is the difference between serious and not serious, is that it's going to be a very, very tough penalty.  It's the toughest policy in sports.  And the reason for that is obvious:  the safety components of the sport, but also to have a deterrent. 

I've heard and read, How will you know if every driver is not impaired and is not taking anything at any given time?  You know what the answer to that is?  We won't.  We have a very tough policy that gives you lots of reasons not to fool around with substances that you shouldn't.  And we have lots of ways to test.  We also observe probable cause, you're familiar with that. 

But our industry, like anybody else's industry, if someone is going to take something in a split second, we're not going to be able to, nor would we be expected -- what we are expected to do is have a very, very tough policy that has a lot of testing to make as certain as possible that if you get out of line in our sport, that it's going to be swift and it's going to be clear.  That is what we've done with Jeremy and everyone else that has violated the policy. 

Q.  There's a report this week about Chrysler being in bankruptcy, that they were going to be forced by apparently the U.S. Treasury Auto Industry Task Force to spend about half of what they wanted to on marketing.  A lot of people extrapolate that that could have an adverse effect on NASCAR with Chrysler and GM, it could mean racing budgets get slashed for manufacturers.  What plans, if any, are in place for helping teams if that were to occur?  Given that, are you courting other manufactures, given that Toyota says they don't want any more teams and Ford doesn't seem to want to add teams at this point. 

BRIAN FRANCE:  Look, we know what everyone else knows, that Chrysler is in the bankruptcy proceedings, that they are current with all of their obligations with our sport.  I don't know what they are in other areas of sponsorship and so on. 

And I think it's just too early to determine what restrictions they're going to have, if any.  They're still going to be a company that needs to sell cars and trucks.  We're still the best place in the country to do that from a sponsorship standpoint and the related benefits that you receive.  And obviously those companies are going to have to make some tough choices. 

Our hope and expectation is that we will fare at the top of the list as to things you would not want to cut.  I believe that to be true.  We're obviously in close contact with our teams.  They have explained what they understand, is that NASCAR is working, to the extent it can be, and they're current with everything that's going on with Chrysler. 

We'll have to see about General Motors.  My personal hope is that there isn't a bankruptcy for General Motors and there isn't a failure of that nature.  But we'll have to see. 

Q.  Most all sports have a list of banned substances they make public.  If your drivers come to you with a unified force saying they would like to see a list, know what Jeremy had, make that public, would you consider then changing that? 

BRIAN FRANCE:  Actually, we do have a list.  It's a broad list.  The drivers, it depends on which one, are happy to look at that list.  We show it to them. 

We certainly will consider discussing that list with the media, as well.  What we're talking about now is the many different substances that are tested.  There are many. 

What is important to note about our list which we have, or any other list, we don't want to make it selective either.  It's not exclusive to that list.  There are things in the scientific world that are changing all the time.  Our laboratory would have a list and would have an expanding list, and it wouldn't be subject to just that list. 

Q.  You had a situation last Friday where you had a driver whose A sample tested positive from the previous week, but the B was still in limbo.  Why did it take two days to get the B test started?  Was there any consideration to sitting Jeremy on Friday?  Is there any consideration to an appeals process, much like baseball and the NHL, which have an arbitration panel? 

BRIAN FRANCE:  I'll take the first question. 

The B test, there is an A test, a B test, they're the same sample split into two.  If requested by someone who has a positive test, they can request a second test, the B test. 

In our view, it's not a completed test if a driver or a member would like the B test tested.  We were not in a position to sit Jeremy down on Friday when he was qualifying at Darlington because we did not have a completed test. 

Obviously someone tested.  We were made aware of that.  Immediately Mike Helton and myself and others talked about it.  We would have been within our rights, if we thought Jeremy or any driver was impaired, based on the fact we had some new knowledge.  But that wasn't the case.  Then we also determined the obvious, that it was not a completed test until you give the member a right to have the second test finished, which we did.  We did that as fast as we could with the laboratory and still be thorough. 

On the appellate process, in our sport, when you want to walk around and say you have the toughest policy in sport, for a reason, 43 cars are cruising around at 200 miles an hour, we better have a tough policy.  But we think the policy we have where we involve the doctors, the laboratory, and the member, at a time and a pace in terms of getting them reinstated at our choosing, and it's usually, as you can imagine, a lengthy one, is the appropriate way for us to have the kinds of deterrents that we're really after. 

We're really after a very tough policy that's thorough and that, most importantly, puts a very, very big deterrent forward for anyone who would like to think about violating that policy. 

We think that works for us. 

Q.  Brian, a lot of people have been curious as to what the substance is that Jeremy tested for.  Jeremy made a statement that attributed the positive test to a combination of prescription and over-the-counter medicine.  He did not name the substance that was identified in his positive result.  Is there anything in NASCAR's policy that prevents him from doing that on his own if he so chose?  If he did it, would there be any repercussions from NASCAR? 

BRIAN FRANCE:  Look, there's no repercussions from NASCAR.  On the other hand, he's certainly not obligated to do that.  He's within his privacy parameters to not.  I want to be clear on this.  There still is a process going on right now.  There's a process of clarification with Jeremy as to he could have a dispute with the test.  He's entitled to a review of our testing policies, chain of custody, all the things that go on. 

It's like anyone who signs up for the test, you don't really think about it all that deep and clearly until you have a problem, and then you want to know everything about that test.  Jeremy, rightfully so, would like that.  And that takes some time to do that.  That's the process we're in now.  He's entitled to have any number of reviews, direct discussions with Dr. Black, and anyone else who performed the test.  We're working with Jeremy to make sure he has all the information that he needs. 

Q.  Just trying to reach the parameter of what you can properly tell us.  There have been a fair number of crewmen who have been suspended.  Can you break it down, without an individual substance, and say have all of them been recreational drugs?  Have there been cases of performance-enhancing drugs such as steroids?  Have there been cases where they might have been normal medications that people would take in society but might impair their judgment when used in their tasks as drivers or crewmen? 

BRIAN FRANCE:  Let's break it up this way.  Let's take performance-enhancing and recreational drugs, put them over here.  Let's take prescription, over-the-counter, various things that our members might be using for all the right reasons.  There can be a mistake.  They actually take two tablets of one thing or another.  Of course, I'm on something that's prescribed or over-the-counter.  That might draw the attention of a test. 

What would happen in that situation is they would be on the phone - and this has happened quite a bit, but we don't publicize it - they would be on the phone giving an explanation to Dr. Black or his associates.  They would either agree with his explanation, he or she, or they wouldn't.  Most of the time in that circumstance it's resolved.  It didn't alter them at the events, all the things we would be concerned about.  It would be mostly prescribed medications and it would be resolved.  It would not invoke an indefinite suspension of the kind that Jeremy or others have gotten. 

On the other hand, if you fall into the other category, as we said, a serious infraction, which a number of people have, in either one of the areas of performance-enhancing or recreational, at levels that Dr. Black believes violate the policy, that's the end of the road at that point.  They'll be notified and the process will then begin, as it has for Jeremy, other crew members, other drivers, as I described today. 

Q.  There have been violators with recreational and performance-enhancing. 

BRIAN FRANCE:  That's what I said, we have had violations in all areas, frankly. 

Q.  Jeremy came out and said he thought the drug test was because of a mixture of over-the-counter and prescription medications.  NASCAR has been very clear, you've used the word 'serious' over and over again, and you've suspended him, which is a serious penalty.  In essence he's been sort of convicted of this.  You're saying 'serious' over and over again, linking that word with performance-enhancing or recreational drugs.  Shouldn't there be some disclosure of what constitutes serious and what doesn't? 

BRIAN FRANCE:  Well, look, I've been very clear about that today.  We've been clear about that in the past. 

There is a privacy component that will enter into this policy.  We need to respect that. 

Obviously we owe a full review of our policy for anyone who would like to understand it, I've tried to do that today, in particular for drivers who may think that they're going to fall under that serious infraction and test positive for something.  We certainly have in the last many months and, frankly, longer than that have been discussing this with any driver or crew member or participant who would like to. 

I don't think the word 'serious' needs any more definition from me. 

Q.  I know with attendance slipping a bit, the economy makes sense.  I know you're looking at television ratings.  If people aren't coming, some of them, because they simply can't afford it, wouldn't television ratings go up?  What is your gut reaction and what are you doing to take a look at the reason for the slide in television ratings? 

BRIAN FRANCE:  Look, I first the thing is to put it into context.  Seven out of the first 11 events, we were the No. 1 watched sport of the weekend.  Also the No. 1 in live attendance.  That's seven out of our first 11 events. 

In terms of the ratings decline, yes, I think it's also important to note where our fans and sports fans can get their news, information and other mediums that are now in play.  We don't like to be down in our ratings, but it's important to understand in totality.  I mean, NASCAR online, our video downloads are all at a record.  Our shoulder programming, Truck Series, Nationwide, are up. 

We also didn't get off to the best start for us with a rain-shortened Daytona 500.  We're in a momentum business.  We went out to California.  We think we had a scheduling issue with the Oscars, having been right on top of the red carpet and their big night, and various other things from just the headlines of the sport getting off from a momentum standpoint to a slower-than-expected start for us. 

That's changed over the last three, four, five races because the story lines now are unfolding, a lot of things that we think get the attention and enthusiasm and passion going with our fans that are coming into play. 

Talladega was one of the most exciting races that we've ever seen.  Darlington was excellent.  I anticipate building on that momentum tomorrow night here with the format changes that have been put in play, put forward.  They've been working very hard at the speedway on attendance, doing everything they can for the fans, knowing that it's expensive to get here and it's difficult.  I applaud this track and all of our tracks for responding in an incredible way with ticket promotions and everything they've done, hotel rooms around the marketplace.  So we're very confident about going forward that the sport will get its momentum and be in good shape.  We are in good shape. 

Q.  Under Section I, Subsection B of the Substance Abuse Policy, proper and improper use of prescription, over-the-counter medications, if something was to be taken along the lines of Adderall, which would fall under stimulants, but is also an enhancing-type of drug that even students, overachievers often use, but it comes with a prescription, something along that line, where would that fall under the lines if there was a doctor's prescription to treat someone with attention deficit disorder, but there's that fine line? 

BRIAN FRANCE:  Right.  Well, it's important to note that a number of drivers this year and in the past who have such issues, not just drivers, but crew members, whomever, it's not uncommon for them to call in January, get the information, talk to Dr. Black directly, explain the prescription that they're on for all the right reasons, and that was determined to be just fine and not in violation of our policy.  That's well within every driver's right to do that.  If they're taking a medication either over-the-counter or prescribed that they think might be identified in a test, to work it out on the front end.  Some of them have worked it out on the back end, meaning that they didn't think to do that or didn't think it was a problem, and it got resolved. 

If someone's taking the right medications for the right reasons and they aren't impairing their ability to drive the car, generally speaking that is resolved without a violation. 

Q.  When you say that there's a review process and that Jeremy has a right to review the test, the chain of command, what happens if during the course of the review he finds out that somehow the sample was contaminated at some point in the process?  If that does happen, is it fair to suspend him right away?  He's now known as the first Sprint Cup driver to have tested positive under this system.  Is that fair if the test was contaminated somehow? 

BRIAN FRANCE:  Well, obviously we believe that we've taken and our laboratory has taken incredible steps to make sure that the accuracy of any particular test holds true.  So we've done that. 

As more than a courtesy, we think that's the only fair way, is to let someone ask every question that they need to ask.  That's really the process.  The trouble we have in way of these sort of decisions that we make from a timing standpoint is the safety element.  For the remote chance that we might have some test that is not accurate, to risk something with the other drivers on the track, we would not be in a position to do that.  That's just the way that's going to be. 

But the process, as I said, is a process.  There is a number of things that occur from the moment you're notified that you have a positive test of a serious manner, and then the road to be reinstated.  That part of it is a very long process. 

But I will tell you we're in the first part of it, as I described earlier, at least with respect to Jeremy. 

Q.  I don't want to put words in your mouth.  I think that performance-enhancing has been eliminated from the process here.  Dr. Black said it wasn't over-the-counter medicine that did this.  Are you saying this is a recreational drug? 

BRIAN FRANCE:  What I've said is it's a serious infraction and I've explained it as clear as I can. 

Q.  Do owners or NASCAR officials take drug tests, too? 

BRIAN FRANCE:  Yes, we do. 

Q.  There's been a couple of extensions or talk about extensions in next year's schedule, possible race date moves.  Has that process or time period concluded now or is it still under consideration? 

BRIAN FRANCE:  There are no formal requests under consideration.  We're closing in on getting the 2010 schedule behind us in terms of where things are going to be.  That's not completed yet.  But we're certainly way down the road at trying to figure out if there's going to be any changes.  I'm sure you're referring to any realignment requests that have been made.  We're past the deadline on that, that particular issue.  But we're working with everybody as we would to figure out if realignment is an option for one of the track companies.  That goes hand-in-hand with our sanction process, which is, as I said, getting far down the road. 

THE MODERATOR:  Thank you, everyone.  Thank you, Brian. 

BRIAN FRANCE:  Thank you.

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