Monday, August 6, 2018

France DUI Shows Need for New NASCAR CEO

Photo from Sag Harbor Village Police Department.
I thought that today I’d be writing about how great the weekend’s racing at Watkins Glen was, or about the very popular breakout win by Chase Elliott. That’s what I expected to write about; that’s what I wanted to write about. I suppose I’ll get to those posts soon enough, but first I have to write about another sad state of affairs in our sport.

During my lunch break today at work I checked my phone, thinking I’d see more of what I left Sunday with… posts about Elliott and the weekend at the Glen. Instead, five posts in a row from five different media outlets all with the same breaking news story. Brian France, CEO of NASCAR, arrested for DUI and drug possession.

As I am sure you are all well of by now, Brian France was pulled over for failing to stop at a stop sign in Sag Harbor, NY on Sunday night (August 5, 2018). He failed a field sobriety test, and was found with five oxycodone pills in his possession. France was then arrested and processed before being released on his own recognisance Monday morning. France was charged with aggravated DUI which means he was more than double over the legal limit.

France released a statement to the press today as follows.

“I apologize to our fans, our industry and my family for the impact of my actions last night. Effective immediately, I will be taking an indefinite leave of absence from my position to focus on my personal affairs.”

NASCAR also released a statement that effective immediately, NASCAR Vice Chairman and Executive Vice President Jim France has assumed the role of interim chairman and chief executive officer.

This news comes after a string of great racing and on track successes over the course of the last six weeks or so. Instead of the constant debate over rules infractions and NASCAR’s impending doom and gloom scenarios (take your pick, there are so many), fans have been imbattled in contest over “The Big Three” and the miles of great racing from Chicago, Pocono, Iowa, and Watkins Glen. Sure, talk about using paint schemes to trick optical scanners and post-qualifying tech inspection failures have slipped their way into the fray, but have seemingly been brushed aside by the freight train of tight competition during this summer stretch.

That is, until today. Now, after what was arguably the best race of the year thus far, and perhaps the best stock car race at Watkins Glen in its history, we are again sinking in a quagmire of uncertainty about the future of our sport. The actions of the sport’s top executive have dashed the good vibes and placed into question what the next move will be.

Now, the NASCAR Board of Directors have a decision to make. Is now the time to make a bold, permanent change in the leadership of NASCAR?  According to the overwhelming majority of posts and comment threads today across social media, that answer is a resounding yes.

Brian France has done some great things for NASCAR during his tenure. He was instrumental in the development of the current television partnerships that honed in the presentation of the sport from a smattering of networks to an equal distribution between two broadcast partners.

He was also a lead representative in NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity Program, helping close the divide and bring in multinational drivers and crew.

France has also played his part in making his time as NASCAR’s top dog the safest era so far in stock car racing. NASCAR has not had a driver fatality during a sanctioned event since Dale Earnhardt’s passing in 2001.

However, with the good comes a cornucopia of bad.

During France’s time as CEO, NASCAR has seen continual drops in attendance and viewership, albit part of a larger problem that travels beyond the scope of this sport yet ultimately still falls onto the shoulders of the sports senior man. The ill-fated Car of Tomorrow proved to be a much safer race car, but the athstetics took a nosedive with fan popularity and gave the sport a bit of a black eye in the process. Remember the wing, folks?

NASCAR has seen a polarizing change in the way champions are crowned, evolving from a solely points based championship to an elimination based championship. (I personally am for the most part in favor of the championship format, but a large swath of the fanbase are not.).

Most noticeable is how unnoticable France has been in general. During a period when NASCAR has needed a face, a captain to steer the ship, France has been absent and unreachable to the fanbase and media. Not having a leader that gives the sport a feeling of stability and direction has only added to the problem and as a result many feel that the NASCAR ship is sinking fast.

Family ties to NASCAR as a company may have been the glue that has prevented Lesa France Kennedy and Jim France, the actual co-owners of NASCAR, from taking a hard stance on making a change. Perhaps now, egged on by Brain’s own stupidity, they can usher in a new era of leadership and institute an individual that can take the wheel and right the ship before it's too late to correct the course the sport is currently on.

Now is the time to see Brain France end his tenure, not indefinitely, but permanently.

A new, fresh face is needed in NASCAR’s front office. A new leader that will put to bed rumors of a NASCAR sell off by bringing in partners that can bring long term stability back to the premier series. We need a leader that will welcome new team owners, new (or old) venues and new fans. We need leadership that will push to move our sport beyond the status quo and bring in ideas and idea makers that can grow the sport. Most importantly, we need a leader that is present and not just in front of the camera for vanity’s sake, but for the sake of the sport.

I know that I haven’t offered much in terms of a true solution here, but I really feel that I have echoed the very real concerns of the fanbase. We, the people of NASCAR, are ready for a change. Not a new race format, not a new points structure, hell not even as much a new car… but instead, we the people of NASCAR want a new leader, and the opportunity to make that happen was brought before the sport on Sunday night in Sag Harbor, NY.

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