NASCAR chairman Brian France talked about several pressing issues before last weekend's race at Daytona International Speedway. Here are excerpts of that interview:
Q: What is your overall assessment of where NASCAR stands right now?
A: There seems to be a little bit of optimism in the broader economy and we are seeing that with better attendance in some places that we might have expected to do a little worse. So that's a good thing. And the tracks have responded across the board to try to add value to our fans knowing how difficult it is with all of the things that they are facing, losing their jobs, or the fear of that, and what all of that means, I really want to applaud all of the tracks on the circuit for responding so quickly, not just in ticket prices but across the board in other things. We are related to the car manufacturers and their business issues and that has come full circle. We have been waiting and frankly very much as we should being a good partner with them, through their own very, very difficult restructurings and now bankruptcies and all the rest. So that is a painful reminder that no one is immune from difficult times.
Q: What about Jeremy Mayfield?
A: Now on to the hot topic of the day which is the recent ruling in federal court on (July 1), and more importantly, in my mind, I want to share, clear up a few things regarding NASCAR's substance abuse policy. No. 1, despite the ruling, and we are disappointed with that ruling, we have said that. We have also been asked by the judge, both sides, not to talk in excess of the preceding, his particular ruling, and we'll honor that wish, as well. Jeremy obviously was reinstated as a result of that ruling, and that's where we are today. We are reviewing all of the options, and there are many, obviously including appeals (which was filed Monday), and then there will be, either way, a pursuit in terms of a trial, apparently, to clear this matter up within the courts. We were hoping that would not be the case, but it is the case. On the policy, one of the things that I want to remind everybody, I took a lot of questions and went in very much detail back in May when Jeremy tested positive, and I still hear confusion and I hear misnomers about the policy. The first thing is it's our responsibility to protect the drivers, the fans, other participants within the events. We have a very unique challenge relative to all sports as you well know, which is the inherent danger of somebody impaired on the racetrack. Contrary to what has been said, we took a long time to review how to best go about that. We looked at all of the things that you would expect us to look at, the NFL's policy, the USOC and across the board, remembering that we had to have the toughest policy because we have the most to lose if something, if one of our players is on the field or on the track impaired. And we think, we know we came up with a very good policy and a couple misnomers about it. People frequently test positive for one thing or another. It happens very, very frequently. It's very rare, though, that we do a suspension, because that's a very serious matter.
Q: One of the questions raised in the courtroom wasn't the test result, but NASCAR's fairness. Is that something NASCAR needs to address?
A: We think there is lots of due process and lots of ways that a driver or anyone can work within our system and have no problems at all. And like I said, our policy requires you to list, if you're taking prescribed medication, or if you're taking something substantial over-the-counter or whatever, and we don't need to get silly about this, this chocolate milk business and NASCAR is going to wake up and chocolate milk is, we are talking about what impairs someone's ability to drive the car. And so we have the right amount of flexibilities when we know we have to suspend a driver. And as I said earlier, we have tests all the time where we get positive tests, for one substance or another or prescribed or over-the-counter and how we handle that is, like I said, with the policy; it has some flexibility to that. We don't just go laying the hammer down and ruining someone's career. That's not what we are talking about when we are talking about Jeremy's situation. You know what he was tested for. That's unequivocal. There's not confusion about that from a science standpoint. But if you are asking me, does the policy fit the intended outcomes that we are trying to have, which is to prevent somebody from being on the track impaired, are we doing everything that we can do; that's our responsibility. And you know, I think we are. And if we can do more, we will.
Q: NASCAR said it's open to other foreign manufacturers. Has there been any backlash from that?
A: Our policy and our views haven't really changed. Some of the opportunities for a new manufacturer to come into NASCAR probably have changed. Obviously, there are teams that were getting direct support or were affiliated with one manufacturer or another that are available now. So that is a fact.
We have been talking and we have routinely, because we are open, as we demonstrated with Toyota, which worked well, under the right approach that's unique to NASCAR, for a manufacturer to come in and compete at one of our national divisions. That policy remains open. It is not something that happens easily or overnight.
Q: Are you concerned with attendance and television ratings?
A : I will tell you, look, you've got to keep it in context. Is every sport feeling the pinch for people buying tickets because they have less money in their pocket or they have lost their job? Sure. We are no different. Every sport has felt it in one form or another. We obviously have a very big dependency on sponsorship, and our company is going through restructuring and hurting, sure. Does that have an effect? Yeah. All of that has an effect. But we are still, you know, as we were last weekend, the largest sporting event of the weekend by any metrics, largest in attendance, largest in television viewership, largest in radio viewership, you name the medium, we are either No. 1 or No. 2 every weekend.
Q: Is there any chance Mayfield didn't have methamphetamines in his system?
A: Tests have to be, either they are certain or they are not. So, of course, we believe in looking at that particular test, chain of custody, how it was tested, who tested it; and we wouldn't have suspended him if we didn't think it was that way. These are tough decisions. We know what it means, to anyone, to get such a positive test back. So, yes, we are very comfortable that that test is accurate and reliable and will hold up, ultimately, when all of the facts are heard, which if you're us, that I mean, everybody can say, you know, they don't believe they did something. That kind of happens when people do something wrong typically. They don't like to think they didn't do it.