Did Brian France Really Say That?
Last week, Curt Cavin, of The Indianapolis Star, sat down with NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France just a few days before last weekend’s Brickyard 400. Among the topics discussed were attendance problems at recent NASCAR races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and other challenges faced by NASCAR. For the most part, there were no real surprises in most of his answers, but it was interesting to get things from his perspective.
There was one exception with one of his responses, however. Curt asked France if he was willing to pair a Sprint Cup or Nationwide Series race with an IndyCar Series race at the same track on the same weekend. France responded “No. Nationwide is significantly ahead of the Indy Racing League in terms of its television ratings and attendance and everything else with the exception, obviously, of the Indy 500. We wouldn’t want to mix that. They have to stand on their own, and we have to stand on our own.
Cavin smartly followed that comment by pointing out that the Nationwide race at Chicagoland (owned by the France family) had a very small crowd. He asked France if the Nationwide Series could have benefited from having IndyCar there, too.
It was there that Brian France started doing his best Gene Kelly impersonation (if you’re under forty, look it up). France answered the question with a non-answer. Instead of directly answering whether or not NASCAR’s second tier series could have benefited from the presence of IndyCar at the track, his response was “We’ll have crowds like that, unfortunately. We’ll also have a lot of 40,000 to 50,000 crowds as well”. Talk about missing the point…
Earlier, Curt had posed a blunt but fair question to France when he asked if IndyCar was a friend or foe to NASCAR. Although it read like a polite and politically correct response, I would have liked to have seen France’s body language when he replied “We consider it a friend”. He then went on to explain how NASCAR’s move to NBC and NBC Sports Network is going to help IndyCar significantly because NASCAR will generate a lot of visibility to the network and IndyCar will benefit. I can’t say that I agree or disagree with that last point. Time will tell.
But one point that Brian France made in this interview, I take a great deal of exception with. When he said that Nationwide was significantly ahead of the “Indy Racing League”, I about came unglued when I read it. First of all, whether France considers IndyCar to be a friend or a foe – he at least needs to get the name right. How many years has it been since the Indy Racing League and IRL monikers were dropped?
I don’t need to research TV ratings for Nationwide compared to IndyCar events. I concede that Nationwide ratings are currently higher on ESPN2 than IndyCar generates on ABC and significantly more than what NBCSN pulls in for an IndyCar race. But I also know that Nationwide and Sprint Cup are both dealing with a continuous drop in their ratings.
Being a die-hard IndyCar fan, I’ll admit my perception is a bit skewed and I may tend to get a little defensive when the series I follow gets slammed. That is my disclaimer. But did Brian France really say that their feeder series is “significantly ahead of IndyCar? Based on what I saw at Chicago and Indianapolis, their attendance is woeful, at best. The weekend of the Nationwide race at Chicagoland Speedway, they were the only race to be seen. Sprint Cup, IndyCar and Formula One were all off that weekend. The Cubs were out of town. The only local competition came from the White Sox hosting the Braves. Yet, the Nationwide Series couldn’t draw anyone to watch their race.
I’ve seen estimates that the Nationwide Series drew only about thirty-five thousand for Saturday’s snooze fest at IMS. Supposedly, as few as seventy-five thousand showed up Sunday for the coma-inducing Brickyard 400 on Sunday. It was torture to try and watch Sunday’s race. I watched a little, did a project or two – then came back to see if things had gotten more interesting. They had not. I literally chose to clean out three large cabinets in the garage rather than waste time watching that parade. Yet, Brian France is afraid IndyCar is going to drag down his product?
I will submit it’s the other way around. For whatever reason, NASCAR still has numbers on their side – albeit, they are declining. Because of this, when someone hears the term racing in this county, NASCAR immediately comes to mind. I cringe at the thought of someone deciding to watch Sunday’s Brickyard 400, thinking this is what racing at Indianapolis must always be like. If Sunday’s race was my first exposure to racing the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, I would never tune in again. It was that bad.
I think what Mr. France really fears is that when fans of Nationwide or even Sprint Cup racing are able to compare his lumbering stock cars to the sights and sounds of IndyCars working their way nimbly through the same track – they’ll wonder why they have been wasting their time following a series that fine tunes with a sledge-hammer. Most of the IndyCar races this season have been entertaining and offered excellent racing. Most of what I’ve seen from NASCAR will cure the worst cases of insomnia.
Perhaps sponsors at the same track on a shared weekend will take notice of a more fan-friendly series that doesn’t require the astronomical funding that NASCAR does. Twenty years ago, it cost almost twice as much to run the full season in CART as it did in NASCAR. Today, the tin-tops command much more to run their marathon season than IndyCar. Think that is only because a NASCAR season is twice as long? Think again. The per-race cost in NASCAR is significantly more than in IndyCar.
I don’t buy what Mr. France is selling. I don’t believe he considers IndyCar a friend, nor do I think he actually believes that IndyCar lags behind Nationwide in any aspect rather than TV ratings. I think he sees IndyCar as the best-kept secret in racing and it is his full intention to keep it that way.
Some will comment on here claiming that I am delusional and I can only see things through my open-wheel tinted glasses. Others will claim I get sore every year around the time of the Brickyard 400 simply because it pains me to see stock cars running on the famed oval. I disagree. When IndyCar screws up, I tend to be fairly vocal about it. Plus, it pains me to see so many empty seats at the Brickyard 400 because I know that race is what keeps IndyCar afloat. The Indianapolis 500 funds the Speedway, while the Brickyard 400 funds IndyCar. So, I really want the NASCAR race at Indianapolis to succeed.
But the Brian France interview was not limited to The Indianapolis Star. Do a Google search and you’ll see the quotes about Nationwide being significantly ahead of IndyCar was picked up by many news outlets. Do you think anyone questioned him? No. His position is such that he can make statements like that and no one calls him out on it. It’s just assumed to be true and it further damages IndyCar. Perhaps that was his plan all along –friend or foe.