Brian France On Indefinite Leave; Where Does NASCAR Go Next?
NASCAR Chair & CEO Brian France will take an "indefinite leave from the sport" after being charged with "aggravated driving while intoxicated and criminal possession of a controlled substance," according to a front-page piece by Henderson & Marks of the CHARLOTTE OBSERVER. NASCAR said that in the interim, Vice Chair Jim France -- Brian's uncle -- will "assume the positions" of Chair & CEO. Brian France was arrested at 7:30pm ET Sunday night in the Hamptons and was "held overnight and arraigned" at 9:30am yesterday. He was "released on his own recognizance." The Sag Harbor, N.Y., police in a release said France was "in possession of oxycodone pills" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 8/7). Jim France had already become more involved again in the family’s businesses in recent months, negotiating the purchase of ARCA and going to Le Mans, France, to work on a project for IMSA. The brother of Bill France Jr., Jim brings years of knowledge and a traditional approach to the business (Adam Stern, Staff Writer). In N.Y., Kevin Draper notes it is "not clear what ramifications France will face if he is found guilty of the charges." His position in the sport is "akin to that of a league commissioner," but since NASCAR is a "closely held, family-owned business he is not accountable to team owners and the public in a way that leaders like the NFL’s Roger Goodell and the NBA’s Adam Silver might be" (N.Y. TIMES, 8/7).
BUSINESS AS USUAL: NBCSN's Nate Ryan said France's indefinite leave "shouldn't affect what fans see on the racetrack." France is "more responsible for long-term vision and planning and much less so the short term." Ryan: "There is an executive suite of about five to six people who handle more of the day-to-day responsibilities that affect the on-track competition that fans see. Brian France has been candid that he doesn't go to as many races as prior CEOs of NASCAR. ... because he trusts his management team to handle the day-to-day responsibilities involving competition" ("NASCAR America," NBCSN, 8/6).
WASTED OPPORTUNITY: In Greensboro, Ed Hardin writes Chase Elliott's Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series win at Watkins Glen on Sunday was the "biggest jolt of energy the sport could hope for, a young superstar finally breaking through to win for the first time in what many hope will be a game-changing career." The win was "heralded nationally as a coming-out for Elliott and a PR bonanza for a sport that needed it in the worst way." However, France managed to "destroy the news cycle." This could "not have been a clumsier or costlier end to a rare successful day in an ever-troubled sport" (Greensboro NEWS & RECORD, 8/7). In Charlotte, Brendan Marks writes, "On one of the few times that NASCAR was getting positive attention -- the most positive publicity this season -- France undermined it." Marks: "He mucked it up. And now rather than young Elliott’s ascension to NASCAR stardom, this week’s TV shows will instead discuss France’s blunder" (CHARLOTTEOBSERVER.com, 8/7).
TIME TO LEAVE: Motorsports reporter Jeff Gluck noted France has been at the helm since '03, a 15-year stretch in which he has made "highly questionable decisions and statements, oversaw a sharp decline in his company’s fortunes and acted oddly during his all-too-rare public appearances." Perhaps this is the "catalyst in having Brian France step aside for someone who is more engaged and capable of guiding the biggest racing series in the United States through turbulent times." Gluck: "If this incident doesn’t result in France leaving his role as head of NASCAR, what would?" (JEFFGLUCK.com, 8/6). ESPN.com's Bob Pockrass wrote with his "leadership already in question as NASCAR's attendance and television ratings continue to drop year after year, France could take this opportunity to exit permanently." It would be a way for him to "leave not based on performance but for horrible decision-making." As the leader of a national sport, "especially one that is struggling, France needs to portray an image of stability and show good judgment." This arrest "makes him a laughing stock to many" (ESPN.com, 8/6).
IN NEED OF LEADERSHIP: The OBSERVER's Marks writes NASCAR has "been a wreck under France." Now, if there is "any hope of saving the spare parts, it must be someone else behind the driver’s wheel" (CHARLOTTEOBSERVER.com, 8/7). USA TODAY's Josh Peter writes France "must step aside for good." France "looked unsteady leading NASCAR for years." His fate "likely rests with his older sister, Lesa, his uncle, Jim, and other stakeholders who must ask themselves this: On what grounds can Brian France credibly oversee NASCAR’s substance abuse policy, safety issues and, for that matter, the entire organization?" Peter: "He can’t, of course" (USA TODAY, 8/7). In Orlando, Mike Bianchi writes NASCAR fans will tell you France has "been MIA for far too long." Even NASCAR employees "roll their eyes and shake their heads at the mention of their absentee CEO." If any sport now "needs a strong, vocal boss to lead the charge, rally the troops and fire up the fan base, it is NASCAR" (ORLANDO SENTINEL, 8/7).
LOOKING AHEAD: The AP's Jenna Fryer wrote, "So what happens next? Nobody knows." France has been so "inapproachable the last several years, few even know what he does." He is in "charge of day-to-day NASCAR, but he’s got a layer of frontmen putting out all the fires and answering all the critics." It has been "confusing to watch" because France, the one who "should be leading the cavalry, has been conspicuously absent." Moving forward, France "must ask himself if he really wants to be the face of NASCAR anymore" (AP, 8/6). YAHOO SPORTS' Nick Bromberg wrote no matter if France "stays or leaves as NASCAR’s top leader following its most embarrassing moment of the year, a more hands-on approach is needed going forward from whomever has the No. 1 title." Public confidence and "rational decision making are paramount in any rejuvenation attempt." That is what NASCAR is "about to embark on" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 8/6).