NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France expressed optimism on many fronts during his annual end-of-the-season news conference Sunday morning at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
“I’m really more optimistic right now, and I know you may expect me to say that, but we’ve made the transition largely,” France said of the changes in the sport, such as driver turnover and the economics in the garage. “We’ve gotten the council meetings going. We’ve gotten charters in position so we can get our interests aligned more closely with drivers, OEMs and the charters and the team owners.
“We have the young drivers already in place. We’d like a couple more, of course. We’ve got some diversity with Bubba Wallace going in the 43 car. We like that. We’d love to see more of that. And we like all the changes that we’ve made in the last four or five years, including stage racing this year. It has created the things that we thought were important.”
Most of the questions posed to France during the nearly 30-minute availability concerned the changes NASCAR has seen in recent years. Teams are having to shuffle their driver lineups or shutter. Veteran drivers are leaving in rapid succession. And of course, the constant focus on ratings and attendance.
France said it is “not quite accurate” to say the ratings and attendance have not risen “because attendance is up at many, many events. I think it’s 20 something events, 22 or 23, and consumption is changing for everybody.”
Here are a few of France’s other offerings:
On how Monster Energy has reached the young audience:
“We’ve been really pleased with how Monster has come in and engaged with our fans and the show out here this weekend will demonstrate that. In all markets, it’s been fantastic. They’re young, edgy demo, they’re motorsports-centric and they always have been in their culture. We’re really pleased. I’ve been out to their headquarters three different times to work with them because this is also a complicated sport to make sure that they’re getting all the value, but they’re getting a lot of value, and we’re very pleased with where that relationship is.”
Response to fans who want more short tracks on the schedule:
“I think you always have the realignment possibilities [with the schedule], places like Iowa and other things, other places, that always could be. Things are always fluid in the track world. They’re buying tracks, developing sometimes, and lately it’s been pretty quiet because of the economy, but that all could change around, and we’ll see how that goes. But we love short track racing. It’s one of my favorite things to do. As a matter of fact, I think this right here from a racing standpoint is the best mile and a half because of the progressive compound banking, and you’ll see drivers in four different lanes all day long. This is the most exciting – for my money, it’s my personal favorite. Everyone has got their own favorites. But we love short track racing, and we’ll have to see how that goes.”
Whether the current business model in the garage needs to be addressed:
“That’s why we did the charters in the first place. You’ve got to look at things in a longer view backwards and forwards. We’ve always had situations where we had too many sponsors at one point. You may recall that. Richard Petty, his car couldn’t make one of the events; there were too many cars. And there’s always a peak and valley with sponsorship. And you’re correct, most of the other leagues are all based on simply media rights, and we have a big sponsorship component, as we do for the tracks, too, by the way.
“We’re confident that, as Brent [NASCAR President Brent Dewar] says, engagement and consumption in other areas, which are hard to measure now, that’s going to change shortly. There’s a couple different firms that are going to be able to measure that where we can demonstrate additional value or the teams can, but this is not a new thing. And so how you respond to it is to give as much visibility as we can, which we’ve done, and you do try to keep making the racing better, and then taking cost out of the system when it’s appropriate.
“We’ve got a nice smart way to do it, it’s not just a cost-cutting exercise, it’s rather getting – as we cycle in new cars, new engine programs and so on and so forth, working closely with the OEMs and others, we believe we can do that. The team owners believe we can do that. We’ll get through it. It’s not an abnormal peak and valley.”