Jim France needs to drive the bus.
The 73-year-old brother of the late Bill France Jr., Jim France has spent his life working mostly behind the scenes. But after his nephew, Brian France, stepped aside from his role as NASCAR chairman and CEO a day after he was arrested New York for aggravated driving while intoxicated and criminal possession of a controlled substance (oxycodone), Jim France now finds himself in charge.
And France needs to be in charge.
For the last few years, it’s felt like NASCAR has been a runaway train, bus, plane, whatever you want to call it, without a clear direction and leader. Just spinning its wheels year after year, race after race. As Kyle Busch would say, everything is great.
Sure, everyone knew that Brian France was in charge, but he was hardly seen at the track, and considered unapproachable when he was present. On the few occasions that he spoke the media, he could come off as confrontational while offering views on the state of the sport that were in direct contrast to numbers and opinions of others within the garage.
But now Brian is gone; maybe permanently, maybe not. Whatever the case, Jim France and the rest of the France family have been presented with the opportunity to turn the black eye Brian has given the sport into a positive.
Jim France needs to be the exact opposite of his nephew, and it must start this weekend at Michigan International Speedway. France should get out in the garage, show interest and engagement with the competitors, media, and fans, and in doing so, indicate that he will not hide from this situation and his responsibilities.
More, France should shine a light on the road ahead and his intentions by giving the media the opportunity to hear directly from him. Again – no hiding. Be the leader the sport needs right now and a source of optimism for everyone worried about its future.
Being in charge with no timetable is a fluid situation, except that Jim France can hit the ground running because he’s been here. For those who are less familiar with Jim France – he co-owns the sport with Lesa France Kennedy, and a leadership role where he is involved in decision-making is not new to him.
That said, there is no need for a get-up-to-speed period. France now has the title that gives him more power and a more significant voice in what will go on from here forward.
France might have fresh ideas that are much-needed, considering he now controls a sport that has been in ratings and attendance decline for years. Will he take them more seriously than others have and give them the attention they need?
France is also likely to hear the continued debate about the proposed 2019 rules package (aka the All-Star Race package) to be used in select events. Does France say the series is moving forward with that, or change course?
Those will just be some of the immediate issues likely crossing his desk. Or at least, they should be. Before the sport can move forward, someone has to make sure the bus is going in the right direction.
If there’s any bright side to this ordeal, Jim France is his own man with his own ideas, some of which mightn’t have made it out of the boardroom. Yet.
Brian France embarrassed an already-struggling NASCAR this week. His uncle now has the chance to revive it.