France, Dewar address the state of the sport

Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images North America

By Caleb Whisler, Staff Writer

As NASCAR closes out its 69th season, Brian France, chairman and chief executive officer, and Brent Dewar, president, were made available to the media at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Sunday to discuss an array of topics from the 2017 NASCAR season.

According to France, NASCAR has had “a great year. Not a good year, but a great year” when it comes to the 2017 season across all three national series. Those comments come from the competition on the racetrack to the playoffs.

The biggest buzz word in NASCAR in recent history is the word collaboration. Collaboration is defined as “the action of working with someone to produce or create something.”  Under the leadership of France, NASCAR has moved from a benevolent dictatorship approach to the idea of collaboration across all stakeholders. According to Dewar, it is still “a work in progress.”

The biggest issue with the collaboration has been moving towards mid- and long-term goals.

“The biggest challenge is getting away from day-to-day racing and try to get strategic mid- and long-term, and that’s been a lot of the focus of the councils, and i think one of the projects this year, one of the outputs, is we sat back and say, look, what are we trying to solve for,” said Dewar.

An idea of this collaboration across all ideas came with the addition of the enhanced racing format through stage racing. NASCAR had to listen to varying opinions and views and are looking forward to hearing more opinions.

“I think there’s a good example of the parties coming with different opinions and points of view that come to that, and so we look forward to more of that. I know it’s harder for us at NASCAR. It is a little bit easier the other way, but I  think if you have the right inputs, you’ll get better quality for decisions and you’ll start to see that manifest itself both in the short-, medium- and long-term,” Dewar stated.

In the past three years, NASCAR has lost star power in Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Matt Kenseth and Danica Patrick. Despite the loss in start power, NASCAR has drivers like Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott, Daniel Suarez, Ryan Blaney and Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. coming through the ranks.

“It’s true, we’re in transition too. But that happens from time to time Not usually in the concentrated manner that we have now, but it happens. But we are excited. We’ve got great, great bunch of — 19,20, and they’re talented, so we’re in good shape,” said France.

Dewar echoed the comments of France, but went further into discussing how the sanctioning body approaches the  “guard change.”

“We anticipate every decade you’re going to go through this rotation, and between NASCAR Next and Drive for Diversity, these young stars that you’re talking about have all come through those classes, and they’re all good wheel men and women that are coming up through these series, and I think thats the key thing, and we’re working with them in terms of how they work outside of the car.”

Dewar praised that NASCAR is one of the only sports that as 15- to 20-year career norm, where in other sports it is just an exception.

“We feel pretty bullish about the future of the sport for the talent they have.  They’re embracing this format where every lap matters.  It truly matters.  I think there was a learning process at the start of the year, and I think they’ll hit Daytona, all of them, with that learned behavior pretty quick, and we’re making some pretty important changes to XFINITY and Trucks to allow those names, those stars to even shine even more.”

With the economics of the sport changing, as well as driver turnover, there is concern amongst the fan base about whether NASCAR will be able to survive. France believes that the diversity of having Wallace Jr. in the car will help the sport. “We like that. We’d love to see more of that,” France stated. France also believes that things like television rating are out of the sanctioning bodies control because of the way consumption has changed amongst the fan base, especially millennials.

France is proud of the decisions that the sanctioning body has made in recent years. France believes that the creation of stage racing and the playoff format have increase the competition level, but that there other things the sanctioning body can do.

 “We’re on a fast track to get — and it’s hard.  It’s always been hard, to get the competition level up, and some of that is done by formats like stage racing and cutoff events and so on, has obviously stepped up the competition level,” France stated. “But there are other things we can do that are important to us. So we’re realistic about things that are changing that we don’t control outright, but we like where we’re at and we like where we’re going.

The 2017 NASCAR season has been all about finding ways to help teams cut some expenses. Those ideas include a two-day enhance format at four Cup tracks to a composite body in the NASCAR XFINITY Series. Dewar was quick to shoot down the notion that these efforts are cost-cutting, but are part of the economic transition model the sport is currently in.

“I’d like to clear there, we’re not on a cost-cutting effort, we’re on medium and advanced design of where we’re going to do these vehicles.  So from that, what we’ve been working on with the team owners is taking some of the waste out of the system of how we have traditionally gone to market.  So it’s hard work.  It’s design and engineering, it’s collaboration, it’s a lot of those elements,” Dewar stated.

Dewar mentioned that the sanctioning body is working on 100 different things with some that are part of the short-, mid- and long-term goals of the sport. He believes that the model NASCAR is in now will serve the sanctioning body well as it prepares for the future.

As president, Dewar’s mission is for everyone to focus on the racing product during the racing season, and focus on the business side of the sport during the offseason.

“What we’re trying to do is talk about racing during race season and off-season during the off-season.  It’s been one of my biggest challenges since I’ve been here.  People like to talk about the off-season during the season, and that’s uniquely NASCAR, as well.  But I’ll die trying to fix that,” Dewar adamantly stated.

With Monster Energy concluding their first season as entitlement sponsor, France is pleased with how Monster is engaging with fans at the track, and believes that Monster is getting their value from the sport.

“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.  Their young, edgy demo, they’re motorsports centric and they always have been in their culture.  We’re really pleased,” stated France.

Currently, NASCAR has a two-year deal with Monster Energy as the entitlement sponsor of the Cup series. Recent reports have shown that Monster has asked NASCAR for an extension about whether or not they are going to continue after the 2018 season as entitlement sponsor. NASCAR opted for a shorter deal with NASCAR because the sanctioning body “wanted to be congruent to what their marketing strategy is.

France and Dewar are not concerned about Monster renewing for two more years after 2018. France mentioned that the first year of any entitlement sponsor has growing pains, but is thrilled about where Monster can take the sport. France believes that the relationship with Monster will get better.

In 2015, NASCAR announced that they would enter into five-year sanctioning agreements with tracks currently on the schedule. The talk lately has been about whether NASCAR should add more short tracks and road courses to the schedule. Dewar was quick to respond that each track is unique and has it’s on personality.

“One of the directions we’re going to take is we’ve kind of lost as an industry the communication of how important and unique every one of these tracks are, and we’ve gone to Goodyear, we announced the multiyear extension, and we’re working with Goodyear to try to keep working on uniqueness and matching that tire to these unique track services,” Dewar stated.

With the debate about shaking up the schedule, tracks have the opportunity to realign their events. NASCAR has no plans of shaking up the schedule.

“Realignment is always available to the track operators, and they’re always looking at opportunities, and when they present ones that make sense, we’ve historically done a lot of that actually through the years.  But we like the lineup we have now, too.  Of course we rearranged  things in the playoffs.  We thought that worked out the way we wanted it to,” said France.

Another topic of conversation amongst the NASCAR community is the length of races. NASCAR has a research and analytics group that helps poll the fan base about certain topics. When it comes to stage lengths, Dewar mentioned that the one-third of the fan base likes the current lengths, one-third wants shorter races, and one-third wants longer races.

“It’s unanimous that they love racing, and so — but that’s part of what we work with the track partners, the race teams and the broadcast partners to find that optimal distance so we have the right show,” said Dewar.

In this new era for NASCAR, both Dewar and France both believe that the best days of the sport lie ahead in the future.

One Comment

  1. Al Torney

    November 22, 2017 at 8:30 pm

    In stead of talking to stakeholders and partners and fans they should be talking to the ex-fans and find out why they have left the sport by the millions. That’s right the millions. They won’t do this because they don’t want to hear how they managed to screw up a great sport.

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