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Brian France Q and A

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, October 9 2011

NASCAR boss Brian France talked racing on Sunday.

KANSAS CITY, Kan. – NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France participated in a question and answer session at Kansas Speedway on Sunday morning.

The following is a transcript of that session:

Q. There’s been a lot of talk about the companion series, Nationwide and truck, returning to the roots, going to Rockingham. Is there an interest in looking at the cost of travel and things of that nature of kind of returning to the roots of NASCAR for some of the companion events in the future?

BRIAN FRANCE: Well, I think that that’s probably true to some level. We’ve been doing that. You think about Iowa, you think about other places that can’t host a Cup race but they’re able to host a truck or a Nationwide, and we’ve been able to use that series to do that.

And so, yeah, I think Rockingham is interesting with all that heritage, so we’ll have to see how that all plays out. And there’s a new facility on the horizon if you believe what is being written about, which is down in Texas with a big road course. We have some road racing product that might be possible, too. So yeah, we’ll take a look at that for sure.

Q. Obviously we’re near the home of Sprint. They’ve got two years left on the deal. They’ve had some kind of good days and bad days. Where do you see that relationship? Have you started renegotiating the series sponsorship?

BRIAN FRANCE: Well, relationship is very good. It’s a program that’s worked extremely well for them. They would, I think, tell you that. We’re in a time when we’re having those kind of discussions about extending the relationship. My hope is that we will. That’s always a goal when we have a really good incumbent sponsor who’s done such a good job. You obviously want to extend the relationship if you can.

Q. Can you talk about not only this speedway but the repaving project that is about to begin here, your thoughts on the surface and the project that lies ahead?

BRIAN FRANCE: Well, I know that they’re learning so much with the repaving efforts that have gone on, going back to Homestead a few years ago, certainly Talladega, Phoenix recently, I know with compound banking and other things, with Daytona being a recent example. But when they do pave a track, and it’s obviously — it’s obviously in that time period where it will happen, they really want to improve the racing. I know that’s the engineering of that, the kind of asphalt that they lay down, and even sometimes changing the configuration a little bit as they did in Phoenix all designed building on what they know, which will be more side-by-side racing, which is what we’re all about. That will be the goal, I’m sure, when the track gets down into doing just that.

Q. You’ve had some good news as far as TV ratings go early in the Chase. Any data yet as to what demographics the increases are coming from in particular, and what’s your gut feeling in terms of why there seems to be a heightened level of interest this year?

BRIAN FRANCE: You know, the increase is primarily coming frankly right where we would really want it to be, which is the younger demo, up I think 20 something percent, has consistently been up 20 something percent.

I think in major sports today, you’re going to see this in the various playoffs and championships that will be decided in all kinds of sports, it gets down to story lines and match-ups is that last 10 percent, 15 percent, whatever it’s going to be, and when you have more of that, good story lines and great racing in our case, you should do better, and we are doing better. We’ve just got to keep building on that and hope that the racing and the story lines continue to do what they have done.

Q. You’ve seen a lot of races this year that have come down to fuel mileage races, and I was wondering if NASCAR is considering any competition changes going into 2012 to kind of put more emphasis on the side-by-side racing rather than who’s not going to run out of fuel.

BRIAN FRANCE: Well, that’s part of the strategy, it’s part of the game, and it’s part of the racing. We’re not going to be trying to overregulate that. That’s cyclical, too. There’s going to be times when there tends to be more of that for whatever reason, the way races play out, and then there will be times when there are cautions like there was yesterday in the Nationwide, where the cautions happen late in the race and bunches everybody up, and people always say you don’t like too much of that, either, do you? Of course we like it all. We like to see all the strategies and scenarios play out.

Q. You’ve had good story lines on the track, but off the track there’s still been some unsettling news with teams filing layoff notices with the state of North Carolina, and it appears there will be maybe five or six less full-time Cup cars next year at this point. How would you characterize the labor environment for teams and the sponsor environment for teams going into 2012, and do you see any hope of this rebounding?

BRIAN FRANCE: Look, I’ve always said I’m not an economist, but I know what you know, and it’s very, very difficult out there for companies and for people in the general economy. That has impact on us, and it will continue to have some impact on us.

One of the things that does happen when availability comes forward in terms of if a team or two doesn’t elect to compete next year, we often see in the off-season teams that were thinking about moving up but did not want to because there wasn’t availability, they couldn’t make the event, couldn’t make the top 35 or whatever else, you’ll see where those five or six teams don’t necessarily turn out to be five or six teams. I hope everybody comes back and everybody gets what they need to compete, but if the economy is difficult, it does allow opportunities for others, and that’s, I guess, the only silver lining in it.

Q. The Truck Series in particular, somewhat related to Nate’s question, seems to be some teams struggling. It’s very hard for teams to get to the races in some cases. Do you still consider the Truck Series to be a viable, healthy series, and what do you think the future of that is?

BRIAN FRANCE: It’s very viable. It’s a franchise for the SPEED Channel. It’s their highest rated programming every week, depending on what venue. It does fairly well. But yeah, there’s no question that that series and every motor support series in the country has got some impact, and some greater than others.

I will say that with that particular series we’ve done unprecedented things in the last two or three years to take cost out of the system for those team owners and the drivers for that matter. But limiting crew members and doing all kinds of things on the regulatory side that have proven a great deal of cost savings, it’s a lot cheaper to operate a truck team than it was three years ago.

Q. You mentioned Austin and the Formula 1 race. I assume it’s not like a companion race with one of Bernie’s shows.

BRIAN FRANCE: That’s a good assumption.

Q. Are you looking at Nationwide? Are you looking perhaps at Cup in 2012, 2013? Are you looking to — what are your talks there? Are they coming to you, are you going to them?

BRIAN FRANCE: We are having conversations. We have conversations at one level or another with all the major motorsports facilities, and they’re no different. Remember, we’ve got Grand American Road Racing. We’re arguably the best road racing product in this country. When you look at how these events play out at Sears Point, Watkins Glen, I mean, by all accounts, there’s not a better road course show in this country for sure.

Now, that said, obviously we’re not talking — the cup is full and all those things, we’re not having those conversations, but we have a lot of motorsports products, so we are speaking to them.

Q. I heard possibly trucks at Watkins Glen, and what’s the story with Montreal? Will it be a NASCAR race next year for somebody?

BRIAN FRANCE: I believe it will, and there’s some changes going on in the marketplace with the promoter and otherwise that are happening, how they’re promoting the event, some changes. But it’s a very popular event, does very well. My hope is we’ll continue to be there.

Q. There’s been some rumblings that your hopes of attracting maybe more youth that you’d either go into the rally business or do some sort of companion events with rally type vehicles. Can you give us some sort of update on where you stand on that?

BRIAN FRANCE: Well, there’s no update because that’s — I mean, we will look — we look at all kinds of motorsports, and sport for that matter, that we could have an impact in or a marketing opportunity. You’ve seen some crossover drivers or riders in motorcycles and otherwise, so that’s not anything new, so we’ll continue to be opportunistic to try to see when we can expose NASCAR to a different audience. We do that racing and non-racing, and that’s just — there’s no plans for us getting in rally or any other business like that.

Q. You mentioned some cost-cutting measures in Nationwide and the Truck Series. Is NASCAR considering any further measures there, either technical or in any other way, to help those owners save more money?

BRIAN FRANCE: Absolutely. It’s a core principle at the R & D center that there’s a group of people that are looking at safety, performance and cost all the time. You don’t see them, you don’t need to see them, they’re not going to come to the events very often, but that’s what they’re trying to do. And we’re trying things out in the touring divisions frequently that we don’t talk a lot about, but we do, to see what can work and what can’t, and obviously the conditions are different. But that’s all good.

I did want to say one last thing about our diversity efforts, and you think you’re starting to see some really top-notch talent that I believe will make it into the Cup level and certainly the Nationwide level shortly. Darrell Wallace being one has got the attention of a lot of owners, and Sergio Pena is another talented driver winning races in a tough environment. We could have what we’ve been hoping for, which is to spotlight some talent that will be with us at the highest level for a long time. That will be good for NASCAR, and obviously Danica coming over and competing full-time next year in the Nationwide and some Cup events is another positive thing. She’s talented, and I hope she does well.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, October 9 2011
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