Kobritz: Brian France should do the right thing for NASCAR
Beyond the Lines
Brian France, CEO of NASCAR, announced he was taking an “indefinite” leave of absence to address his “problems” after he was arrested last weekend in Sag Harbor, New York, for aggravated DWI. He would be doing all of NASCAR Nation a great service if he made his leave permanent.
In addition to having a blood alcohol content above 0.18, the police also found oxycodone pills in France’s possession after they pulled him over for failing to stop at a stop sign. This wasn’t the first time he shouldn’t have been behind the wheel of a vehicle, having hit a tree in Daytona Beach in 2006. A witness said France was driving at a “very reckless speed’’ and “fell over his own feet” after exiting his Lexus, according to media reports.
If NASCAR ever conducted an open search for a CEO and Brian France submitted an application under a pseudonym, he would be the last person considered for the position. Brian France was anointed CEO in 2003 by his uncle, Jim France, and his sister, Lesa France Kennedy, the other two stockholders of the privately held company, because they were unwilling to be the public face of the sport. While some good things happened in NASCAR during France’s early years in office, it’s easy to deduce they occurred in spite of him, not because of him.
The company has been blessed with capable executives at the highest levels, most of whom were hired before France became CEO. I know because I worked with a number of them – and one worked for me - while I owned the Daytona Cubs, the minor league baseball team in Daytona Beach in the 1990’s. NASCAR as a sport also came of age in the 1990’s and early 2000’s, thanks to talented drivers with outsized personalities – Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Dale Earnhardt Jr. among them – and the unquenchable appetite of television for live sports programming.
Earnhardt Sr. died in a 2001 crash during the Daytona 500 and Junior retired last year. Other big names, including Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, and Danica Patrick, have also retired from the sport in recent years. Attendance at NASCAR races and television viewership have been in a free fall for a decade and this year has seen a continuation of that trend. According to ESPN, TV ratings for the first 16 races of the season are down 20 percent and admissions revenue to 14 Cup Series weekends since the Daytona 500 is down almost 15 percent.
I met France in the early 1990’s when we shared a bus ride during a sport NGO event in Florida. No one would have confused him with CEO material then and he proceeded to prove the point by both his actions and inactions.
France frittered away the last vestiges of credibility he may have had in that fateful night in Sag Harbor. He is as qualified to run NASCAR as he was to drive an automobile when he was arrested. Brian should make his leave permanent so Jim and Lesa don’t have to do it for him.
Jordan Kobritz is a non-practicing attorney and CPA, former Minor League Baseball team owner and current investor in MiLB teams. He is a professor in the Sport Management Department at SUNY Cortland and maintains the blog, sportsbeyondthelines.com. The opinions contained in this column are the author’s. Kobritz can be reached by email at email@example.com.