Thursday, January 22, 2009
France: Earlier remarks 'misunderstood'
By David Newton ESPN.com
CONCORD, N.C. -- NASCAR chairman Brian France doesn't plan to leave the sport, which has been run by a member of his family since it began in 1949, anytime soon.
France's intentions came under question after he said last month at a motorsports marketing forum in New York that he would not be in the sport for 30 years like his father, Bill France Jr.
NASCAR chairman Brian France wanted to make clear Thursday that he's in the job for the long haul.
That, along with speculation from a few years ago that the 46-year-old France might relocate an existing NFL franchise to Los Angeles, had some questioning his dedication and effectiveness.
But France insisted on Thursday during the final stop of the NASCAR media tour that he plans to be around the sport founded by his grandfather, Bill France Sr., for a long time.
"This gets misunderstood whenever I say something like that," France said. "It simply means that my father [spent] 32 years as CEO and president of NASCAR. All I said was that's not in the cards for me, I don't think it's a smart thing for the sport.
"It doesn't mean I won't have a long run. I hope I do. I hope I'm doing what I'm doing. I really like what I'm doing and like working in the industry."
But France didn't rule out the possibility that the sport could one day be run without a France in charge.
"Being a France is great from a heritage standpoint," he said. "But you still have to have the ability and ambition to do that. If there's a time when there's not a France willing to do that then there will be a time when somebody else will lead it."
NASCAR president Mike Helton defended France and his boss' effectiveness as a leader.
"We all get up and recognize every day that the France family created this sport and the France family is still very much in charge of it, and Brian is the face of that family that sits in that seat," Helton said. "I knew his grandfather. I worked and learned a lot from his father. I worked and learned a lot from Brian.
"I can tell you the passion that his grandfather had and his father had, Brian has as well."
In some ways, Helton said, Brian France might be more effective as a leader.
"Today's business is different," he said. "Bill and Jim France recognized that several years ago when they started creating and allowing us to build a different NASCAR from a management level."
France said he and Helton have become one of the best tandems in all of sports. They implemented the new playoff system known as the Chase for the Championship, orchestrated the new television deal and helped take the sport to markets beyond its Southern roots.
Over the past year alone the two have helped put in cost-saving measures during tough economic times and are working toward making the sport more energy efficient and environmentally sound.
France talked in great detail about a meeting last year with former Vice President Al Gore on environmental issues impacting the sport.
"As long as we're having fun and making progress as an industry I will continue to do it," France said, "but I'm 46 now. I don't think I'll be 76 and still talking to you. That doesn't mean a short window. It doesn't mean 30 years, and that's where we are."
When France says "fun," he doesn't mean he'll bail after tough seasons such as 2008.
"The high fuel prices really put our fans in a difficult spot," he said. "Then the manufacturers had their issues in the fall when the credit crisis and all the repercussion of the high-energy costs occurred. So it was a very difficult year to get through.
"We will get through it. This is a fixture in American culture, this sport. We have seen tough times before. We're actually optimistic about '09 for a lot of reasons."
David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.