Follow me on

Twitter Feed Facebook Feed RSS Feed Linked In Youtube

Brian France: Just like his father, and his father's father, he's been changing the face of this sport

  Bill France Jr.: some big shoes to fill (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)  

   By Mike Mulhern

   Maybe so.
   Maybe too.
   Too brusque?
   Well, yes, to be honest.
   But, hey, time to give credit where credit's due, now that he's well into his eighth season as sports boss, and two years into the great U.S. economic slowdown.
   With his legendary grandfather, Big Bill, and his legendary father, Billy Jr., having been inducted, emotionally, into NASCAR's newest Hall of Fame, this $200 million high-techy place in downtown Charlotte, it's time to start looking at the third generation France and consider where he fits into all of this.
   Remembering some of those face-to-face showdowns Bill France Jr. had over the years with feisty rivals like Junior Johnson and Richard Petty and Bruton Smith.....
   And of course those hard-nosed battles Bill France Sr. had too, with men like Curtis Turner and Carl Kiekhaefer and the Detroit auto giants....
   Well, certainly Brian France, now 47, and going on eight years at the helm of the family sport, has been making a name for himself...beginning with that historic network television deal that changed the face of this thing.
   Whatever Brian France is, he's not old-school.
   Yet while this NASCAR CEO has a quite different style, in many respects, than the two who came before him, in one key aspect he's clearly cut from the same cloth – ruling with an iron fist...and fearless in his confidence.

   Big Bill France Sr.: rough and tough, back in the era of fists and guns (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   Big Bill, from the rough-and-tumble years of the sport, had his challenges, from the Kiekhaefer multi-driver days of the 1950s, the Detroit rampages and excesses of the 1960s, the Talladega dramas and traumas....
   And Bill Jr. had his challenges too, right from the git-go, with the nearly devastating Detroit pullout from the sport, and the lingering economic malaise of the 1970s...which he and R. J. Reynolds's execs like Jerry Long, Ralph Seagraves and T. Wayne Robertson used as opportunity to rebuild the sport with a new business model through the 1970s and 1980s and 1990s.
   Now Brian is facing his own challenges, the current U.S. economic recession that has reached into nearly every aspect of this sport.
   By this fall, we should all be able to measure just how well he has succeeded.
   On the plus side, Brian France, right from the start, has been willing to innovate. And even before that, putting together a mammoth, sport-changing network TV package that kicked off in 2001. 
   When Reynolds abruptly pulled out in 2004, he quickly wheeled and dealed for a new series sponsor, Nextel, now Sprint....at double the sponsorship price point (although without the grassroots marketing).
   And he pushed hard for the car-of-tomorrow, despite long-running controversy over its drivability.
   And he promoted a major shakeup in the championship points system, creating the 10-race 'chase,' also controversial, and still.
   On top of that, France – albeit with remarkably fortunate timing – renegotiated a massive new TV contract in late 2005, for an incredible 40 percent increase in rights fees, in a deal running from 2007 through 2014. It is that multi-billion-dollar deal which is helping the sport weather the current economic crisis. (And there are apparently no clauses in that deal to measure the annual checks by TV rating....)

   The NASCAR brain trust, circa 1957, reviewing blueprints for Daytona International Speedway: Big Bill France (R) and Bill France Jr. (L) (Photo: NASCAR)

   Yes, France and his men stumbled in trying to put a new race track in New York City and a new track in the Seattle area.
   And this car-of-tomorrow hasn't been the great equalizer or cost-cutter envisioned.
   And the Jeremy Mayfield thing dragged on way too long. (But throughout that deal France has been head-strong about the new substance abuse program he put into place in the fall of 2008.)
   France has been quick to embrace and push just about every possible marketing and promotional venture, in what has made for an almost dizzying daily rush of 'news.' That's a big plus for the sport, in light of the virtual collapse the past two years of the print-media world, which once – before such Big TV – carried the freight for NASCAR.
   You want 'green?' He does green.
   You want diversity? He does diversity. From Juan Pablo Montoya to Mexico City to Danica Patrick...Hey, it's only good, smart business.
   You want an expanded presence in the U.S.? He opens NASCAR offices in New York City and Los Angeles (and expands NASCAR's own presence in Charlotte).
   You want more international? He adds Montreal.
   You want B2B? He and his people network, and leverage, like every business they can. Consider one interesting angle:  http://www.brand-sense.com/ .
   During the last years of ironman Billy Jr.'s rule, the NASCAR boss seemed at time the engineer on a runaway train, as rapidly as new tracks and new markets and new ventures opened. But Brian has bulked up his staff with so many people it's hard to keep track of who does what.
   Yet through it all, Brian France has at times almost seemed a lightning rod for criticism.
   For example: this month's heavily promoted opening of the new Hall of Fame downtown comes at the expense of ignoring the sport's long-standing Hall of Fame at Darlington Raceway, for some odd reason.
   For one thing, he doesn't come to the track every week. In fact, he sometimes doesn't come to the track for weeks.
   Unlike his father, who would be sitting in the commander's chair in the garage every NASCAR Sunday, taking the pulse of his sport, and listening to criticism, from the big guys to the little guys alike.
   Maybe it's partly his not-so-folksy approach to things. Too brusque, some might say, too unapproachable, too distant.
   So is Brian France underrated, overly-criticized, even under-appreciated? Hey, it's just part of the game. And this is a rough, tough game.


  The NASCAR brain trust today: Mike Helton (L), Brian France (C) and Steve O'Donnell (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

  Brian France is certainly no mere caretaker. He's been aggressive in his role as sports boss. Where his father might have played to the conservative side of things, Brian France is willing to gamble big. And he makes things happen...for better or worse. With that comes criticism. But certain too headlines.
   And under his rule NASCAR has become a bigger part of the American lexicon.
   Perhaps key: he doesn't panic.
   When faced with the imminent cutbacks in newspaper coverage of this sport, France went straight to the annual Associated Press Sports Editor's national convention to address that. Unsuccessfully, in the end, but give him points for pushing the issue.
   When ABC unexpectedly dumped the chase in January (moving to ESPN, which actually might be a good move, in the grand scheme of things), France moved swiftly to regain the offensive, with his 'Boys, have at it.'
    And when Carl Edwards drop-kicked Brad Keselowski almost into the grandstands at Atlanta, in a deliberately retaliatory move, France backed up his 'have at it,' with just slap-on-the-wrist probation.
   When fans, in 2004, criticized yellow flag finishes, with beer cans on the track, he created the green-white-checkered overtime finish.
   When faced with similar criticism, just this past February at Daytona, almost overnight he created the triple-overtime GWC.
  And last summer he added double-file restarts for the race leaders to the game, a surprisingly major game-changer.
   Despite what you might think about some of his calls, or some of his decisions, you have to admit he man-ups when it counts.
     [Note: You can use Twitter as an easy headline service for mikemulhern.net stories, with our instant Tweets to your mobile as soon as our newest NASCAR story is filed. And mikemulhern.net is mobile-friendly for viewing. You can also use the orange RSS feed button as a quickie headline service on your laptop or home computer for mikemulhern.net stories, by creating a Live Bookmark RSS feed on your web browser's toolbar. Or you can create a Google Alert for mikemulhernnet.]


   NASCAR's Brian France: the buck stops here (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

Sorry, But Brian Is A Bust So Far

Sorry Mike, but I can't give much respect to Brian France. In the eight years he's been in charge there have been a lot of changes, but what no one notices is that most of the changes were forced on the sport without need.

The TV deal sounds good, except it has not benefitted the sport as much as the old deal of individual tracks negotiating their own TV deals did. He pushed for the Car Of Tomorrow, a fight he could never win when it became obvious the COT could not deliver on any of its promises - that fight only makes Brian look like a bigger fool, a trend begun with the Chase format, a format that ostensibly was designed to address the issue of uncompetitive points races but in fact was simply a way of avoiding addressing the issue of uncompetitive points races. Brian could have addressed it with the obvious solution - front-loading massive point bonuses for wins and most laps led - yet has refused to even consider it and in fact seems hostile to the concept of a points system that directly rewards performance (winning and leading).

"You want 'green'?" No - green is a myth - if Brian were a real leader he'd have stood athwart the crowd pushing ecofascism and said NO.

"You want diversity?" Again, a real leader would have said no - "diversity" is a quota system with no place in any performance endeavor such as pro sports. Danica Patrick has done nothing but prove the sham of "diversity," and despite winning at Sears Point Juan Montoya has done little to attract new fans and has actually done an okay job of alienating some fans.

It comes down to what is NOT happening that remains the stain on Brian France's tenure -

* The racing, despite two-abreast restarts, is not substantively better - until we start seeing 40-plus lead change races other than the plate tracks, there has been zero progress there.

* The officiating tower retains far too much control of the racing - until the day comes when there is no pit closure rule, no pit speed limits, no yellow line rule, etc., "Boys have at is" has no teeth - all it did was take away the rule banning push-drafting in the corners that was nothing but a bluff to begin with.

* Team spending is the sport's greatest challenge - where is the spending cap?

* The tire monopoly - The sport needs the additional revenue of Firestone and Hoosier in addition to the increased engineering help spread among more teams they can provide, yet the Goodyear monopoly remains.

The sport may be better than it was a few years ago, but that's damning Brian France with faint praise.

As usual, mon, you never

As usual, mon, you never cease to amaze me with your assessments. a lot of good points here, and i certainly agree to an extent with some of them myself, particularly the issue of giving bonus points for leading laps and winning -- excellent there, and right on the mark.
each of these issues you raise i need to address in other stories, which i will. the tire monopoly, for example, is very interesting...only every time i try to bring it up in the garage with drivers and crews they all kick me off the truck -- too much work, and neil bonnett is dead, and remember bill elliott's broken leg, and all that. i understand; but i think you have a very good point.
yes, the tower, with its cautions and such, does exert a lot of control over the race, with questions of 'jimmie johnson yellows' and 'dale jr. yellows' and such. and i have been a long skeptic of some of that....however in the last few years i have generally agreed with most of the controversial calls nascar has made -- not the 'late whistles' on yellows, like daytona 2007 or other freeze-frame yellows, or the dale jr below the yellow line at talladega, and such. but most of them. i do strongly agree with the pit road speed limit rule; i was at atlanta when mike rich was killed, and i have seen pit road at its worst. the speed limit is one of the best things nascar has done, for safety. I do think a driver should be penalized for hitting a crewman on pit road though. slowing speeds around the track, by cutting horsepower, should be the next major point to be addressed by nascar.....
and more from me to follow. thanks for the jump start.

What a bunch of garbage!!

What a bunch of garbage!!

perhaps....but make some

perhaps....but make some specific points: see how stp43fan responded.

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Enter the characters shown in the image.

© 2010-2011 www.mikemulhern.net All rights reserved.
Web site by www.webdesigncarolinas.com