NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France paid a surprise visit to the Richmond International Raceway Sunday, just one hour before the start of the Toyota Owners 400 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race.
During the session, France was joined by his son Luke, 6. That was an early tipoff that there would be no blockbuster announcement, no major new initiatives to be rolled out.
Instead, France began the press conference by acknowledging the huge impact of Dale Earnhardt Jr. and talked at length about the changing of the guard among top drivers, as older stars cycle out and are replacement by young ones coming up.
Here are four quick takeaways from France’s appearance.
NASCAR via Getty ImagesGregg Forwerck
NASCAR will miss Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Tuesday’s retirement announcement is something that will affect NASCAR. There’s no question about that. “He’s meant a lot to the sport in many ways, on and off the track,” France said of Earnhardt. “Not just his popularity and whatever, but carrying on the Earnhardt name in such a good way — always competitive on the track, always raced at a high level. Always worked with NASCAR to make the sport better, just like his father did. That’s not always the case with the drivers that come in. ”
France said that the new generation of racers should demonstrate some attitude. “I always tell them, they have to compete at a high level and they can’t be humble about it,” said France of the sports up-and-coming stars like Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott and Erik Jones. “They can’t be humble when they race the stars they looked up to. They can’t be humble and say, ‘I’m happy to be here.’ They’re here for a reason. They’re very, very good. And they stay for a reason, meaning you’ve got to compete at a high level.”
NASCAR is trying to get younger fans
France said NASCAR is pretty much in the same boat as other professional sports in attempting to reach a younger audience at the same time that audience is radically changing how it consumes content.
“Understand that the digital age is well within the present and the future,” said France. “We’re very focused on that. We’re very focused on social (media), we’re very focused on getting young fans. And by the way … we’re not isolated here. Every sport is trying to unlock the new consumption levels and fan interest by a younger demographic.”
NASCARNASCAR via Getty Images
The lone moment of levity in the 12-minute press conference came at the end, when Luke was asked how he expected his favorite driver, Joey Logano, to do in today’s race. “Terrible,” was Luke’s one-word answer.