France Takes On Variety Of Topics At Presser
By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
On Thursday in Las Vegas, site of this weekend’s annual post-season awards banquet, NASCAR officials Brett Jewkes and Brian France held a press conference.
A variety of topics were discussed. The topics ranged from the updates to the Hall of Fame voting procedures (see related story on this page) to the purchase by NASCAR of Iowa Speedway.
What follows is a transcript of that press conference:
BRETT JEWKES: There have been panelists talking to people who are involved in the whole Hall of Fame process, and what we’re going to announce today is the result of that effort.
I will say up front, and I think this is important, a couple things we learned through this process is that our process right now is incredibly strong and comparable to other sports’ halls of fame. We feel very strongly about the strength of our process, and that’s been borne out in the fact that we have five classes that we think are an exceptional reflection of the history of the sport. Very passionate people involved in this process, and a vigorous debate that goes on to get there. So we feel like our process is very strong already.
Second is pretty clear as you go through this and you really look at it how the voters regulate the process, and that may or may not make sense to — we have several Hall of Fame voters in the room who probably understand what that means a little bit more, but as we looked at this, they spend their time, they put the time into it, they have passionate debate and they consider a lot of factors when they cast those very, very important and precious votes.
Third, what came out of this process, it really magnified the caution we should take in compare ourselves to other sports’ halls of fame. Bottom line is our sport is very unique, the industry is very unique, the structure of our ownership and competition and the feeder series and everything in our sport is very, very unique, and therefore our process will always be a little bit unique.
And finally, if you do want to compare us to other halls of fame, they all evolve. A little bit of homework will tell you that the process for hall of fame selection, voters, inductees, everything, they evolve over time, and I suspect ours will, as well.
With that as a background, here are six changes we’re going to announce today that are effective as we go to set the 2015 class early next year:
The first change is in driver eligibility. Currently drivers who have competed in NASCAR for at least 10 years and been retired for three are eligible for nomination into the Hall of Fame. That will not change. However, moving forward, drivers who have competed for a minimum of 10 years are immediately eligible when they reach their 55th birthday, the year after they reach their 55th birthday.
Further, any driver who’s competed in our series, national series, NASCAR series anywhere, for 30 years of competition, will be immediately eligible regardless of their age. The rationale here is you’ve competed in our sport for 30 years and you have a Hall of Fame résumé, there’s no reason you shouldn’t be considered for nomination.
Further and last point on this, drivers may continue to compete after reaching any of those milestones without compromising their eligibility for nomination. Again, our sport is unique. We have some legends that have done some incredible things on the track that may want to run a race or two, may want to run a whole season. If they’ve met those minimum criteria, God them bless, let them keep racing.
Second, a new award, a Landmark Award for outstanding contributions to NASCAR will be initiated to honor significant contributions to the success and esteem of our sport. Potential recipients of this award could be competitors, could be people working in the sanctioning body, in a racetrack, a race team, media partner, or anybody who’s just a general ambassador of our sport, professional or non-professional role.
Five nominees will be selected each year by the NASCAR Hall of Fame nominating committee, and then they will be voted on by the NASCAR Hall of Fame voting panel. To win the award, an individual will have to be on at least 60 percent of the ballots and only one award will be awarded annually if anyone reaches that threshold.
Those award winners will not be NASCAR Hall of Fame inductees, but they will remain eligible for Hall of Fame enshrinement. Likewise, a current inductee or future inductee could also be eligible to win this award. The fact that this award will be created and selected by the nominating committee and voting committee underscores how important we think those contributions may be, and again, that’s an enormous amount of responsibility on the panel to determine the selection between a Hall of Fame inductee and an award winner.
Third, for the first time the nominating committee will meet in person to discuss, debate and vote. Previously the nomination process has been conducted by mail-in ballot to an independent accounting firm. One of the things we looked at very carefully was how effective and successful that voting day debate is to get to the right inductees.
So the nominating committee will meet this year. That meeting will occur on Friday, February 21st, which is the day of the truck race at Daytona. This will be in the heart of Speedweeks. They will meet that morning, and we will announce that afternoon two ballots that they will have created: The NASCAR Hall of Fame ballot and the Landmark Award ballot.
Fourth, the NASCAR Hall of Fame ballot will be reduced from 25 to 20 nominees. That will be partially reflective of this new award. Also it’s going to put a premium on those who are on the NASCAR Hall of Fame ballot with the expected increase of the number of drivers with the eligibility change.
Fifth, any member of the nominating committee or voting panel who appeared on the previous year’s ballot or the current ballot will be recused from the process. They will remain members of those panels, but while they are on the ballot they will be recused from the process. If there is a voter who ultimately is inducted or doesn’t receive enough votes to get on the succeeding ballot, they would automatically be reinstated for participation in the process, but that one will be in effect this year.
And finally, as we already previously announced, the reigning Sprint Cup Series champion will have a vote moving forward and will be included on the voting panel, this year of course Jimmie Johnson. A lot of discussion about this was centered around how do we get more driver voices in the voting process and how do we connect the current stars to the legends of the sport. We think this achieves it very well. Jimmie is very excited to be a part of it, and I think his voice will be great in that process.
I want to address just a couple things that I know will be questioned and then one housekeeping item. There was a lot of discussion about whether or not we should continue with five, automatically inducting five each year and whether it was time to initiate a veterans’ committee, similar to what is done in other sports. We have decided that that time has not yet arrived, but we will give strong consideration to revisiting both of those propositions after the 10th class is seated. This year we’ll be seating the fifth class. Long story short, those are viable things. There was a lot of debate, a lot of discussion, but we’ve made the decision that we won’t revisit those until the 10th class is seated.
Finally, just one change and one addition to the nominating panel. Steve Phelps, NASCAR’s CMO, will replace former NASCAR executive Paul Brooks on the nominating committee. Paul will remain a member of the voting panel as a valuable member of the NASCAR community.
And finally, for the first time we will add a media voice to the nominating process by adding one member of the media to that panel, and that person is Mike Joy from NASCAR on FOX.
There are the changes that we’re making to the Hall of Fame. I’m happy to take a question or two, but again, I will be here after. I do want to get to Brian as soon as possible, but if there are any questions I would be happy to take them right now.
Q. Brett, it seems like this would open the door for guys like Mark Martin and Terry Labonte to be eligible fairly immediately. Was that the goal here?
BRETT JEWKES: It wasn’t a goal on specific drivers, and Josh can give you a whole list of those that will become immediately eligible: Bill Elliott, Terry Labonte, Mark Martin to name a few, Ken Schrader. That was not the goal. There wasn’t ever really a goal.
The discussion came to our sport is different. We have guys that compete for 20, 30, 35 years. It just makes sense. If they have a Hall of Fame résumé, the voters will determine that. To put more emphasis on the drivers, our sport has always been about the driver, and anything we can do to get more drivers in that discussion is where we wanted to go.
I think that will be very interesting for our fans to hear today, that some of those guys are going to be discussed and debated in the next six to eight, ten weeks, whatever it is, and I think it’s very deserving.
Q. Brett, as you mentioned earlier, this will be the fifth year of the induction process. As you look back on those, do you guys feel like it wasn’t the best process, and that’s why these needed to be added going forward?
BRETT JEWKES: No, and that’s a fair question. Again, I think the thing that even when Brian had the first conversation with me after the last induction, we like our process and we knew it was solid. We’re one of the only sports out there that has a broad cross-section of voters, and because our industry is unique, that’s good, so we felt very strongly to begin with. As I said earlier, every Hall of Fame evolves, the history evolves, and we thought let’s take a look at this and see where we can make it stronger, broaden the interest, involve new people in the process.
Again, the Hall of Fame is a treasure. It’s a treasure for our sport. It’s a treasure for the community of Charlotte. These guys that are going to be there are treasures for all of us for a long, long time. Anything we can do to put more focus on the drivers, bring more people into the conversation and then make this process as crisp as possible.
My biggest belief out of this whole thing, and I’m going to be very interested to talk to the voters after this is over, is this makes the responsibility to be a voter much more difficult in my opinion. It puts a lot of responsibility on them to make some tough calls. That ballot is going to be tighter. The award thing is going to be very interesting and very — going to require a lot of thought. Stronger nominees.
Having that debate and the nominating process at Daytona, I really wish that could be public. It can’t be and it never will be, but that will be an epic meeting. Just like the voting day, every voter that I’ve talked to tells me that they go into voting day with a short list of who they’re going to vote for, and I haven’t had one yet tell me that they vote the same five that they walk in there with, and it’s because that process puts new information out there. You see the passion of people to put new perspective on a guy’s career or gal’s career, and I think that’s going to be the case here.
Q. Brian talked about stronger candidates in the nominating process. We’ve seen in the past where essentially nominated, weren’t selected, are almost essentially put back on for the next year. With this new process with the nominating committee, is it essentially the board is wiped clean and we could see people that have not been nominated for more than a couple years get knocked off?
BRETT JEWKES: Well, first of all, the board has always been wiped clean. The nominating committee has never been required to nominate the same ones they did the prior year, so nothing really changes there. I think what you have is you have a smaller ballot and you have a broader selection of drivers available. I think, again, it’s probably going to happen that there are going to be nominees that fall off that have been on before.
The good news is there’s another year and there’s another year and there’s another process. At the end of the day if you look at the first five classes, 25 of the deserving people have gotten in. Next year we’ll be able to say 30 people have gotten in, and the voters will do a good job there.
Q. Brett, I guess two things: One, was there any thought given to you only added one media member to the nominating committee. There’s been some criticism that there’s too much NASCAR involvement. Any thought to changing that or adding more non-NASCAR people and why no veterans’ committee now? What was the decision there?
BRETT JEWKES: First of all, we like the nominating committee makeup right now, and I believe some of that criticism is unfair, some of it is probably fair. You have representatives from the track operating companies, from short tracks, from the community. It was important, I’ll be very honest in front of this crowd, it was very important for me personally to get a media voice in there. I think it was important.
Do we need more than that? I don’t think so right now. Again, the process will evolve. I think we have the right person in there representing, one of our long-standing media partners, certainly a guy who’s very passionate about the process.
Second question I can’t remember. Veterans’ committee.
Yeah, just overall felt like the time wasn’t right for that. Again, it’s a lot of responsibility on the voters and the nominating panel to look back at the history, deep into the history. If you look at the other halls of fame they didn’t have their veterans category until their halls of fame were decades old in some cases, so we just didn’t feel the time was right. We will look at it again after the 10th class is seated.
With that, I’ll be around after and can take any other one-on-ones, but I want to throw it to Brian and first ask him a couple questions and then throw it open to you guys. We’ll be able to go until about 9:30. First, Brian, just give us perspective on the 2013 season as we wrap it up here and talk about what will be memorable for you.
BRIAN FRANCE: Well, I think obviously we’ll start with the Gen-6 car, and there were some fair questions and expectations would we get that right, and in ‘08 arguably we didn’t. I think we changed that in a big way getting the car manufacturers, the teams and others all on the same page, and we got a better racing product, which is the center of it all for us, off to a fairly good start. We can go back to California and other very memorable races.
And then we rolled into May, and as I had been saying we were going to make some changes in competition in terms of how we looked at our rules packages and separated some things, got some more signs and art, we brought in Gene Stefanyshyn who’s been added for eight months or so now, and he’s making a lot of interesting steps that we’re looking at — that’s the heart of it all, us getting closer, tighter, and then always safe competition.
And then we rolled into a nice, unbelievably tight Chase battle, right, coming into Richmond and we had what happened at Richmond, and I would say every sport that’s large and competitive faces moments where your credibility and other things are tested, and the question is how do you respond. I think our team and our group did a very good job under the circumstances and obviously made some tough decisions, and then we rolled into the Chase and had a very, very competitive Chase, and you’re seeing some history be made, I think, with Jimmie and his team being so good at the right time is amazing.
And you saw — the last thing I would tell you is you saw a mix of things coming in the future. You saw young drivers coming up through various series. They’re going to be with us; Kyle Larson being one, at the Cup level beginning of next year; Darrell Wallace had a bit of a breakout year for himself, first time in a national series in trucks, getting a win, competing strongly just about every weekend, a bright spot in diversity for the future, a very talented young man.
And here we are, we’re here in Vegas celebrating with our industry, and this is a fun time for us, and it will be a fun time later on today, and it will be a really fun time tomorrow night.
So we had a good year, and obviously there’s some business things we’ve got accomplished like getting our media rights secured for the next decade. That’s tremendous for the industry, great visibility. NBC is going to do a really good job. I’m convinced of that. They’re beginning to make their own talent announcements here in the last week or two, and they’ll make more, and they’ll change the presentation in a very positive way.
We’ll try to get the racing even more competitive than it is today, and we’ll work with our TV partners and we’ll work with our stakeholders to make this sport as competitive and as fun and as big as it can be.
BRETT JEWKES: Let’s talk about how we spent last Wednesday, the purchase of Iowa Speedway. We’d love to have your perspective here.
BRIAN FRANCE: I wouldn’t put the fun word as an adjective of that.
BRETT JEWKES: It was a fun closing.
BRIAN FRANCE: It was interesting. We felt all along as we’d watched the Iowa Speedway go through some management changes and ownership changes in the last few years, and it became available. It’s an attractive asset in a region of the country that is very NASCAR centric, and they run multiple events for multiple series, they’ve had a lot of success. The public companies that are in the space, for various reasons, the timing wasn’t right for them, but the time was right for us. So from a NASCAR standpoint, we’ll get to give some stability to a facility that needs that, number one. We’ll be able to — we’ve got a lot of talent through our system that we’ll be able to deploy to promote, run, operate and execute that facility, and we’ll try to do our best to position it.
Now, you know, we have in recent years bought a couple of speedways: Road Atlanta and Sebring, so it’s not totally uncommon. Our family owned Martinsville for quite a long time before ISC purchased it outright. This is not terribly uncommon, but at the end of the day, it’s an attractive asset at the right price in the right place, and we’re very comfortable having made that acquisition.
BRETT JEWKES: Looking at 2014, what’s your focal point and what are some things that should be expected for next year?
BRIAN FRANCE: There will be a test on Monday. It’s an important test for us. It is, and I’ll be there. It will be led by Gene Stefanyshyn and Robin and the group, and we’re after some interesting changes to the rules packages. You’ve heard me say this for a while now, and we’ll be validating some of our beliefs, a prior test and other things, and I’m liking what I’m seeing. It’s tightening up competition, and that’s hallmark. We wake up every day and try to do that.
43 teams probably do just the opposite. They try to get up in the morning, look at our rules package and want to lead every lap and gain the system. That’s how it works, right? So we’re trying to figure that out in a bigger, smarter way, and hopefully we will accomplish that.
So that’s the number one thing that we’re trying to get off to a good start, and then we’ve got the young drivers coming. We’ve got lots of teams that have shifted around. And by the way, a Monday test is going to give some of those teams some early opportunities to feel out their new teams, some of those drivers. So that will be good for them. They help them a little bit, particularly early on at the intermediate tracks, depending on how testing goes.
So we’re going to roll in. Obviously it’s the final year of our existing TV contracts. I’ve got great assurances from one of the best partners and friends in the business in John Skipper at ESPN, that this remains an important property for them, past and present, and they’re going to do a great job as we say goodbye in their final year, and then we’ll be getting NBC up to speed and getting — you’ll start to see some of the — more announcements on talent and presentation. You’re going to hear a lot about integration, about how they’re going to use the Olympics and the NFL and all of the assets that NBC Universal are going to bring to bear because this is a franchise decision for them to come into NASCAR. They’re putting a big financial bet down, and they really want to make this sport bigger and better, and I have a lot of faith in them.
So we’ll get off hopefully to a good start with the Daytona 500. As you know, they’re under way with their massive construction project, so there will be a few cranes in the air when you get down there, but hopefully it will get off to a good start and have a great 2014.
Q. Brian, long-term or short-term, is there any plans or efforts of NASCAR to get new manufacturers into Sprint Cup?
BRIAN FRANCE: Well, it’s very complicated to do at the Cup level, mostly because it’s very hard for a manufacturer to secure enough good-quality teams in the short run for them. They all want to come in and be competitive.
That said, there is some room there, and I would also tell you, we didn’t get into sports car racing just to be in sports car racing. We got in it because it gave us some strategic relationships, namely relationships with OEMs around the world, and those are going to prove to be beneficial as they see how NASCAR works in the road racing series that they participate in now, and I think they’ll like the way we handle competition and manufacturers and so on.
So my hope is — I’ve had nothing but praise for Toyota as an example who came in a few years ago and what they’ve done for the sport. They’ve made racing better, promoted it bigger, and if we can attract a new manufacturer to come in, that would be terrific.
Q. You look at the reach of NBC and there’s always excitement when a new network comes in, but they have been speaking out about the fact that they feel like they can get more butts in the seats via what they plan to do on the television side of things. What do you see that they will be able to do differently that might create that?
BRIAN FRANCE: First, it’s a priority for them. And no disrespect to ESPN. I just said, they’re one of the great partners in that space we’ve ever had. They’ve got a lot of things to focus on, right? NBC has chosen a different route. They have big what they called tent pole franchises in the NFL and NHL, ourselves. So right away, we’re going to get a lot more attention simply because it’s their focus. They’re going to use the assets within the Universal platform, the E Channel, things that we don’t think about every day, to cross-promote day in and day out.
And when you create interest levels that hopefully go up, we match that with even better racing than we have today, our goal. We bring out our stars, which is something that Jill Gregory and others are working on now, and our teams, and then they have something to really, really promote, and then by definition it’s better TV ratings, better interest level and more admission tickets sold.
Q. You reduced the officiating staff for next year to streamline the process. How will the officiating look different next year? Will we see any changes that we would notice on pit road, and will fans notice anything different?
BRIAN FRANCE: The big thing you’re going to notice, we didn’t just reduce the staff of the officials just because. We’re going to technology, which is the other thing I left out. So over time you’re going to see pit road technology. What do I mean by that? I mean cameras. I mean different ways that we’re going to inspect the cars using technology as much as possible, and we’ll be using that data and information for fans, as well. So it won’t be that we’ll just be able to capture — what you hear now as a buzz word is big data, right? You hear that word being used a lot. And some of the other leagues are looking at how they’re going to use what they call the big data opportunity.
Whether it’s small data or big data, we’re going to be using it, and our hope is to do two things: One is to be either more accurate in how we inspect the pit stops pre- and post-race inspections. We also want to be more relevant to companies, and you’ve heard me say this before, that arguably this sport should have a lot of technology companies.
But we’re not as relevant as we can be right now. We’re going to change that over time. HP came in with us on our fan to media engagement center and spent tens of millions of dollars promoting that position and that technology that they helped us create and promoted the sport at the same time. That’s our hope.
Our hope is that when — let’s take Meg Whitman at HP. We get Meg Whitman to a race and she walks around, and I’m talking about the first quarter of next year. Down the road, she walks around and she looks at technology at pit stations, she looks at cameras and infrared, all kinds of cool stuff going on, all relevant, all important. That’s going to make her feel a lot more comfortable with our company, with our technologies being a part of that. That’s what we’re trying to do, pure and simple.
BRETT JEWKES: It also helps us push more data back to the fans.
BRIAN FRANCE: That was the second part. That’s correct.
Q. You said that as far as the Iowa acquisition goes that it was not — the timing wasn’t right for the public company. From ISC’s standpoint, is that because of the current capital commitment to Daytona, and do you see a time in the future where Iowa might become a part of the ISC portfolio?
BRIAN FRANCE: It’s always possible. They made a decision that they had plenty on their plate. They’re not too far up the road of course in Kansas already, and with Daytona Rising, they’ve got hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars of capital committed, and also I don’t think they wanted to lose their focus on all that, so they felt it wasn’t in their interest at this time.
Q. Are you looking at changes for next year, or can you talk about the idea of incentivizing winning a little bit more, and I bring it up partly because you remember the Talladega fall race where everybody kind of ran in line the last 10, 15 laps in that kind of bizarre finish, and yet you heard guys talk during the Chase about how you can’t have a bad finish and how guys that have problems in Chicago in one sense or another are almost kind of eliminated right from the start and didn’t have the opportunity to get back in because the penalty was so severe? Are you looking at changes for 2014 to further incentivize that so we don’t have some of those situations, or can you talk about that?
BRIAN FRANCE: Yeah, drivers tend to — it’s usually the glass is half full for those guys whenever they’re explaining what just happened or what might happen, so you’ve got to put that into some perspective. But do I think we have it perfect in terms of the right incentives to win? I don’t think we do. I think we can do — I’m not willing to say exactly what it’ll be, but I think we can do a little bit better.
But I saw some things that I thought, hey, not that they weren’t trying to win, but that maybe the incentives or the risk might have outweighed that, and we’ll be looking at that. I think the first thing for us is to get the rules packages in the best place that we can, and by the way, that’ll be an ongoing — we have it right today and they may not be right a year from now. So I would say we’re always going to look at that because winning has to be the most important thing.
Then it’s balanced, though, that there are 42 other teams on the same playing field, racetrack, at the same time. So we can’t have a — somebody wins, somebody loses. 98 percent of the field is going to lose. So we have to balance that a little bit. But there’s some things we can do to keep working on that. I said our priority is the rules packages, but after that will be some format discussion or format discussion every year. Race links, we’ve made changes in that.
We ought not do those things before we get as comfortable as we can on do we have the best packages for these cars right now, and I think trying to do formats and race incentives and all kinds of other things before you do — you see how it plays out — look, if we do the things that we’re looking at, we’re looking for more green flag lead changes. That’s what we’re looking for. We’re looking for tighter racing, in particular on the mile-and-a-halfs. It’s a hard thing to do because you’ve got, as I said, 43 of the best teams in the world trying to figure out how to gain whatever it is and lead every lap every minute. That’s what they do. That’s their job.
Q. I don’t have the empirical data handy, but I’ve been hearing that millenials, whatever, don’t care about cars as much as people of previous generations. I was wondering what NASCAR is doing to address fans. If they don’t like cars, how do you get them interested in car racing?
BRIAN FRANCE: Well, there’s a lot of data on that in lots of places. I wouldn’t say it like that. I think it is proved that they’re waiting longer to buy — to get their driver’s license than I did, certainly. I was there on my 16th birthday ready to get my liberty and freedom and drive my car all over town, right. And they’re getting their liberty and freedom every day on a device going all over the world, right.
That’s true in some respects. What’s also true is that they like social things using their device that is relevant to a specific event, and there will be nowhere in any sport over time that they’ll become — that millenials will come to a NASCAR race hopefully and use their device to interact with the event in ways that will be super cool and super unique. That’s an exciting thing for a lot of people on our team to help — and the tracks, who really are zeroed into this, Daytona in particular, over the next decade as that all unfolds.
But that’s just cultural shifts going on, right? That’s just part of it. We’ll figure out how we fit in and do the best we can.
Q. There’s been a lot of talk about possible changes to the Cup schedule in 2015. How likely do you feel there will be significant change, and what would be your priorities when looking at possible changes?
BRIAN FRANCE: Most tracks with a couple of exceptions don’t like to give up a date that’s worked for them and so on that they’ve had for a long time. So there might be a change or two, but I wouldn’t predict any significant changes.
Q. Brian, NASCAR was faced with probably one of its toughest credibility issues this year at Richmond. I was just wondering using a little 20/20 hindsight, how did you feel that NASCAR responded to it, and in the message that you sent both the competitors and to fans, do you think it was a strong one enough to allay any doubts that they may have going forward?
BRIAN FRANCE: Well, I have a lot of confidence that in six days we tackled a lot. We had a number of scenarios going on at the same time that all contributed to what we had to deal with. And the question is in a kind of a crisis like that, what are your priorities. Our first priority was to deal swiftly. That’s the number one. Not let something linger into the Chase or get confused with that.
The second was try to do the right thing, even if it wasn’t going to be the most popular thing.
And the third thing that I found out in these kind of situations is trying to explain a solution in a very complicated set of circumstances is probably the hardest thing to do. But looking back, I wouldn’t change anything, and I’m not one of these guys that walks around and never says that.
I just think we moved swiftly. I think we sent an undeniable message that we were not going to tolerate that. And I think — and I said earlier, it does test you a little bit. In every sport sometime in the cycle, hopefully it’s very rare, has a moment where these things happen. They’re always different because of every sport, but I like what our group did. In six days, investigate three different situations, rule on them, rewrite entire important rules area.
We did that on Saturday morning, by the way. I had our guys fly in, I sat in for four or five hours to really — we had done some work on it during the week after we had done the investigation, and then we wrote the new rule that morning. That’s the urgency that we had, and then made the announcements and then of course I dealt with the drivers and the crew chiefs later on that afternoon. That’s the sequence of things, so I feel good about it.
Q. Brian, you’ve mentioned Daytona Rising project. Give me the perspective, NASCAR’s perspective on that project.
BRIAN FRANCE: Well, I think the size of it is obviously very significant. I think it’s going to change the experience because it’ll be the only stadium-style speedway in the world. And I think obviously it’s the biggest event and the kickoff. It’s not just the biggest event on the schedule. We all know that, right? What else it is, though, is that’s the moment every year at Daytona that we get an opportunity to reach millions of fans that at no other event that we do, to take a look at us. You know the ratings, 30 million people watch and all of that. 15 million of those people, they’ll watch us every week.
So to the extent we get off to a good start and the racing is good at Phoenix and other subsequent events that we’ve got on the schedule, so Daytona by making this investment helps that equation. It’s also where our whole industry gathers, sponsors and media partners, to kick it off. So having a state-of-the-art facility was very important.
So they’re doing a lot of things that are going to be helpful, not only to their company, but I know to the industry, too.
Q. Can you address qualifying? There’s been talk that we could see some changes in qualifying in the near future.
BRIAN FRANCE: I think you will, and it’s the one format that we will deal with because it’s not part of the race-day event. And our goal is to make that a little more exciting, a little more interesting for the fans. The track operators have certainly wanted that for a long time, and they’re right. So we’ve been working on some ideas, and there will be something pretty shortly on that, and it will make it more exciting, qualifying.
Q. What do you make of the Formula 1 race being scheduled against Texas?
BRIAN FRANCE: Well, I wouldn’t have done that myself. You might expect me to say that. I’m sure they had the same kind of scheduling challenges that we do. They go all over the world, and that was what they chose. It wouldn’t be my first choice.
I expect them to suffer a lot more than Texas will suffer. I don’t think it’s good for either group or either series. That’s their prerogative to schedule events when they want to and see how it works out.
Q. We’ve heard you discuss how you feel your team responded to Richmond and how proud you are of that. But I’m curious about your personal emotion, when you realized what was going on, what impact that would have on the sport that your family built, and just when you realize that there is blatant manipulation of a race occurring, what was that like for you personally, your emotion?
BRIAN FRANCE: I was pissed off, if you really want to know the truth.
Q. I do, thank you.
BRIAN FRANCE: I was very angry about it. But I also knew that I’m a student of — as you guys know, of sports. I don’t know if I’m the biggest sports fan in the company. I kind of say I am. But I had seen — and I knew that if we dealt with it, if we dealt with it really straight on, that we wouldn’t have a long-term blemish. It was going to be really tough, especially for the teams that got penalized, losing sponsors; that was no fun for anybody. But I knew that our credibility would be preserved if we did the right thing and we acted swiftly, and over time.
So I wasn’t ever worried about that. But of course we were disappointed. But that’s just the nature, I guess, of competitive sports. You’ve got human beings trying to do their best, and sometimes they cross lines they shouldn’t cross.
Q. Brian, in January you said about the Gen-6 car, about how it would be evaluated. You said you would measure it by lead changes and how it races. There were fewer lead changes this year in 2013 than 2012. How would you grade the Gen-6? Was it below average based on that because that was the standard for how you were going to judge it? And I guess expanding on that a little bit, any potential for format changes competition wise beyond qualifying in terms of racing for the future?
BRIAN FRANCE: Well, I didn’t quite say that. I said that was an important criteria. There’s never one thing we’re going to judge. The number one thing we had to judge in the Gen-6 car was acceptance by the manufacturers, the teams and the drivers. That’s the number one thing. And then obviously we want to get more lead changes and we want to get closer, tighter competition. I’d love a photo finish every weekend if I could pull a lever up in the tower to create that. I’m obviously kidding.
The point is that we’re going to be working all the time on getting the competition — and it should have — lead changes are going to be a huge part. I think that is a big measuring stick. But it’s not the only one. Safety is in there in a high place, acceptance, all kinds of things.
BRETT JEWKES: We want to thank you guys for a great season. You guys worked very, very hard, you and our media partners. Thank you for that. Thanks for spending a little bit of time with us this morning.One Comment