A Voice for the Fans ~ Questions and Answers
I bid you welcome gentle readers, and that extends as well to our assigned reader of all things NASCAR on this sultry day in North Georgia. As none of us dwell in a cave, at least that I’m aware of, then we all have some knowledge of the 900-pound gorilla that recently took up residence in our living room, so let’s get right to it.
Brian Z. France, the somewhat reclusive Chairman and CEO of NASCAR, was arrested on the evening of August 5, in Sag Harbor N.Y., a posh vacation spot in the “Hamptons” on Long Island. France was stopped for running through a stop sign and from all reports, it was all downhill from there. He wound up spending the remainder of the evening and night in a Sag Harbor jail cell after being found extremely intoxicated and performing poorly in a field sobriety test. He was charged with aggravated DUI and possession of an illegal substance… oxycodone… not prescribed for him. In New York, “aggravated” indicates that the subject blew at least a .18 blood alcohol level. The legal limit for intoxication is .08 in New York.
It was also reported, , that he was less than happy about being “disrespected” in this manner by the police and gave them quite a litany of the influential people he knows, right up to and including the President of the United States, Donald Trump. France was released Monday morning on his own recognizance and has a date to return to court on September 14. You’re all aware that the upshot of all that is that France has taken “an indefinite leave of absence” from his position as Chairman and CEO of NASCAR and that his uncle, Jim France has been named interim Chairman and CEO.
When this hit the news on Monday morning, my email, Twitter account and DMs lit up like Fourth of July fireworks. Seems a whole lot of my gentle readers wanted to know what “Mama” thought about the whole thing. That was some 48 hours ago as I sit here at the keyboard on Wednesday morning, and even I am not sure what Mama thinks about it. The first thing that surprised me was the fact that anyone was surprised by any of it. He was visited in 2006 by the Daytona Beach Police Department after they received eye witness reports of France hitting a parked car and then a tree, then evincing difficulty exiting his vehicle after parking in the garage of his residence. That wasn’t Sag Harbor; that was Daytona Beach, where the France name has long been given royal status. Between then and now, there have been numerous incidents that just couldn’t pass the sniff test.
The first time I laid eyes on Mr. France was at the 2003 Winston Cup Banquet and most every time the camera wandered his way, he was staring at the ceiling with his mouth gaping open. He appeared then to be under the influence of something and not in the least interested in what has always been seen as NASCAR’s biggest night of the year, the official crowning of a new Champion.
In those intervening 48 hours, I’ve read copious amounts of articles, thoughts and jokes surrounding the subject. Very prevalent among them were the “preachers”, telling me it was “human” to be addicted; the man needed help and should be treated with sympathy and understanding, not scorn or disgust. To them I say, “Help yourself. I’m sure your do-good ways will be just what he needs and will help immensely in kicking whatever bad habits or addictions he may have innocently picked up along the way. NOT! With so many folks finding the good in the man, he doesn’t need me. Please don’t misunderstand; it would be wonderful to have him come away clean and pure as the driven snow and I would applaud that, but seriously doubt it will ever happen.
What I cannot condone is the simple fact that a man dripping with money, who could easily afford alternate transportation, chose to get behind the wheel of a car in his stupefied condition and chance seriously injuring or killing some unsuspecting person that easily could have been at the crossroad where he ran through the stop sign. He was on Long Island! If Uber wasn’t to his liking or was beneath his dignity, there are numerous taxi and even Limo services available. He could well afford to be driven, rather than driving. Keep your lectures about that being heartless. It’s not. It comes straight from my heart.
What about NASCAR? Well, I’ve read twice my weight in articles making all manner of predictions, but in truth, none of the writers or prognosticators have any more idea about the future than I have. Like them, there are a few things I surmise, but that doesn’t make them so or mean they will happen. For the moment, the wagons are circled and NASCAR is still in the hands of the France family, so all is not lost. Do I know if NASCAR will be sold, in part or in total? Nope, and neither does anyone else, save perhaps Jim France and/or Lesa Kennedy. They own the sanctioning body and they alone have the right to keep or sell whatever part they deem reasonable or necessary.
What about sponsors? Again, no one has left or even discussed leaving, but it’s only been hours, not days or weeks since this all hit the fan. Heaven knows, too many of our biggest sponsors have already left and even the Cup Series sponsor, Monster Energy Drink will be gone after 2019, supposedly at NASCAR’s request. For the record, I’ve always doubted that part, but again, it’s not for me to say. Regarding that particular thing… Cup Series sponsorship… that is a likely reason for the price check with Goldman-Sachs. If indeed the plan now is to line up heavyweight sponsors as something more than “Partners” or “Stakeholders”, what better way to convince them to part with mega-bucks than to sell them part of the action?
How long will Jim France be the interim HMWIC (Head Man What’s In Charge)? Not a clue, but again I have educated guesses. The problems that Brian France has did not just happen, and those in family and close business relationships had to know and I’d say were quietly dealing with the eventuality that is now here. Lesa’s son, Ben Kennedy was placed in charge of the Truck Series some time ago. I’d call that learning from the ground up. Ben was also a driver in that series, though never set the world on fire.
When the acquisition of ARCA was announced, all credit went to Jim France, with Brian never mentioned. This scribe kept asking, "Where’s Brian?”, but no answers were forthcoming. When the probe was solicited from Goldman-Sachs, the names mentioned were Lesa and Jim. Again, no Brian. It would seem to the logical mind that they were preparing for just such an event, though hopefully it would be announced as “Retirement” rather than incarceration.
What, exactly, does “Indefinite leave” mean? That dear gentle readers, is an open-ended statement that can mean anything the France family might want it to mean. At 56 years of age and seemingly deeply into at least alcohol and opioid addiction, do I see Brian getting squeaky clean and doing his own “Road to Recovery” program to be reinstated as Chairman and CEO of a company still worth a huge fortune, even in decline? Nope, but again, I wish him well. The damage done to NASCAR is incalculable at best. Bringing back the one that brought it down in the first place is something I don’t think most fans… or sponsors could understand, and I’m quite sure that Lesa and Jim already know that.
Day to day running of the sanctioning body will see little change at first. Many contracts are firmly in place and will undoubtedly be honored. Save the questions about the format of the racing itself for another day. There might be change down the line. Not everyone is sold on that 10-race crap shoot at the end of the season, and more sober thinking might see the merit in reverting to a full-season Champion. I have no idea and no say in the matter, but these are some of my thoughts in answer to many of your questions.
If there are any questions I missed or neglected, please feel free to ask them below or email me. These things don’t belong on Twitter and I’m easily reached here on Race Fans Forever or by the email posted here.
One last thing before I close today. I offer my deepest apology to Chase Elliott! This was supposed to have been your column because you certainly earned that and more. I watched every minute of the race at Watkins Glen and was thrilled to see you take that checkered flag. I’ve loved all the similarities folks point out about the start of your career compared to that of your Dad’s. Has he told you that his second win came at Michigan, the track where we’ll be racing this weekend? Maybe we could have just one more happy coincidence on Sunday? Good luck young’n. I have a feeling we’ll be writing about you for a long time to come.
There will be no formal Classic Country Closeout today, but from the time I first heard this news Monday morning, I’ve had an earworm running through my brain. It’s a 1970 song by Tom T. Hall called “A Week in a Country Jail”, and the line that came tunneling into my brain is the one that says, “That part about me being who I was did not impress him.”
Be well gentle readers, and remember to keep smiling.
It looks so good on you!