Saturday, November 8, 2008
Fans Need Brian France On TV This Sunday
There comes a time in every sport where world events suddenly change the dynamic of a single season. This is now the case for NASCAR as the sanctioning body enters the final eight days of the 2008 season.
On Friday night, TV viewers on SPEED were shocked at the complete lack of fans in the stands for another great Craftsman Truck Series race. Saturday afternoon on ESPN2, Phoenix International Raceway offered a full day of practice and qualifying that ended with a late afternoon Nationwide Series race. Again, the empty grandstands told the tale.
The public image that NASCAR has put forward this week is of a sport in compete confusion. Rumors of huge layoffs and fulltime professional teams folding left and right are everywhere on the Internet. Fans have heard from team owners, drivers and every single TV commentator under the sun on this pending economic disaster.
The one person that TV viewers have not seen is NASCAR CEO Brian France.
While NASCAR's public relations guru Jim Hunter can offer comforting words and company president Mike Helton can explain racing decisions, neither of them is the face fans want to see.
For three generations, NASCAR has been a family-run business that has always had a clear and decisive leader. That role has now been passed to Brian France. The last time most fans saw him on mainstream TV was commenting on the Mauricia Grant lawsuit. France never wore a tie, looked disheveled and was clearly annoyed about the legal issues the sport was facing.
Now, with the tentacles of the current economic crisis about to grip NASCAR and shake it very hard, fans need to know what the leader thinks. Fans need to know what the sanctioning body is doing right now to ward off disaster in 2009.
Basic and very fundamental issues are coming to the forefront. Even as the Camping World sponsorship is set to be unveiled on SPEED, major Truck Series owners are leaving the sport after this season. From Jack Roush to Bill Davis, things are being said in the media that fundamentally do not match what is being said by NASCAR.
At a time when the Nationwide Series is struggling once again for an identity, JR Motorsports announced cutbacks and layoffs because the series itself is no longer viable to sponsors. This comes at a time when NASCAR is saying it has decided to push back the roll-out of the Nationwide COT until 2010. Once again, there are two fundamentally opposite statements in the media.
On the Sprint Cup side, the good folks over at Jayski.com are typing 24 hours a day trying to keep up with the potential team mergers and buyouts. As a small group of owners with sponsors in-hand continue to circumvent NASCAR rules by creating "satellite teams," others who have been in the sport for decades seem ready to fold their tents and walk away.
TV shows like RaceDay, NASCAR Now and NASCAR Countdown are the ways that fans get their up-to-date information on the hot issues in the news. Trusted names like Allen Bestwick, Wendy Venturini and Dr. Jerry Punch have been with the fans since February and have worked hard to gain the trust of the NASCAR TV viewers.
This Sunday, more than ever before, fans will be watching to see how NASCAR reacts to the on-going news that a significant portion of the very teams who support the top three series are in trouble. While announcers like Bestwick and Venturini can hold the attention of the fans, they both need one thing to get the job done. That would be someone to interview.
The only person who should be speaking to this subject is Brian France.
Denial is a wonderful thing, but not when the media is directly questioning the very health of the sport that provides the income and lifestyle for the France family. It is time for a strong statement of the situation within the sport and some solid answers to the issues that will confront both teams and fans in 2009.
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