NASCAR chairman Brian France knows there’s been a lot of talk about the sport’s “Boys, have at it” way drivers are expected to police themselves. That’s why he stepped in to explain the limits drivers are allowed to go before the sanctioning body steps in.
Here are excerpts of his recent interview:
Question: Is it tricky for NASCAR to maintain law and order when there’s no real definition to “Boys have at it?”
France: I think there are limits. You saw one of the limits is that if you put anyone in danger, like what happened with Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch where it was after the race had happened. We're like anybody. We can over-officiate and over-regulate in some circumstances, over a 60-year period of time. And I think our point was a couple years ago we thought we might be in a pattern of that, and we wanted to put it more in the drivers' hands. We never said there were no limits to that. You just can't go around with a missile and a weapon out there. But if you're having contact, that's part of NASCAR. So it's tough for us, but that's what we do. And it's tough for any sport to have certain areas of the game or in auto racing that are subjective as to what is too much, but we'll figure that out. We're going to remain, obviously, a contact sport, and we're going to remain with the basic philosophy that we're putting more of it in the drivers' hands. If they go over a line we think is there, we'll deal with that.
Question: The Indianapolis Motor Speedway announced last week it expected to have a lot of empty seats for the Brickyard 400. Is there something wrong there?
France: Well, no, the relationship is fine. I think, obviously, there were a couple years there where we had not our best day in terms of the tire problems and other things. They also had other issues that had nothing to do with us and other series had race there, and they've had management changes and so on. I know they're trying to figure that out. There are going to be some markets, based on the economy and based on other circumstances, that we will be off in attendance. There will be a lot of areas we'll be on in attendance. I said this weekend is an example of that in Phoenix and many markets. Kentucky will be sold out. Iowa do will very, very well, all in that Midwest region, too, by the way.
Question: Some drivers said they want more defined lines when it comes to aggression. Can you do that?
France: We think not. We think there is a 60-year history of how we officiate the events. Most of our top officials -- and certainly (president) Mike Helton who is in charge every weekend and has been at the helm for a decade and longer. So we have a lot of -- this shouldn't be a big surprise for anyone to try to read us and how we're going to officiate the events. We said late in the event if your car's faster than somebody else and there is some contact and somebody gets by, that's NASCAR racing. We celebrate that throughout our history. Look here at the All-Star. Some of the great finishes have all been with contact - Earnhardt and Bill Elliott, going to the grass. That's just the way it is. The drivers know us well enough to understand, and they certainly have conversations that we'll be happy to reiterate our situation. But there is still going to be subjectivity. There is no set of eight things we're going to be looking at, because that would be impossible. It's not practical.
Question: A few tracks still have trouble selling tickets. Could NASCAR strip them of races if it doesn’t get better?
France: Look, Dover, had a tremendously bad weather forecast. It's a miracle that that event -- and I'm not making total excuses here -- but it's a miracle on Saturday and Sunday that think got the races off at all. So there were no-shows, there was no walk-up, they didn't get any help from the weather. We certainly don't like to see empty seats. We like to see as many fans enjoying this great competition as possible, but we're also realistic that some things are going to take time. There's not many sports that aren't being affected in one way or the other in attendance. And they're having to do a lot of things, so are we, so are the tracks, to be sensitive. We have high gas prices that are upon us, and that is certainly another factor for our fans to consider. We certainly don't want to see empty seats. We'll be working with tracks to get the best dates possible, and we'll go from there.
Question: Is there a new focus on the sport’s history?
France: I don't think there was a time when we didn't think the best racing in the world was important or that our core fan wasn't important. That just wouldn't be accurate. Obviously, we have a job to do which is to satisfy the core fan in every way we can possibly and we'll try to do that. We're also trying to be appealing in ways to new fans. Sometimes there is a different path that you have to be on, slightly different, to accomplish both things. But you're never off of one path for long, and they're never very far apart. So we're focused on being -- our history couldn't be more important. We'll always keep our eye on the ball. But on the other hand, we're reacting to social media, we're reacting to the digital media landscape that's changing quickly, and most of you in this room know it better than I. We're reacting to how young people, in particular, are taking in their favorite sports or learning about their favorite sports. It's very different than it was ten years ago, say five years ago. You just can't have your head down when all these things are going on your way to trying to grow a fan base.