Tony Stewart pointed out a major flaw with NASCAR in an interview with Dave Moody on Sirius/XM Radio: series chairman and CEO Brian France just isn’t there at the track. That might explain a few things.
According to USA Today, Stewart told Moody that drivers rarely actually see Brian France at the track, and that they get the impression that France doesn’t hear their side of issues facing the sport. Stewart explained, as quoted by USA Today:
I want to see Brian France at the track more. I want to see him walking through the garage more. I want to see him being more active than just showing up and patting the sponsors on the back and going up in the suite.
I want to see him down there in the trenches with everybody and understanding what’s truly going on. I think that’s where he needs to be for awhile.
If anyone’s going to call out France’s no-show behavior, it should be Stewart. In addition to being a longtime driver, he also runs the All-Star Circuit of Champions sprint car series and owns Eldora Speedway, where the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series runs the Race Not Called The Mudsummer Classic Anymore For Intensely Idiotic Reasons. Stewart’s also a constant presence even in the lower tiers of oval racing, be it in helping young talent or grooming the track at the Chili Bowl.
Point being: here’s a dude who’s all over the sport of oval racing, and he’s even saying Brian France doesn’t come around enough. That’s a problem.
Stewart is also retiring this year and I’d imagine whatever PR filter he had in the past is completely toast by now. (All the better.)
“Nobody wants to disrupt the apple cart, nobody wants to make Brian mad,” Stewart told Moody, as quoted by USA Today. Stewart mentioned that he doesn’t care about the repercussions when putting the series’ leadership on blast, but it’s worrying to him that so many drivers do (with good reason). When drivers aren’t giving honest feedback to any level of the series’ management, that management isn’t getting the necessary information to lead the sport.
Brian France takes a more hands-off approach to managing NASCAR than his father and grandfather did, according to USA Today. Stewart believes that Brian’s reliance on executives to handle many daily decisions and his infrequent appearances on race weekends has been bad for the sport.
One example Stewart cited was NASCAR’s new drivers’ council. While France maintains that he wants the drivers to be able to say what they want in meetings without fear of repercussions, Stewart told Moody that he feels as if France is missing a lot by not being there. As quoted by USA Today:
I would like for [Brian France] to be there because the stuff I’m talking about, I want to know before I leave that room that he understands. I want to see he cares enough to be there, not sit there and get a report from somebody.
I know Brian France cares. But I think there’s a lot of things that get lost in translation between a driver going to talk to somebody in the [NASCAR office] trailer to the time it gets to him. Who knows what it sounds like by the time it gets up there — or if it even gets up there. ... He doesn’t have to say anything. We just want to know that he’s hearing what we’re saying.
Stewart also cited last year’s rules package debate as another example of France’s overreliance on executives to make decisions about the racing. France was so convinced by vice president of racing development Gene Stefanyshyn that the intensely dull high-downforce rules package was the way to go that he argued with Stewart over Stewart’s push for the low-downforce setup that was more popular among drivers. Stewart elaborated, as quoted by USA Today:
I sat there in my head thinking, “Wait a minute. You’re standing up for a guy [Stefanyshyn] who’s never worked on a race car, never been on a race team and now is making decisions on what the rules package is going to be versus guys who have been driving a race car for 20 or 30 years. You’re telling us that guy is smarter than we all are?” That’s where Brian France and I disagree.
Fortunately, the low-downforce package that many drivers wanted won out in the end, but it sounds like that was somewhat of an uphill battle.
Between this and the prohibition against “comments derogatory towards the racing product,” I’m noticing a theme here. You can’t lead a racing series by proxy, via overly positive comments filtered through a game of executive telephone.
In order to understand the series you’re tasked with leading, you need to be in the pits, among the teams and willing to listen to critical comments about pressing issues within the sport. Otherwise, the yes-men will railroad through changes that no one outside of NASCAR’s leadership seems to approve of.
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