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Q&A with Brian France

Talks about key issues facing NASCAR
Friday, July 03, 2009

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THE MODERATOR: We are now joined in the infield media center by NASCAR chairman and chief executive officer, Brian France. Brian will start off with a mid-year update and brief discussion on current events and then we'll turn it over to questions from the media.

BRIAN FRANCE: Thank you, and good afternoon, a couple things. This is always a time of the year that I address my good friends of the media, we get to spend the holidays together, here the 4th of July weekend, so that's good. And also, a couple things.

One, I've been spending more time with you in this particular year with all of the things going on with the manufacturers and that whole issue, and certainly the recent developments with Jeremy Mayfield and the NASCAR substance abuse policy, and I'll get into that and I'll take any questions as I always do.

And a couple quick things because we are at the mid-year, and as you heard earlier from the ISC people in the sports car world, the economy continues to be difficult for everybody, including our race fans. Although as you just heard, and I share this, there seems to be a little bit of optimism in the broader economy and we are seeing that with better attendance in some places that we night have expected to do a little worse. So that's a good thing.

And the tracks have responded across the board to try to add value to our fans knowing how difficult it is with all of the things that they are facing, losing their job, or the fear of that, and all of that means, I really want to applaud all of the tracks on the circuit for responding so quickly, not just in ticket prices but across the board in other things.

I would tell you, though, that if you look at the car counts and all four national divisions, the quality of competition, some of the adjustments we have made and one substantial one being the double-file restarts was a by-product of us studying that. And frankly it came out of a town hall meeting where we got as much of a consensus as you can with the drivers and the team owners as possible, and that has we think added some excitement to the product on the track which is the most important thing, and we are obviously getting through the issues, we are related to the car manufacturers and their business issues and that has come full circle.

We have been waiting and frankly very much as we should being a good partner with them, through their own very, very difficult restructurings and now bankruptcies and all the rest, so that is a painful reminder that no one is immune from difficult times. We were hoping in that particular case to be one of the last programs they would consider cutting, and we were, but as it turns out they were in a position where they had to make some changes across all of their programs.

Now on to the hot topic of the day which is the recent ruling in Federal Court on Wednesday, and more importantly, in my mind, I want to share, clear up a few things regarding NASCAR's substance abuse policy. No. 1, despite the ruling, and we are disappointed with that ruling, we have said that. We have also been asked by the judge, both sides, not to talk in excess of the preceding, his particular ruling, and we'll honor that wish, as well.

Jeremy obviously was reinstated as a result of that ruling, and that's where we are today. We are reviewing all of the options, and there are many, obviously including appeals, and then there will be, either way, a pursuit in terms of a trial, apparently, to clear this matter up within the courts. We were hoping that would not be the case, but it is the case.

On the policy, one of the things that I want to remind everybody, I took a lot of questions and went in very much detail back in May when Jeremy tested positive, and I still hear confusion and I hear misnomers about the policy. The first thing is it's our responsibility to protect the drivers, the fans, other participants within the events. We have a very unique challenge relative to all sports as you well know, which is the inherent danger of somebody impaired on the racetrack.

So our first responsibility, despite the ruling on Wednesday or any ruling, will always be that we are going to make sure every way we can that everyone who is driving these race cars are of clear mind. And I've heard a lot of things that are not accurate about our policy and remember when we changed the policy in the first place, enhanced it, greatly, it was a result of the drivers wanting to have more testing, continuation of the strong penalties should somebody test positive beyond what we were doing at that point.

Contrary to what has been said, we took a long time to review how the best go about that. We looked at all of the things that you would expect us to look at, the NFL's policy, the USOC and across the board, remembering that we had to have the toughest policy because we have the most to lose if something, if one of our players is on the field or on the track impaired. And we think, we know we came up with a very good policy and a couple misnomers about it. People frequently test positive for one thing or another. It happens very, very frequently. It's very rare, though, that we do a suspension, because that's a very serious matter.

We realize the seriousness and implications that has to an individual, to a race team, to their careers. We understand that. It's why the policy has some built-in flexibilities, and some of those are, first of all, if you're taking a prescribed medication or something over-the-counter, the policy says, you're instructed to tell our medical and our laboratories just that. Because all of our tests are going to flag. These are very deep and comprehensive tests. They are going to detect virtually everything.

So the drivers, crew members, and when it's detected, and you're on record and we understand it's not a particular medication that's going to impair your driving, then even though you may get a positive test, you may get a phone call to clarify it, the dosages, or whatever the case is. Happens all the time. Rarely get, you know, into a situation that we have with Jeremy.

And how you get into that situation is you have a very serious violation that is unequivocal, and there are two tests. You know about the A and B samples, and it is the scientific judgment beyond reproach that a particular banned substance or one that you could be abusing had an effect that we deemed impaired you, put other people at risk. And as I said in May, once that happens, that's the end of the road in our policy, in terms of you're going to go back into rehab and back into the second phase of the program.

And we remain very comfortable and very calm about despite the ruling, that our policy is thorough, it's accurate, and it's fair. With the drivers we had lots of discussions, and not just the drivers but crew members, our own personnel, anybody that goes over as part of the event is subject to testing and does get tested. And we have had lots of good discussions to make sure that we all understand where we are going.

Now, one other thing that is frequently tossed around, and I think sometimes carelessly, is this idea that we don't have a list of banned substances that somebody can review. The answer is, we do. It's very lengthy. It's very scientific in describing a myriad of literally hundreds of drugs but we also know that abuses that could impair you on the racetrack can also come, but you can abuse prescription medications. You can abuse a lot of things.

And there are also drugs that we are not aware of that hit the street that are created. So by definition, we are not going to have an absolute list of things that if you just don't test for those, then you'll be deemed, found good to go and that's not impaired. Unfortunately with the inherent risk element that we have in the sport, our tests have to be deeper, thorough, have a little more flexibility to make sure that we are upholding our responsibility.

Now, we are comfortable with that, and it is very consistent because if you look at most parts of it, but not all, because we studied other leagues and federal requirements and so on to come up with the policy that works best for us. We think it's excellent despite lots of debate and issues that have happened in the courtroom. We will be defending this policy very vigorously as time goes on in the future, so with that, I'm happy to answer any questions.

Q: From being in the courtroom, it was my interpretation that the test result is not so much in question, but it's the fairness of NASCAR's policy. Do you think that there are considerations NASCAR needs to look at in the policy and that can close any sort of loophole so that you have the right to suspend drivers and they won't then run to court and undermine your decision and a judge can make the decision that your policy is wrong?

BRIAN FRANCE: Well, I just described our policy, and, you know, we think there is lots of due process and lots of ways that a driver or anyone can work within our system and have no problems at all. And like I said, our policy requires you to list, if you're taking prescribed medication, or if you're taking something substantial over-the-counter or whatever, and we don't need to get silly about this, this chocolate milk business and NASCAR is going to wake up and chocolate milk is, we are talking about what impairs someone's ability to drive the car.

And so we have the right amount of flexibilities when we know we have to suspend a driver. And as I said earlier, we have tests all the time where we get positive tests, for one substance or if another or prescribed or over-the-counter and how we handle that is, like I said with the policy; it has some flexibility to that. We don't just go laying the hammer down and ruining someone's career. That's not what we are talking about when we are talking about Jeremy's situation. You know what he was tested for. That's unequivocal. There's not confusion about that from a science standpoint.

And we will stand by our right to protect all of the drivers, all of the fans, from somebody, and just because they said I didn't do it, or something could have gone wrong with the test, people can say that. But our test is thorough, the process is complete; and if we can improve it, like we have, we inspect the cars differently than we did last year. We improve all kinds of things from a policy standpoint. We are open to doing that.

But if you are asking me, does the policy fit the intended out comes that we are trying to have, which is to prevent somebody from being on the track impaired, are we doing everything that we can do; that's our responsibility. And you know, I think we are. And if we can do more, we will.

Q: During the arguments on Wednesday, the judge questioned your attorney about the general rule that NASCAR can spend anyone at its sole discretion. Do you feel that this decision impacts you in your ability to conduct the sport, even beyond just the subs stance abuse policy?

BRIAN FRANCE: Well, I don't know. I think it's restricted to this particular matter, the ruling on Wednesday. But that's not how it works.

I hope I've explained that we just don't walk around spending anybody that we feel like. We take it very, very seriously. There is a detailed process from, you know, how people are tested, from the chain of custody, on to one of five world-class accredited laboratories, with some of the best in the world who do this for thousands of times a day for lots of different groups and private groups, public groups, sports leagues, and the like.

And they are very exact, it's the nature of tests, they should be. You know now if you have a positive test, we have two samples from an individual that it's the right of the person who tested positive before we'll suspend them to test that second sample to make absolutely sure that the conclusions are accurate, and that was the case with Jeremy. And we went further than that. We even went to another laboratory with two more tests, and they both had the same exact conclusions.

And so, beyond what more we can do from a fairness in the process, at some point when you have a positive test, it should be the end of the road, at some point, and in our judgment, that some point is when you're b sample comes back unequivocally and conclusively positive under a banned substance that impaired you in the doctors' and medical experts' eyes, that would have impaired you on the racetrack. That is our basic responsibility. So I'm a little surprised at all, frankly, of the back and forth that's going on here. That's as clear as I can make it.

Q: My question isn't about the drug policy.

BRIAN FRANCE: Thanks.

Q: A couple weeks ago at Michigan, you told us that NASCAR is open to welcoming other manufacturers into the sport. I wondered if since then that's engendered any sort of conversations or dialogue with other manufacturers, whether NASCAR will adhere to the rule that they have to race American-made cars, and whether NASCAR is prepared to assist any other manufacturers coming into the sport that perhaps don't have a small V.A. production engine or something like that?

BRIAN FRANCE: Our policy and our views haven't really changed. Some of the opportunities for a new manufacturer to come into NASCAR probably have changed. Obviously there are teams that were getting direct support or were affiliated with one manufacturer or another that are available now. So that is a fact.

We have been talking and we have routinely, because we are open, as we demonstrated with Toyota, which worked well, under the right approach that's unique to NASCAR, for a manufacturer to come in and compete at one of our national divisions. That policy remains open. It is not something that happens easily or overnight. These decisions by a potential manufacturer take a lot of time and evaluation on their behalf, because to enter into NASCAR has to be, you know, done in a way that is complimentary to what has been established in the past. And those conversations are ongoing. I do not anticipate, there's absolutely nothing implemented that we will be announcing or should be will be joining or any of that, that position.

But do I see more interests because there's more opportunity? Sure. We see that and we're fielding the kinds of questions and evaluation that you would think under the circumstances.

Q: You obviously have got some very smart people in your marketing and your TV divisions trying to get your message across, yet your TV ratings are down, attendance is down, you're fighting this public relations battle over the drug policy, your fans are complaining about many different things. Do you go home at night and kick the cat and say, you know, look, you're trying to get the message across that your sport is strong, but you get punched in the nose?

BRIAN FRANCE: Well, I don't have a cat and I didn't get punched in the nose recently.

I will tell you, look, you've got to keep it in context. Is every sport feeling the pinch for people buying tickets because they have less money in their pocket or they have lost their job? Sure. We are no different. Every sport has felt it in one form or another. We obviously have a very big dependency on sponsorship, and our company is going through restructuring and hurting, sure. Does that have an effect? Yeah. All of that has an effect. But we are still, you know, as we were last weekend, the largest sporting event of the weekend by any metrics, largest in attendance, largest in television viewership, largest in radio viewership, you name the medium, we are either No. 1 or No. 2 every weekend.

So I mean, everybody who would like to point to me that the world is crumbling, I'm not telling you it's not difficult; it is. But we try to keep things in perspective. Lots of people would like to have our problems, and we also are renewing and the teams in particular, a number of sponsorships on their own right which we are pleased to see. And companies are still finding enormous value. Now they are on some different terms and there are lots of things that are going on, but most of the companies, and we have talked to a lot of them, want to stay. Most of them have a lot of equity built up, been in the sport a long time, like their programs.

But they might have some business challenges where they have got to modify their participation for a little while. Still want to stay. Interest is high.

I think some of the things we have done in particular, some of the things we have done and some of the things we have not done have helped us, and I think the double-file restarts clearly are putting a nice energy around the events. The drivers have been great in terms of, because there are some consequences for them that they had to buy into, but they did, and the results are good. We will be looking at more things.

And then, you know, the fact that we have let, which was Mike Helton's judgment, that we needed to let the new car settle in without making a bunch of changes just because someone had not figured it out yet; we will look to see if we can make some minor changes to the car.

But I think that judgment to let the teams get more comfortable with the car and get up to speed, rather than us changing things around on them, not to mention the costs that would be with the team owners in a very difficult time, was looking back, a good judgment. We have been under a lot of pressure on that, and it doesn't mean that we won't, if there's something and some things came out of our town hall meeting that were interesting to us that we are looking at.

But there weren't be major changes, and I think you're seeing more and more teams every week get more up to speed. The racing is fantastic, and we have no complaints with our product and we'll stand by that.

Q: Ram say said something briefly about this yesterday, but I wonder your thoughts, this whole process that we have been talking about was on Wednesday in which Jeremy and his lawyers claimed that they needed emergency injunctive relief and argued that they needed it to be at this race, and then didn't show, apparently. I just wondered what you thought of that.

BRIAN FRANCE: Well, I'm probably like a lot of people. When I hear the word "emergency," I think of urgency and really needing to do something.

So the fact that they didn't bother to show up, you can make of that what you will. It is what it is.

Q: Following the Mauricio Grant incident last year, does reinstating Brian Barry, is the rumors are true of what he said in the Busch race or following the Busch race, if that's true, does that send the wrong message; that racist remarks will be tolerated in this sport?

BRIAN FRANCE: No, because we took it very seriously. And incidentally, he believes he didn't say what evidently was said, so there was a dispute. We believed a little bit differently or looked at it a bit differently. So you have to take that into some consideration.

But more importantly is we were very aggressive with him and he went down to our experts for an evaluation, diversity training and Dr. Lapchick in Orlando among other things, to understand NASCAR's very, very much zero tolerance on any racial discrimination, and certainly any harmful words that could be said, and he has served his suspension and he's still serving that suspension. And we think given all of the things that we've reviewed that the penalty matches the crime.

Q: You keep saying unequivocal. Are your scientists telling you there is no chance that Jeremy could be telling the truth with regard to his explanations?

BRIAN FRANCE: Tests have to be, either they are certain or they are not. So, of course, we believe in looking at that particular test, chain of custody, how it was tested, who tested it; and we wouldn't have suspended him if we didn't think it was that way. These are tough decisions.

We know what it means, to anyone, to get such a positive test back. So, yes, we are very comfortable that that test is accurate and reliable and will hold up, ultimately, when all of the facts are heard, which if you're us, that I mean, everybody can say, you know, they don't believe they did something. That kind of happens when people do something wrong typically. They don't like to think they didn't do it.

So that's not unnatural to hear that. But it's clear on our part that that's where we are.

Q: In terms of the drug policy, obviously without having to specific quote on Jeremy's case, what outcome would you like to see? In a perfect world, would you like to see the driver admit and complete a program and stay clean and maybe come back and race? Is that what you would like to see in a perfect world? And a follow-up on Lee's question. Brian Barry served some kind of community service. What exactly was that?

BRIAN FRANCE: I'll take the last question first. We are working on Brian's community service, what that will be, but it will be meaningful.

The perfect outcome for us when someone has a positive test is that they follow the program, and they go for re instatement as part of how the program outlines you to do such. And that means rehab; that means admission; that means taking the road back that is going to be best from a medical standpoint for an individual; that means getting someone some help, typically, depending on what substance we are talking about; and following the proven path that the positions and the experts in the field have seen that works, because we would like to have someone back. We would certainly like to give someone, and we will; we will give somebody more than one chance, provided they follow a path that's good for them, and good for, you know, the integrity of our sport in terms of making sure that, you know, no one is impaired.

You know, the interesting thing, as you all have documented, we have had more than one driver state that they were out on the racetrack with a recreational drug. I don't know if that was, we'll never know why somebody would have said that or the accuracy of it, but it was said. And when you have those kind of statements, and that happened obviously in past years, and then you have our drivers, rightfully so, wanting us to have the toughest policy in sports from both a frequency of test, a course and accuracy of the test, and ultimately the penalty. Our penalties are very tough. The road back is more difficult than perhaps other sports leagues, but the inherent dangers are much greater.

So we have to do that, and so I've given you a long answer, but we really want to see someone follow the road back, get healthy and come back and race with us.

Q: A couple things, for as much as you vigorously defend the policy and everything in light of the injunction the other day, some people might wonder why you haven't filed an immediate appeal, as opposed to looking at your options, and second of all, I know you also talked about the exhaustive list with regards to the banned substances, that type of thing, although there still remains some confusion about that. Such a list that I'm aware of has not been entered in any kind of court documents. You have obviously on your side submitted a letter to the teams that listed the outlines for that and there has not been a list per se.

BRIAN FRANCE: Let me straighten that out. That's something that as I said earlier gets talked about a lot.

There is a list, and it's not limited. It's a long list. It's many, many pages long because there are scientific descriptions of all of these substances, so it's, you know, it's not a pamphlet I would have a in my pocket. It's a very detailed list. But as I mentioned, if the idea is to make sure no one is impaired, which may be different in other sports, which are not so much worried about that because they are an individual playing a certain position, maybe they are not going to put anybody in jeopardy. But obviously in our situation, that's not true, there's much greater danger.

So we focus on impairment, and impairment can come from the terrible drugs that you know about that are banned and are illegal in society to a misuse of a prescription that in the judgment of our doctors would have impaired him, abuse of that.

And so, not limited to that, does that mean you can make up something along the way? Of course not. That's nonsense. What it means is that there's going to be, given that we are after impairment, we don't know what drug hits the street in one city or country or whatever, that if we had a certain list, and it did fall within the list, the idea is it impaired you under a very, very high bar with medical professionals.

As I said, we go through a lot of different check marks before we get to that moment where we say, yeah, the doctors say that particular drug, no question about that, and the levels of that drug. So it can come in many ways.

So just because there's not one list that you can pull out, there can't be one list, by the definition of our program. And we stand by that, because we think that's the best approach.

If we can make that better, if we can clear things up, like I hopefully have done in May or today or our people can do in the future, I think we have most of the drivers comfortable; that drinking chocolate milk, it's not going to get you go all the way down that list, a high bar and a combination; I think that's silly and nonsense, and we all need to move on past that and look at this program for all of the merits that it has.

Q: (No mic).

BRIAN FRANCE: There are more than one way to work the appellate process. We will be looking at those options and acting as quickly as we can.

Q: You've said you've had drivers sign affidavits that they don't want to be on the track with a driver that's impaired. Do you feel like you have an option not to appeal at this point, and what do you feel like is the future of the Nationwide and Truck Series with sponsorships?

BRIAN FRANCE: Well, I would tell you, again, we will figure out the appellate process with this case shortly. We don't have, we are looking at it as you would expect us to. It's complicated, but we will, either way, we will be defending the policy. More importantly, should anyone comeback who has had a positive test, you can be assured that we will be making, you know, certain that our responsibility, that no one is impaired while they are out on the racetrack, we will do whatever it takes to make as certain as we can that that is the reality of that.

The other divisions, Nationwide and Truck Series, you know, given the circumstances of the economy, they are relatively healthy. The Nationwide Series is far and away now the number two series in the country. There's not even a close competitor to that. Consistent television numbers with our partner, ESPN, they are very satisfied with it.

Sponsorship could be better, of course, but is okay. And the racing is great and the Truck Series has felt more pain, for sure, because they had a big area of support for the manufacturers that was in all of their trucks. Last year was a pull-back, and we responded, as you know, by trying to have a lot of cost-cutting measures for the teams, and that's been effective. So we have had full fields of trucks. A lot of people think that's some of the best racing they see. We are realized with that.

And you heard from Roger Edmondson, now that we operate the most successful road racing division in North America and grand America, and we are building that program carefully, steadily, and I think our event tomorrow, that's probably the best road racing now that has been in the last 20 years, when you look at how close that competition is. So that model, business model and competition model is running well.

Look, we are not, we have got four of the top six national divisions in the country. We have a lot to manage and we have got a lot of great people doing it, and we'll continue to try to elevate all the series.

Thank you.

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