Catching Up With: NASCAR's Brian France at Beyond Sport in London

NASCAR CEO Brian France, shown earlier this year, was part of a panel at the Beyond Sport Summit in London on Wednesday.
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NASCAR CEO Brian France is in London this week for the Beyond Sport Summit. It was created by the British non-profit Beyond Sport, which aims to use sport to improve society. France arrived Tuesday but planned to leave before Friday’s opening ceremony.

Before speaking on a panel Wednesday titled “Mobilizing Millions: How can we change the attitudes of the masses through sport?” which also featured celebrity chef Jamie Oliver and South Africa soccer association CEO Robin Petersen, France sat down to talk about NASCAR’s involvement with Beyond Sport and the sanctioning body’s future overseas.

What have you done since arriving in London?

FRANCE: We’ve been taking in some of the Olympic flavor. I went by some of the complexes … and I’ve been popping in and out of some (Beyond Sport Summit) panels. It’s my first one. It’s an interesting, big thing. There are a lot of notable athletes and commissioners. The concept — what are you doing in sport that impacts people — is a really good thing. It challenges you to assess what you are. It’s an honor for us to be a part of it. Today we’ll tell our story.

What is NASCAR’s social responsibility story?

FRANCE: One is our ongoing green initiative that really started four or five years ago. We’re really building out a well-rounded program in that. Doing it with our partners and marshalling our eco-system and ultimately our fan base to think about things that have an impact on the environment. … That’s primarily what Beyond Sport noticed when they invited us to join.

You were the last major league sport to join Beyond Sport. What did that mean?

FRANCE: Not every sport has received an invite. Whether we’re first, last or in the middle, we’re just happy to be a part of it.

NASCAR recently licensed its name to a European series. How has that gone?

FRANCE: It’s gone pretty well. It’s a relatively modest thing. … The car count has met expectations. The crowd has met expectations. The promoters are generally happy knowing that anything new — what I always tell people is you can’t be arrogant about your sport being really popular in one part of the world and (think) you can easily export it. Other leagues have found that out. We’ve dabbled around with some events here and there and sold merchandise (internationally) and some other things.

What is the long-term international future for NASCAR?

FRANCE: The good news is auto racing is played all over the world. Unlike the NFL, as popular as it is, it’s not played anywhere else. So naturally we have some opportunities. Most of the big auto racing series divisions are road racing or off-road racing, rally car. There will be some opportunities with licensing deals. We also have a crowded domestic schedule.

Where do you see it working?

FRANCE: In certain parts of the world, let’s say China, I’ve been to China twice now to see what role if any we can have. Would there be a chance down the road for us to build from the ground up like we did in the 1950s with racing in really small venues and as the car becomes central to their culture? I don’t know. The timing has to be right. Different parts of the world you could have huge success over time. We want to take it real careful. We have plenty of things on our plate domestically.

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