Both Big Bill and Bill France Jr. spent most of, if not all, of their working lives running the sport their family built from the ground up over 60 years ago.
If what grandson/son Brian said in the annual Street and Smith's Motorsports Marketing Forum yesterday is true, don't expect that France family tradition to continue. Specifically, the third generation of Frances to lead NASCAR had this to say:
“I have said I will not have a 30-year run like my father for a variety of reasons. We have so many talented people in this sport, [which] I think wears you out. I don’t think you’re effective for 30 years."
This may be the best news I've read in some time concerning NASCAR. As you may know, I am a vocal critic of the sanctioning body, and how they currently operate America's greatest motorsports venture. Brian France has deviated from how his father and grandfather ran the sport for over a half century.
Bill Sr. and Jr. were worried about the competitors and competition aspects of the sport first, fans second, and making money third. Brian has reversed that trend in my opinion, appearing to follow the lead of other professional sports by making as much money as possible without giving much of a thought to either the fans or competitors.
Essentially, he has turned NASCAR from an organization that cared about racing into one that cares about being a cash cow, and it is turning off many people. I guarantee that if you did a poll of people who have been NASCAR fans for decades, an overwhelming majority would disapprove of the job Brian France has done as Chairman and CEO.
I wouldn't be surprised if a majority of the newer fans were in the same boat as well. Read message boards when you get a chance. I bet you will be hard pressed to find one positive remark about France.
Yes, Big Bill France and Bill France Jr. wanted to go home with a profit at the end of the day. What sensible business owner would not? But they would never sacrifice the very lifeblood of their sport, the fans and teams, to increase the bottom line.
Brian appears to be using his background in business to accomplish this, and is likely going to set off a chain reaction that leads NASCAR down a slippery slope.
We are already seeing declining TV ratings, which should actually be increasing as the economy slumps and race attendance plummets. Many fans are simply losing interest in the product being offered, including people who have followed the sport since the days of Lorenzen, Flock, and Weatherly.
Whether boring racing, long races, poor TV coverage, or uninteresting drivers (or another cause) is to blame, the responsibility for the proverbial NASCAR bubble bursting in the past couple years ultimately falls on Brian France's shoulders.
As I mentioned above, France's problem is his need for green, and his lack of a need for speed. I truly don't think the guy actually enjoys the sport. Maybe that is why he is so hellbent on breaking the traditions laid down by his father and grandfather, while laying down his own lasting legacy on NASCAR.
In the same interview on Tuesday, Brian also pointed out that Kansas will likely have a second date by 2010, and of course, it will be at the expense of an ISC track. You can probably count on that victim being one of Martinsville's two dates.
Yes, it makes perfect sense to take away yet another short track race in a small market and move it to a cookie cutter track that will have trouble filling the seats and cause the audience at home to doze off around lap 50.
Short tracks were, and continue to be, at the root of American motorsports. Not 1.5 mile tri-ovals. He will be yearning for those 60,000 filled seats in tiny Martinsville, Va., when tracks in markets such as Los Angeles and Kansas City are struggling to fill half of their 80,000 or 90,000 seats five years down the line.
It was music to my ears to hear that France doesn't plan to stay with NASCAR for his entire career. The sooner he is gone, the better it will be for everyone and the long term health of the sport.
Unfortunately, the sad part of it is when he departs, there is not really another France ready to step up and take his place, so for the first time, NASCAR would be run by somebody other than a France family member.
No one knows exactly how much longer Brian France will be CEO. It could be one year or 20. And finding a replacement will be difficult.
The sport needs someone who has a balance of business and racing knowledge, while at the same time opting to worry more about the competitors and fans than the bottom line.
One guy I really like and would be perfect for Brian France's current role is Chad Little. The former driver is currently the tour director for the Whelen Modifieds, and seems to be having a positive impact on that long running series.
A combination of racing and business saavy, the intelligent Little (who holds a Juris Doctor from Gonzaga) would be a great resource for all of NASCAR. Just wishful thinking on my part, but something to ponder.
There are probably tens of other names out there to consider for the role, and as I said, France could still be around for a lot longer in his current role, but it is always fun to speculate.