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A Family Affair

NASCAR CEO Brian France opens up about heading the family-run motor series, and outlines the challenges and opportunities the billion-dollar business faces in the near future.

I started on the ground floor at NASCAR. I operated short track speedways on the west coast on a very small and local level, before becoming NASCAR vice-president of marketing and corporate communications in December 1992. I then held various executive positions at NASCAR and took over the CEO and chairman title in September 2003.

I never really thought about taking over NASCAR. Most people are surprised to hear that, because it would have been a natural progression for my career. But my very successful father [Bill France Jr.] was doing a really good job of running the business, and I never worried about having to take over.

I would have been a lawyer if I hadn’t gone into NASCAR. I always liked the thought of going into the legal industry, even though it’s not really considered a good profession in the United States. But I was always too impatient to go to law school.

We really pulled the industry together by getting the TV deal right in 2005. Agreeing those original TV deals [with Fox, Speed, Turner and ABC/ESPN for eight years beginning 2007] is one of my proudest moments.

 

The biggest challenge for NASCAR is competition from other sports. In the United States, measuring up well against the other major sports leagues is the challenge. Gaining fans and getting media coverage is very competitive on a day-to-day basis, more than anywhere else in the world. We haven’t been around as long as other sports, and you can’t play or recreate motor racing in high school or anywhere else other than a track, unlike the other popular sports in the US.

I’ve learnt the value of communicating with all stakeholders. When we were introducing the [fifth-generation] ‘Car of Tomorrow’ in 2007, I didn’t spend as much time with NASCAR stakeholders as I should have done. And we didn’t get a particularly good result, at least in the beginning. So I learnt a valuable lesson that you have to involve all the stakeholders – drivers, teams, race tracks and everyone else – and understand where you’re going and get their input along the way.

My dad was the biggest influence on my career. I worked side-by-side with him and I think it’s a really unique opportunity getting to work with your dad for most of your career. The most important lessons he taught me are to deal with things in a straightforward way and make sure that everybody has a chance to win, financially and otherwise. That sounds simple, but you don’t correctly calculate that all the time. He made sure that we did at NASCAR.

I try to keep things professional when working with my family. There’s lots of governance at NASCAR to make sure we follow the chain of command. We communicate well to make sure that the decisions we make are the best for the company, and not necessarily based on what an individual family member may like or dislike.

I would have been
a lawyer if I hadn’t
gone into NASCAR

Innovation is part of our DNA. We designed and developed the first track drying system [Air Titan] for the industry, which we think will work all over the world. We’re also innovating in the green space, and our efforts are only going to get better. We also have new TV partners and we’re trying to see if this is a good time to make more changes to the Sprint Cup Series than we typically would, but I’m not sure how that’s going to work out yet.

The Iowa Speedway was an opportunistic buy for NASCAR. We thought it was on the market for a really attractive price. I don’t necessarily see us buying more race tracks, but if something is really attractive, the fact we’re already in the business means we would look at it. But there are other companies bigger than us who buy venues on a regular basis.

I think my dad would be proud of where NASCAR is today. He would have been happy to see some of things that are going on, and it is all based on the same formula that he created. The NASCAR race tracks are making a big investment for the future. We are all also excited about the digital opportunities that are on the horizon that help us stay connected and reach more fans. It’s an unfolding media that we’re excited about.

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