ShareThis Page
Jim France tries to revive sagging NASCAR from behind the scenes |
U.S./World Sports

Jim France tries to revive sagging NASCAR from behind the scenes

The Associated Press
| Wednesday, February 13, 2019 6:24 p.m

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Jim France is running NASCAR the same way he lives his life: quietly, in the background, away from the spotlight he never craved.

The youngest son of NASCAR’s founder carved his own path in the family business and left the leadership roles to his father, Bill France Sr., and then to his older brother. Jim France ran sports cars, served on NASCAR’s boards and was content when nephew Brian France replaced Bill France Jr. as chairman of NASCAR in 2003.

Brian France made radical changes to the playoff system, approved a new car and stage racing, pulled NASCAR out of some of its traditional markets for big-city exposure and, along the way, managed to alienate a chunk of the series’ aging fan base. He showed little interest in calls for a condensed season, shorter events, weekday races and a greater variety of tracks even as NASCAR spent much of the last decade unable to stop a slide in attendance and television ratings or an exodus of top sponsors.

Then Brian France was arrested last August in New York, hundreds of miles from Chase Elliott’s first Cup Series victory that same day, on charges of aggravated driving while intoxicated and criminal possession of a controlled substance. He immediately took a leave of absence and uncle Jim France stepped in as interim chairman and CEO.

Jim France has been at almost every NASCAR race since, available for drivers and teams and walking pit road, sometimes summoning officials to look things over. The “interim” label has been dropped from his title, and it is clear Jim France is at long last running the show.

“I think Jim is doing a good job, just in being around,” said 2015 champion Kyle Busch. “He’s always got a pen and a notebook. He’s in the trenches. He’s asking questions, and he’s listening.”

Still, he has offered no public insight as to how he plans to end NASCAR’s slump and has given no interviews during his six months at the helm.

France was highly visible last month during the Rolex 24 at Daytona sports car race. He was late to a news conference scheduled to promote IMSA’s 50th anniversary season and took three pre-screened questions after a moderator warned he would not discuss NASCAR.

There was a brief moment in his remarks, while discussing Ben Kennedy’s emergence in the family business, when Jim France seemed to be talking in broader terms.

“This is what we do, and we’ve got the next generation coming,” he said. “We plan to keep it a family.”

This comes a year after reports suggested the France family was looking to sell NASCAR, reports that have not been specifically addressed by the current leadership, including Lesa France Kennedy, an executive vice president and the CEO of International Speedway Corp.

NASCAR late last year began acquiring the remaining public stock in ISC, which owns a majority of the NASCAR-sanctioned tracks. Layoffs began after the start of the year, and many longtime employees, some who had started with the company under Bill France Jr., were let go.

NASCAR could, at minimum, be seeking investors. The silence has fueled speculation.

“I think what Jim has probably done is he’s sat back for a long, long time,” said three-time NASCAR champion and current Fox Sports analyst Darrell Waltrip. “When he was put in the position that he’s in, he knew that there needed to be sweeping changes. When the rumor went around that NASCAR could be for sale, there were probably a lot of questions about, ‘Well, what am I buying?’

“I think what Jim is trying to do is trying to get everything under one umbrella where you can quantify, ‘Am I buying the sanctioning body? Am I buying racetrack real estate? (Race) dates? What am I getting if I was to buy NASCAR?’ “

The Daytona 500 on Sunday opens the new season, and a new rules package will be introduced a week later at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The package is designed to slow the cars, keep them closer together and improve the competitiveness on the track.

There is a new car in development, NASCAR is actively courting additional manufacturers and series officials are taking a hard stance with drivers and teams to play by the rules. If a winning car fails post-race inspection it now will be disqualified and stripped of the victory. NASCAR also plans to fine drivers who skip their commitments to talk with reporters, another big change after years of drivers using the motorhome lot as a refuge.

NASCAR — at last — also seems open to altering its 38-race schedule that stretches nearly 11 months, adding more short tracks and road courses for fans who have begged for a fix to the stale climate.

It took Jim France taking over and then promoting Steve Phelps to president of NASCAR to get most of the initiatives rolling.

“Jim France wanted change, and we will support him,” said Hall of Fame team owner Roger Penske. “Phelps coming in, and he and Jim are making changes. They have looked at their overheads. I think they understand that the costs continue to escalate, and we’ve got to turn it around and spend money that’s rational.

“There’s no question the show is too long. I think we’ve got to be looking at the schedule and maybe not run 38 weekends. That is almost too much, and I think they understand that and I think they understand there is a lot of work to be done in making this smoother.”

Categories: Sports | US-World
TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.