Originally created 09/15/03

Brian France ready to take over NASCAR reins



LOUDON, N.H. -- Brian France expected to eventually be the boss at NASCAR. He just didn't know it was going to happen so soon.

The scion of the founding France family was named Saturday by his father, Bill France Jr., as his successor in the dual roles of board chairman and chief executive of the auto sanctioning body.

In a telephone interview Sunday with The Associated Press, the younger France said he knew he was being groomed for the leadership role but didn't know when he would take over.

"(My father) has always set his own timetable for making his own decisions," France said. "We have talked about various scenarios, but not when it was going to happen."

The 41-year-old Brian France, grandson of NASCAR founder Bill France Sr., has worked for years in a variety of positions in the family run company. He said he feels comfortable taking over the leadership of NASCAR and plans no major changes in the top management.

"It's not like bringing somebody in from the outside," he said. Referring to NASCAR president Mike Helton and chief operating officer George Pyne, France added, "I have worked side-by-side with Mike and George and the rest of the management team for a long time.

"I just want to keep empowering them even more to do the jobs they are doing, and I'm going to try to steer the big priorities."

France said those priorities include continuing a program dubbed "realignment 2004 and beyond" by Bill France Jr. It is an effort to reorganize the schedule in Winston Cup, NASCAR's top stock car series, to include more events in major markets.

The realignment of the sport that was founded in 1948 with most of its events and its fan base in the Southeast, has already spread its races coast-to-coast and built a national following.

The realignment initiative began earlier this season with the announcement that the 2004 Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway will be moved from Labor Day weekend to November. The Labor Day date will go to California Speedway.

North Carolina Motor Speedway, a much smaller facility located in a rural area, lost one of its two dates in 2004 to the California track - 60 miles east of Los Angeles - which now will host two races.

"I want to keep the gas on there," Brian France said, referring to the realignment effort.

He said he wants to address criticism of NASCAR for allowing its competitors to race back to the flagstand when a caution flag is waved and for its point system which rewards consistency more than winning.

Asked about other priorities, he said, "I'm looking at all kinds of things in competition - racing back to the flag, a new scoring approach and how to best make use of our new research and development facility.

"And our TV agreement will be up before you know it."

NASCAR signed a six-year, $2.8 billion television contract in 2001 under the guidance of Bill France Jr., who took over the day-to-day operation of NASCAR from his father in 1972. The 70-year-old France has built it into the nation's second-most popular professional sports league behind the NFL.

Brian France said it is an ideal time to take on his new jobs because major changes are coming to NASCAR next year. Telecommunications giant NEXTEL is taking over from Winston as the sponsor of its top series and Sunoco is replacing Union 76 as the official fuel supplier.

The elder France will cut back on his activities but will stay active as co-vice chairman of NASCAR with his brother, Jim, and will also remain a member of the board of directors.

"It's great that my dad will still be here," he said. "I want to draw from his wisdom. I'd be foolish not to."

Asked if he was concerned his father might find it hard to let go, France said, "From now on, I have to make the big decisions. If it wasn't that way, why not just leave it the way it was?"