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The Brian France Era of NASCAR

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.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of


  1. Thank for people like “The Voice of Reason”. We need them to be self righteous in their perfection, as they devalue the opinions of others.
    Maybe this person can help NASCAR and Brian France get well……

  2. So, we had to have the chase format because they didn’t want a champion with only one win or worse, no wins and now we have the nationwide series where the champion may not have any wins because the cupcake invaders have to pick which trophy they want! The small NW teams need the money more than the points to stay afloat so either let everyone run for the trophy or simply pick a series. King Brain wants the money the big names bring to the NW series and dosen’t seem to care about the small teams that are going broke. Yeah, now that I see it in writing it isn’t his fault.

  3. France’s problem is as follows:

    He made changes to the sport that helped to attract many new fans. The sport was new and exciting to these fans.
    Unfortunately these changes drove away a fairly significant portion of the standby, tried and true fan BASE because in their view it was no longer the same sport they grew up with and loved. At the time, this was acceptable because of all of the new fans that were being drawn in.
    Then, disaster occours and the economy crashes and the new fans don’t have the disposable income to spend on Nascar,and they’re technologically savvy, so they don’t need to sit in front of the TV to be overcome by commercial after commercial, they can keep up with highlights online or DVR it and watch it commercial free later or they are spending what extra income they can muster together on whatever it was they originally found near and dear to their heart before they discovered NASCAR. Meanwhile, the former fan BASE has already replaced NASCAR with something else and still won’t be entertained by manufactured competition.
    So now NASCAR is left twisting in the wind becuase their new fans have lost interest and their former fan BASE doesn’t recognize it.

    So Mr. France, I caution you to tread carefully on the upcoming changes, because your new fans are fickle, and will leave you at the first sign of trouble and you risk losing more of your fan BASE by continuing to tweak a sport beyond all recognition of what it once was.

  4. Sandra-
    It takes guts to write a piece like this, because those who pine for the “good old days” that weren’t always good, the same 2 dozen that surf all the websites and comment with negative stuff would have you believe you are on an island all alone.
    I think your points are well-reasoned. Not all of France’s designs have worked, and I certainly wouldn’t be nominating him for sainthood. Nonetheless, a sport has to keep moving forward.This isn’t 1955 anymore; the sport has to evolve to survive. Sorry, oldtimers, it will.

  5. Brian was not the one who negotiated the massive television deals as you say, instead it was Bill Jr. who put the deal together back in 1999, four years before Brian took over.

    When you look at the viewership numbers from 10 to 15 years ago instead of only a few years, NASCAR is still above their average from back when the sport was only shown on cable television.

    The night race at Bristol last season alone had an average of 5,841,952 fans who tuned in, which amounted to a 6% increase from the 2009.

    That number was above the 4.5 million average who were watching back in the 90’s when attendance jumped from 3.3 million to 6.5 million between that 10-year time span (1990-99).

    Brian is reaching out to the younger fans between the ages of 18-34, since they began looking elsewhere to get their adrenaline fix.

    The older core of fans which between the ages of 34-65, are here to stay since they have always been NASCAR’s bread and butter.

    I’m not trying to defend Brian, but NASCAR is not in that bad of shape.

  6. The first generation builds the business, the second expands the business, and the third generation runs it into the ground. A shining example.

  7. Brian France has done nothing but pad his pockets with money, to the detriment of the sport. Nothing he’s done has been for the good of the sport and it’s fans. It’s all been for the good of the France family and their checkbooks. First he screwed with how the races were run, all to make for his dream of having a play off like the stick and ball sports, and then he institutes band aid “fixes” all in the hope of placating the fans and their anger. It doesn’t take a Rhodes scholar to know that all the changes Brian France has made have been made for any other reason but to increase his bottom line, and to hell with the fan base.

    There are some sports that were not meant to be “globalized”. There’s a reason why F1 isn’t big on this side of the pond, and there’s a reason why soccer is not all that here in the US. And, there’s a reason why Nascar shouldn’t be branded an international sport. Sorry, but trying to expand the brand has failed miserably. It’s obvious that the attempt to bring in fans from other parts of the country has not succeeded, to the detriment of the sport as a whole. Sorry, but driving cars on the same kind of track, just because they’re located in areas where BF wants to bull run his way into, doesn’t great racing make.

    I don’t know what races you were watching this past season, but it was NOT great racing. Watching cars drive around in a straight line, for 90% of the race, is NOT great racing. Just because a couple of guys could have won the championship in this year’s Chase, only to have the same result for the past five seasons, is not great racing. The Chase is an abysmal failure. Driving around for 26 races, just collecting points and not racing hard so as to not screw up and ruin your chance at a Chase position, is NOT great racing. It’s boring !!!!!

    And then you have the Chase races themselves. The idiots who oversee the TV broadcasts have totally ruined the ability to watch races. They have their prepared scripts and refuse to deviate from that script. Heaven forbid that a non-Chaser is winning a race—a viewer would never know it. And holy cow if some obscure driver is having the race of his life, because ESPN never mentions him. So why should a fan of a non-Chaser bother watching the last 10 races, fully knowing that ESPN won’t show his car, or even mention his name, even if he were in the top five? And after all of that, I’m not even going to go into all the other problems with ESPN/Fox/TNT such as egotistical announcers who think they’re bigger than the sport, the five laps of racing and 10 laps of commercials and all the rest of the bad broadcasts. Let’s just suffice it to say that all three networks need serious help.

    In the final analysis, Brian France has done more to destroy the sport of Nascar than the failing economy ever could have. He’s making a money grab, with every single decision being made to increase his bottom line. Like I’ve said before, Nero Brian is fiddling, while Nascar burns to the ground. It’s no longer a sport, it’s fake entertainment.

  8. Brian France may well be perceived in the history books as the “prodigal son” who singlehandedly ruined one of the most profitable and potentially expansive enterprises in modern history.

    The man is incompetent and lacks the basic modicum of ability to develop NASCAR into a socially significant entity.

    It is too late. The damage is done. The “patient is terminal” and cannot be resuscitated


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