Have you ever read the obituary of Bill France Jr., from the Associated Press? It’s actually a very good read. It reminded me of how great of a job he did…but it left me wondering if today’s management at NASCAR is scared to make a decision.
A part of the obituary reads; “A shrewd businessman who was fiercely protective of his family-owned company, France always acted in NASCAR’s best interests. His decisions often riled car owners, drivers, sponsors and fans, but France never backed down. He was in charge – like it or not – and he quickly reminded dissenters.”
Jeff Burton contributed to the obituary by saying, “Part of leadership is having the guts to make a decision and then having the guts to stand by it and making it work. That’s what he did on a lot of occasions. He did it in a way that let you know who the boss was and also did it in a way that you respected him. And I’ve said it all along I think that is the cornerstone in our sport.”
Take a moment and read Jeff Burton’s quote again.
Jeff’s comments were true back then. Now apply his quote to today’s NASCAR. Who is the boss now and is NASCAR making the decisions?
At the beginning of the 2016 season Tony Stewart said, “I want to see Brian France at the track more. I want to see him walking through the garage more. I want to see him being more active than just showing up and patting the sponsors on the back and going up in the suite. I want to see him down there in the trenches with everybody and understanding what’s truly going on. I think that’s where he needs to be for awhile.”
From the cheap seats, Tony Stewart is right. It seems NASCAR has a face, a visual leader…but decisions are now made by a community of participants – a group of important players who have convinced NASCAR their input is critical to the success of the sport.
Don’t believe me?
Let me introduce you to the NASCAR Fan Council, NASCAR Drivers Council and the Race Team Alliance (RTA), an official association of NASCAR team owners. If you look at almost every decision made over the past few years the above mentioned groups have influenced rules and policies.
A few examples would be the fan council – they’re credited for the restart format. The drivers have played a role with writing the overtime rules and the RTA got one of the biggest prizes in the history of the sport – Charters.
How about them Charters? According to NASCAR.com, the Charter agreement “establishes a Team Owner Council that will have formal input into decisions, and provides Charter teams with new revenue opportunities including a greater interest in digital operations.”
There is that word again – “decisions.”
This season NASCAR announced a major change in their racing format. Beginning this season, NASCAR will run a race based on stages. During the announcement Brian France said, “I’m proud of the unprecedented collaboration from our industry stakeholders, each of whom had a common goal – strengthening the sport for our fans.”
Once again it’s a community decision.
I would actually like to challenge Mr. France’s comments of “a common goal strengthening the sport for our fans.” First, the blame (good or bad) the fans for change concept, is getting old. It’s an excuse. And the “common goal” talk might work with a soft NASCAR media, but let me remind Mr. France and the “industry stakeholders” – this is a performance based business. For way too long you’ve sucked the life out of the sport for the big dollars – the big TV money, sponsorships and merchandise.
Performance has been replaced with popularity. Drivers are full blown marketing machines and unless you’re on the bottom end of the point standings, they no longer worry about losing their seat. When was the last time we heard the term – hot seat?
I’m not saying NASCAR shouldn’t listen to drivers, owners and track promoters. NASCAR has always listened to them – but Bill France Jr., knew that each group, each individual had their own agenda. He was the protector – he understood the power he had and he used it well.
I hope Brian France didn’t miss this lesson from his father because each group still has their own agenda and you should never allow drivers or owners to make decisions on competition and format. At the end of the day it will only benefit them (for a while) and not the fans.
NASCAR was always at its best when they made the decisions. Sure, they were criticized when people didn’t like a decision – but they owned it. I remember when drivers and owners looked at life in NASCAR as a privilege, not a job or a right – and certainly not a right to assist with business decisions.
When NASCAR makes the decisions the “industry stakeholders” are forced to live in that box and either respect it or leave it. I hope this isn’t a case of money causing everyone to jump into the same boat to survive – a mentality where they feel they’re in it together and they’ll either sink or sail…together. It’s a dangerous strategy.
Until NASCAR takes back decision making power in the greatest sport known to man, sadly it will remain an unhealthy sport…losing fans with each unsuccessful “collaboration from industry stakeholders.”
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