Brian France has stood stalwart against the verbal stones and arrows aimed in his direction because his approach to the operation of NASCAR is so different from that of his father and grandfather.
He is not the hands on, dictatorial leader of stock car racing that NASCAR’s founder, Bill France and his son, Bill France Jr. were.
Since the time of NASCAR’s inception, the leaders were at the track every race. They ran the show from the ground, face to face with owners, drivers and crews.
[media-credit name=”Brad Keppel” align=”alignright” width=”300″][/media-credit]Brian France was appointed leader of the NASCAR world in 2003 and maintains a corporate style that fans feel distance him from the reality of the sport.
This France may show up at 15 or so races a year and usually just to make a statement of some sort.
It is NASCAR President, Mike Helton’s job to interact with the teams at the track along with a plethora of people whose job it is to keep NASCAR rules and policies enforced on the competition level.
Though France grew up around racing, serving in most every capacity, his interests are in marketing.
His college education at the University of Central Florida was marketing based. Before being named Chairman and CEO of NASCAR, he managed the marketing department and touring divisions.
France brought the Craftsman Truck Series (Camping World Truck Series) into NASCAR’s top series during 1996.
There have been many changes with NASCAR since France took the helm in 2003. Some fans of the sport have failed to forgive him for implementing the Chase in 2004.
Under his reign, the sport became globally recognized. He negotiated massive television deals and the five year deal with Sirius/XM Satellite radio for exclusive NASCAR coverage.
NASCAR and the mother-ship of the France owned tracks, International Speedway Corporation, is operated out of their headquarters in Daytona Beach, Fl.
Bill France Sr. and Bill France Jr. worked autonomously, but Brian reports to a board that includes his sister Lesa France Kennedy and his uncle, Jim France, who both maintain significant stakes in NASCAR.
France’s time is spent on the business side of the sport. NASCAR is a massive entity with numerous operating divisions. The NASCAR leader spends most of his time behind the scenes with policy development and business negotiations.
When France took over as the head of NASCAR, the sport was still expanding. There were new tracks built in the late 90’s, the economy was growing and fans spent freely at racing venues.
All was going relatively well until the economy tanked in 2008 and 2009. The sport experienced loss of revenue from sponsors, attendance and television ratings dropped and a myriad of cascading events took it’s toll on all phases of the economy and the general population.
Reportedly, an ESPN Sports poll showed a drop in the average viewing age of males younger than 45. The fastest growing age group was 45-54 and 65 and older. The Nielsen Co. indicated 51.6 as the median viewing age.
Clearly such a continuing pattern long term would not bode well for NASCAR, though much of the spending power lies with the baby boomers.
As a result, digital media, diversity programs, the greening of the sport and licensing issues have taken on greater importance in an effort to attract new fans in varying ways.
France faced criticism for dumping smaller tracks like Rockingham and North Wilkesboro in favor of the intermediate size, cookie-cutter tracks.
Some fans believe France turned NASCAR into a brand as opposed to the sport it once was. Many people believe he has abandoned the southern roots of NASCAR with the expansion into larger markets throughout the country.
The NASCAR CEO does not operate in a bubble, making decisions on a whim. Change is made by many working together with a great interest in the good of NASCAR, though that does not guarantee success with all of their decisions.
In the past decade we have seen more exciting racing, better competition, safer drivers in the COT and better access to races by fans in other parts of the country.
There are still those who will tell you that the races are boring until the final 25 laps, complain of starting times, want shorter races and on it goes. The commercials overwhelming the race during television coverage is also an issue to be addressed.
Changes including “Boy’s, have at it,” green-white-checkers, double-file restarts, the redesign of the NASCAR Nationwide cars and much more were implemented under France’s oversight.
The 2010 Chase was the best we have seen following the culmination of 26 weeks that included some of the most competitive racing we have seen in years.
The head of NASCAR is working to regain any ground the sport has lost. He is open to a great deal of feedback via the town hall meetings, Fan council, social media and of course directly from team owners and drivers.
NASCAR television contracts come up for renewal in a few years. France knows he has got to get the fans back in the stands and in front of the televisions.
His methods of attracting a new fan base may seem disheartening to diehard race fans. NASCAR must continue to evolve if it is to remain strong against other major sports.
Certainly tough decisions will need to be made and some changes won’t fare well with all fans. In an age of instant gratification it is harder to keep fans focused with so many options.
Shortly France will announce changes to the Chase and decisions impacting Cup drivers in the Nationwide series. There may be other announcements as well.
France and those who play a major role in the operation of NASCAR will continue to implement changes. It is just the way it works.
It remains to be seen how this third generation NASCAR leader will be perceived in the history books. The fact remains, NASCAR is a great sport and France will hopefully do whatever needs to be done to see that it continues as such under his watch.