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Michigan: Brian France Media Chat about GM and issues of the day June 14, 2009

Posted by claireblang in 2009 Season, Items of Interest.
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Greetings from Michigan International Speedway
NASCAR CEO Pre-Race – Manufacturer Cuts, Economy, Four Team Limit, Best Racing in the World, Most Loyal Fans In Sports

It’s a beautiful day pre-race in Michigan. There’s so much to talk about leading into today’s race. I wanted to get a quick post up from the chat NASCAR CEO Brian France had with reporters in the deadline room shortly before the race started. Here’s the transcript – of what he said in response to questions. I’ll have more to tell you when the race is over..for now enjoy the race. I’ll post tidbits when the race is over.

Take care…Enjoy the race:

(MEDIA asking NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France about issues of the day on Sunday pre- Lifelock 400)

What about the cutbacks in NASCAR from GM :

Well obviously they’re having a you know everything that they are doing – every program’s being affected and we’re no different. We were hoping to have the most minimal of the impact with their decisions to restructure their business and the details aren’t all out yet as to exactly what that will mean to us but obviously we are affected. I think our job now is to figure out how to be good partners with them. They’re trying to restructure their entire company and be a different company on the other side and for us to be a part of that and I think we will. I’m very confident that they will be in the sport for many, many years because it works well but obviously under different terms and our teams are affected that’s more than any one – the tracks have already felt the restructuring last year and now individual teams at all levels are going to feel it and that’s not the best case scenario for us but it’s the reality of where we are and we’ll deal with it.

Obviously they want to come out of bankruptcy do you think NASCAR is still a good viable model for them or other manufacturers to help make that happen?

Well sure I think we’re the best opportunity to help build a new company, sell different cars – the same cars or a combination thereof. So I’ve always felt good about that and they do too it’s just the reality of having to do a restructuring across the board and what they said is when they got done reviewing that, that there would be some hard choices and obviously these are the result of those hard choices.

Are you going to go to Detroit and talk with the big cheese about your deal and their deal?

Well we have. We’ve been talking to them all along. I went in last year -ah last fall to all the manufacturers, myself and Mike Helton and Jim France and others. We’ve been in constant contact with them – they are a big integral part of what we do and that is unchanged.

With all this uncertainty are you actively talking to companies that might end up healthier, such as Honda – the German companies?

Well we have been talking to people off and on for a long time. These are decisions in terms of a new manufacturer joining the sport that would take a long time to evaluate and actually enter. So those aren’t something that if we turned the light switch on tomorrow morning that it would happen – but of course we are the preeminent place in North America for car manufacturers to build their business with an auto racing group. So we remain that and clearly there are some companies that are going to look at opportunities that may not have even been there in the past that could be presented in the future. Now listen we’ll have our philosophical approach to that in terms of welcoming new companies in as we did with Toyota – it is under a very clear set of circumstances that manufacturers come to NASCAR to compete and that will not change.

Are there two or three that seem particularly interested or you have hopes for down the road?

Well, I am not going to name names. But we have companies that are interested in particular in developing the North American market as robust as they can. And you’re well aware as we all are that there are lots of foreign manufacturers now producing cars here in America, as Toyota did. That was part of the rationale that Toyota used that that helps them associate more with this market and we are the preeminent place to consider should a company want to do that.

Is the development of generic race cars – have anything to do with mfg support?

No I don’t think that’s the case. Although it was certainly very helpful because the costs have come down so when some of the teams are affected whether direct support or technical support in theory and it’s certainly our expectation that the new car will serve that particular problem well and those teams will still be able to put competitive race cars forward albeit not as easy and not under the best of circumstances but it certainly gives them an opportunity to stay in the game and that’s what we’re going to be working with.

Are there certain things that NASCAR can do to help the teams. Do you have to reassess some things to help these organizations and would you consider the four car team limit?

Let me say , look the four car limit is designed to increase new ownership and that remains the case. If you had seven, eight or nine teams under one place that is too daunting of a task for a new team owner to come into NASCAR. We still believe that now more than ever. The question is with falling revenues in every sports league – what are you going to do to help figure out the way forward. For us, we have the, as you well know, a huge interest in the sponsorship level we are more dependant on it than anyone else so we are affected. So for us it’s going to be helping our teams, tracks and other constituency members figure out new companies that are building their brands, new technologies. You’ve heard me talk about the green industry that will be created over the next five or ten years we want to be a part of that – the green economy – in some intelligent way – we will be. So we will be looking at figuring out like anyone in our position – how to create new opportunities for new companies building brands or services here at NASCAR because existing companies that our teams in particular have relied on are changing and that’s just the reality.

Can you ask a team that has five cars all fully sponsored like Roush to drop a car in today’s economic environment because of that rule?

We’ll listen, listen we made the rule several years ago and that’s the timing of it and it may not be the perfect timing given the circumstances but the conclusion that we want to get to is the right one and we’ve worked, listen we gave Jack (Roush) an enormous amount of runway and we’ll continue to work with him if there’s anything we can do to make that adjustment easier then we will and Jack’s aware of that.

Do you think today’s race car (car of today) has done what you wanted it to do?

We think it has and it doesn’t mean that in our town hall meeting that we had a couple of weeks ago that there aren’t some adjustments that we can make to do even better and that’s what we talked to our teams about in particular, talked to the drivers directly had them all under one place as you are all aware and that was very good for us, very effective. But listen, the new car is putting on great racing and it’s always debatable when you try something new that something is going to be better than it was before and invariably you get fair debate about that. But as things settle down and settle in and more important as the teams and the drivers get more comfortable with this car – which has been no small thing. It’s very new very different form the old car…that takes some time. That’s settling in and to the extent we can make an adjustment and we think we have some things we’ll look at and they’ll be adjustments they won’t be wholesale changes – to make this even better for the drivers. We want them to feel as great as they can about the cars they are driving that is why we had a great meeting a couple of weeks ago.

There are ominous reports of Brickyard attendance as low as 100,00 or 150,000?

No – I think that’s overstated by far. I don’t know what the attendance will be we won’t know – but we also know that people are buying tickets later -much later in the cycle. Our fans are waiting as they are all nervous – I understand that. They are also waiting a little bit to figure out if we can get the track correct which we will in terms of the tire issues we had. So listen depending on where we are we are going to have some – I would call it in the grand scheme of things – some modest attendance dips we are going to have some – and that’s to be expected and the whole country’s down.

If fans stayed away from there in part out of anger in a certain sense at least in the short term that would be understandable don’t you think?

Listen I’m not going to put my shoes in every race fan’s..that’s their choice they attend what the events they want to attend. The Brickyard is a spectacular venue for us has been since 1994 and there’s been some great racing , great tradition and that’s going to continue. Sometimes things happen where everything lines up in the reverse of what you’d like to see. That’s happened here in Michigan where it’s probably the hardest state hit with unemployment job loss and you know the idea that NASCAR can cruise around and do business in every state and not have some effect on this economy and have the sponsorship business model and be tied to the manufacturers in the way they are and to not feel that – That would be unrealistic to think that would be the case. But what I have said and I’ll say it today – When you look at it – and I look at this every day -we are doing better than most. We are not perfect, we’ve got our issues but we are doing better than most industries, most sports. We have some spots we want to improve on a lot of spots we want to improve on. But we will get through a tough time – and our fans are the most loyal in sports and we will do what we have always done which is put the best racing in the world forward and that is what is going to be what is the deciding factor long after the economy turns the corner and gets better again. Have a great race today.

(end of session with France)

……..

There is a lot of talk about a GM meeting supposedly to be held with teams this week to outline what is coming next for Chevy Sprint Cup teams as far as cutbacks. Everyone in the garage is buzzing about what might happen and which teams might be affected – how much and who would be affected the most.

Enjoy the race – it should be a good one!

Claire B

I’ll be covering details of this story and will keep you posted.

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