NASCAR Media Tour Presentation
January 21, 2010
BRIAN FRANCE: Welcome to the NASCAR Media Tour to kick off our season. This is an exciting time of the season, No. 1, you have some new teams you have some drivers that were surging at the end of the year, notably Denny Hamlin and notably Juan Pablo Montoya, who I think arrived they have arrived at a place where they are going to contend for a championship.
You have a situation that is the most competitive in the history of NASCAR. And I'm not just saying that because it's convenient to say, but you really have at least 25 teams at this stage in the season when everybody has a clean state that believes they can get into the Chase and compete for a championship in the end. That's what makes the anticipation -- that's what makes this time of year so special.
And then, to top it off, we kick it off with Daytona. We kick it off with our biggest event at the front part of our season. I want to take a moment to mention to you something that is dear to everyone's heart in this room, Jim Hunter, things are are going well. He is about to get his clean bill of health back and join us for the opening of Speed Weeks, and I know that if you see Jim, say hello to him, he is really looking forward to seeing all of you guys.
Obviously a lot of things as we go into 2010, one of them is the Hall of Fame that we are eagerly awaiting much it's been talked about for a number of years. It is obviously getting close to completion and will open this May. First round of inductees have already been chosen and the Hall is going to allow us to celebrate our past, look ahead to our future in ways that we have not been able to do and the things we are going to do in and around that great place and around the Speed Weeks that are here in Charlotte will be terrific and we are looking forward to that.
Let me say, that most of you heard by now that we have been pretty active in the month of January and we will remain active in meeting with every member of our industry. And I personally have met with every driver, every team owner, every track operator, and we will be meeting with all of our television partners, as well. And the reason that we are doing that, is because it's really a takeoff of what we started in May.
Our town hall meetings, our ability to get the kind of input we need and we did it this time in team-related meetings, specific meeting, smaller meetings where we can really get the exchanges going and the back and forth for the drivers and team owners and track operators and everybody talking about one thing, talking about this is a contact sport: We have got the best racing in the world, and what are the things that we can do to make it better. What are the things that we can do to open it up a little bit. What are the rules packages that are available to us, with all of the things that we have to balance, but what are those things? And we got very, very good input I'm pleased to say and shortly Roger Pemberton and our other competition team members will be talking about some of the changes that we are going to make.
But what you need to know is whether it's specific changes that wither going to announce today, or whether it's just how we regulate and officiate the events week-in and week-out, we are going to have an eye on putting things back in the drivers hands. They are going to mix it up a little bit differently because we are going to loosen it up.
We have been doing that for several years and we are going to continue that. And the goal is to make very, very good racing, better. That's the No. 1 goal that we have. We think we have got the right package to do just that.
Want to mention a couple of other things, too. The team that works directly with me who makes it all happen. You know, we made a number of announcements and changes getting some additional people new roles, Steve O'Donnell being one, who is going to get a much bigger role directly working with Mike Helton, running all of our competition group. Robin Pemberton has more responsibility and Brett Bodine and others are getting more responsibility.
And we have some really talented people on the competition side. We are loading them up differently and, better and I would be remiss if I didn't thank it -- where is John Darby -- John, for his incredible service to what a lot of people believe is the toughest job in NASCAR, and that's the series race director that he's held for a number of years. And John is going to be transitioning here to the R&D center to have a bigger role with the company, but not the role as series director. Thanks, John, for everything you have done to make racing great.
Let me say a few other things that are on our plate that we are working on and have been in the off-season and frankly, for a while, that are coming to fruition. One of them is something interesting that my father actually pulled me into his office back in 1996, talked about, believe it or not, iRacing, or the ability to have simulated racing on a computer that would feel like you were racing, sort of multi-player against other gamers or other people around the country and even around the world.
And my dad had a good idea that he was just ahead of the technology and ahead of his time, but we are now at the place where we are going to be able to showcase NASCAR to a much younger audience, starting with what we call iRacing, which will be debuting in February. And we have had some interesting collaboration on that.
One of the chief architects of our racing plant, and no one knows this or very few people know this is Dale Earnhardt, Junior. He is on the computer racing all of the tracks in NASCAR against what he says is a number of drivers out there that know how to get around some of the tracks better than he does in the simulated version of racing. He's been a big help, and so has John Henry, who has been a -- has an interest in this kind of technology. So John has been helpful. Those are the two guys, and Paul Brooks on our team, who have been putting this together. We will be launching that in February.
The two other initiatives that are either always working on and that are never finished, is one's diversity. We talk about that frequently, because of how important it is and how important it will be when we ultimately reach all of our goals way down the road. But we are making progress, Marcus and his team continue to look for drivers and give opportunity to people who would not have an opportunity. They are going to get noticed.
We have got some really talented people, Richard Childress was telling me in October at the Speedway that he has found a driver with a diverse background that he thinks is going to have a real chance to elevate. We are seeing that all over the place, not just in the driver seat, but in management and other forms, other roles that they can play, somebody can play in the sport. So we are excited about that. That progress.
And then let me say something about the green economy and the industry of NASCAR and its slow, steady, march to be smarter about how we go about our energy footprint, smarter about how we treat the environment. And I have got to tell you, we went from literally nowhere 18 months ago to hiring Michael Lynch, who is our director of green innovation, and going out and meeting with our industry, a very receptive industry starting right here at the Speedway in Charlotte, and many of our teams, about how we can do this together, do it carefully and smartly where it can benefit the sport and the fans and make us more attractive to a green economy for sponsorships and new technologies down the road.
I have to tell you, we went from just some ideas on the table to a video I'm going to show you that some of you saw out in Las Vegas that it gives you an update on where we are with our green program.
BRIAN FRANCE: Mike mentioned that right here at the R&D center we are working with Sunoco and other third-party groups on new fuels, new ways to power the racing in the future, and that's going to be -- we are going to be hard at work over the next many years to see what that can bring, but we are really excited about that.
Let me finish by talking just a moment about, I know the issues of the day, beyond the meetings that we have had and rules changes, and that's how is this year going to be, and how is the economy affecting the business size and the race fans and all of the things that go on, sponsorships being certainly notable in there.
I would tell you that while we are not economists, that some things are stabilizing for us and our sport. First thing that is stabilized are are the car manufacturers. A year ago, there was a whole bunch of uncertainty about their future. They were coming in, going out of bankruptcy in some cases. They had very challenging business models. At that point they were unsure about the funding they might get from Washington. We were very supportive on that bill and we were we supportive with our car manufacturers to hope to get them the funding and the resources they need and that has all worked, because largely all four car manufacturers who compete in NASCAR are much more healthier than they were just a year ago. I'm pleased to say that. And they have all continued their investment. It may be different now and it may be different in the future but they have all still recognized NASCAR as a place that works for them.
The rest of the economy is much trickier. You have the tracks that I think have done an amazing job of reacting, and they were reacting back when the energy issues were going on a year and a half ago or more back in the summer of '08 is when they were reacting to high energy costs with how many of our fans drive RVs and everything else to the events. They have been cutting ticket price, working on ticketing packages. They have been zeroed in in their race markets with the hotels, restaurants, to get discounts to make things cheaper, because in certain places, North Carolina being one certainly, but Michigan, California, Florida have been very hard hit. I've been impressed with the tracks and what the net of that is, they are making it much easier and much more affordable at a time when that's really, really important to our race fans and I want to thank them all for reacting so fastly to do that.
And then the teams have obviously been affected immensely with the sponsorship business model that has been tough, no question about it. Companies are, as you now know, are very careful, caution to invest a lot of money in sponsorships of any kind, and we are dealing with that. And our teams are working with that. But despite that, that started to thaw a little bit.
Teams are getting renewals of sponsorship. We are seeing some new companies; we have two or three that our New York office is about to pull into the sport. And so the best place for corporate sponsors to work best has always been NASCAR, and that's no different today.
So while it's tough, it's not easy, we do see that getting a little bit better and we do see full fields of race cars, which is always an uncertain thing when the economy is tough. For 2010 for the most part, we will have highly competitive, well-funded teams, no small thing in a tough place. And to that point, I might mention one of the sponsors that we will be announcing later on is K&N, which is a California-based company.
They are going to make a seven-year commitment to the Grand National East and West Series, as well, and that's our grass roots series, our touring division series where most of the drivers from the Sprint Cup come from. We really appreciate their support at this point in time. The net of it is that we are going to make the changes that we need to make with the race car, to get things -- to get the car to drive as well as it can, and the racing to be as good as it can.
We are going to be very helpful with our teams as best we can and our tracks, at understanding this economy and sponsorship model that they are facing. We are facing it, too, every day that we are moving around. And then we are going to open it up. I said that earlier. We are going to open it up, because we want to see what you want to see: More contact, this is a contact sport. We want to see drivers mixing it up. We want to see the emotion of the world's best drivers just as much as everybody else does, and that is the goal for 2010 and beyond.
So with that, I will pass it on to Robin Pemberton, I believe, or Ramsey Poston, excuse me, and enjoy the balance of the day. Thanks for covering the sport, not only obviously this week, but give you a salute, we have the longest season in sports are that we are getting started here next month. So thank you very much for all you do.
RAMSEY POSTON: Steve, thank you for your commitment and welcome aboard and we are really proud to have you. K&N has had a great tradition in grass roots racing and you really continue that today. Steve is joined by George Silverman, our managing director of racing operations, Bob Duval, our director of regional racing, series operation, and our director for touring series, Richard Buck, who will reveal the new K&N logoed car.
Please welcome vice president of competition, Robin Pemberton.
ROBIN PEMBERTON: Thanks, Ramsey. Good afternoon, everybody. I'd like to start the afternoon off here and begin and update you on some of the changes and moves we are making here at the R&D center. Mike Fisher will continue to lead our efforts here at R&D. His existing team will be joined by Brett Bodine as director of racing R&D. Tom Gideon, director of safety R&D, and Jamie DiPietro as manager for safety inspections.
Also, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series director John Darby has been promoted to managing director of competition. In addition to the national series directors, the touring series directors will also report to John. There's probably nobody in the industry that's better qualified than John Darby to take this job. He knows the ins, he knows the outs of the garage area and he's a perfect fit, and I look forward to having John in the office next door instead of the one down the hall. And I appreciate that, John, I do.
But as we begin our search for the next Sprint Cup Series director, John will also be involved in that choice, and he will continue his duties as a Sprint Cup Series director until that void is filled.
And now for a few updates on the Nationwide Series. As you know the new Nationwide car will run in four races this year, starting with the July 2 race at Daytona. Followed by races at Michigan on August 14, Richmond on September 10 and Charlotte on October 15 and it is targeted for full integration in 2011. And those tracks where the car will race this year, we will also go in and have a team test the day before, everyone will sign in a day early, work on their setups, and preparation for Daytona on May 18 and 19, we will also have an open test at Daytona which will include all of the race teams.
As we welcome Road America on the tour, the Nationwide Series will schedule an R&D and Goodyear test there in the spring or in the summer. It will be a typical test that we have done as we have gone to other brand new facilities in México and in Montréal. The teams will also be going to Road America a day early as they prepare for that event.
Another thing we have in the Nationwide Series is crew limits. Starting this season, the NASCAR Nationwide Series will institute crew limits of 15. The teams will include driver, crew chief, spotter and seven over the wall members. This is the same procedures that they have used in the Truck Series last year.
Leading on to the Truck Series, we have got a few updates. We will be implementing the double-file restart shootout style this year. And as a result, we will go back to the conventional style pit stops. We are also giving the teams a couple of different options, including a self-venting fuel can which will eliminate the need for a catch can man on pit road. We will also be giving teams the option of a spec engine on every racetrack a mile and a quarter or less. We hope that that gives the teams on the regional and touring series an opportunity to compete in the Truck Series.
As it relates to the Spring Cup Series, there's been a lot of debate and talk over winter times, as everyone knows. The bump drafting as we know it at Daytona and Talladega over the past few years will be totally eliminated. We will put it back in the hands of the hands of the drivers and we will say boys, have at it and have a good time, that's all I can say.
As it relates to the yellow line, that has been a highly-debated conversation over the wintertime and the general consensus is the yellow line is, it needs to stay, and it will for now, and we will look at it at a later date. But now, it will be in play from green flag to checkered flag.
As we go to Daytona, some of the things that we have found over the wintertime with all of our testing and our wind tunnel tests, we have added some stability to the cars, a little bit of drag, and this will result in an added -- adding to the restrictor plate size, so in it Daytona this year as we go into Speed Weeks, a 63-64-size plate will be used and that will be the largest restrictor plate since the 1989 Daytona 500.
As we move on to the transition of the spoiler from the wing, we have been in several wind tunnel tests this winter, we have been with several manufacturers and the race teams and we are coming off a very, very successful two-day Goodyear Tire test at Texas Motor Speedway where the teams ran both the spoiler and the wing. And we also have tests scheduled over here at Charlotte Motor Speedway on March 23 and 24 for all competitors as they will prepare the cars for the spoiler.
So in closing, I think we have got a lot of good things to offer everybody. I think all of our rules are positive moving into 2010. To be honest with you, I'm as excited with you about 2010, very excited about the spoiler coming back. And since I was a kid and saw my first race with Richard Petty in 1970, watched him win, my first race at the track as a crew member in 1980 at the Daytona 500, I think 2010 go down as one of the most exciting years of all. Thank you very much. I hope everybody has a great afternoon. Thank you.
RAMSEY POSTON: Thank you, Robin. Good-looking car, isn't it. We will now welcome up to the stage our first question and answer panel, which will include Brian France, NASCAR president, Mike Helton, chief marketing officer Steve Phelps, senior vice president and president of the NASCAR media group, Paul Brooks, and senior vice president of racing operations, Steve O'Donnell. Gentlemen?
Q. For Brian France, can I talk about the precedent for change, because sometimes when you mention or talk about change, the headlines are NASCAR is desperate, because they are making change and then a while back change was like, we are not going to change but early on in the history of NASCAR there has been change throughout the history, so can you talk about the precedent for change in NASCAR?
BRIAN FRANCE: Clearly there is an ebb and flow, sometimes you can do too much, and that's unsettling to people. That certainly can happen. And then there's times when there are things right in front of you that everybody feels very strongly about, and in this case, the spoiler with what that's going to do to change the racing; and there will be a significant change, and depending on which driver and team you are, you'll feel differently about that.
But I think that there's no question that in the exchanges we have had with the drivers and the team owners, and everyone else, they want to go back to a more traditional-looking race car and a traditional-handling race car, and that is a change we think that will be the right one at the right time.
Q. As far as the 2011 schedule, have you received an application for Kansas to get a second date, and can you talk about Kentucky and if you feel like the litigation will be resolved in time for you to get an application there?
BRIAN FRANCE: I'm going to take this time to answer something else and I'll answer you directly. The answer is, we haven't had -- we don't start working on our schedules until the spring, so we would not have had an opportunity to hear from anyone on realignment. And Kentucky as we have said very clearly, as long as that is in litigation, that we can't consider realignment.
So we hope that -- and I know the track operator at SMI and Bruce Smith and I have had a coverings and we would love the lawsuit to go away and when it goes away, we will take any request and review it.
But I want to make one quick point about litigation and things that are going on. I want to pre-empt anybody on this, because we are going to defend the industry against anything in terms of the policies that we have to institute. And we are going to litigate them all the way to the end, all the time, and that's our policy. And what we want to do in the future is answer questions about these cases or issues which most fans do not care about, they are not interested in that. And we want to answer questions regarding that when there are verdicts or conclusions that have been made by a judge or a jury.
We want to get out of the idea that we are going to be commenting about every little filing and this thing happened, this today and this ruling and motion. There is going to be a lot of litigation; it's a litigious society. We don't file lawsuits. We have to defends them for our drivers, our teams and our tracks, and we will defend them. But we are not going to be commenting as a matter of policy in the future, unless there is some news or some verdict that has been rendered by a judge or a jury, and I want to be clear about that as we go into 2010 and get our media focused on what I know you really want to be focused on and that's what happens on the track.
Q. On the topic of putting the driving back in the hands of the drivers, a number of years ago at Daytona at a session with John and Robin, they said, well, are you keeping a score card on the drivers and ratcheting up penalties and fines, and I was wondering, how does the current situation now impact that ratcheting up or down of the fines, penalties?
MIKE HELTON: Well, I'll remind everybody a couple years at this function, we, myself, Brian, Robin and others, mentioned the fact that we were going to lighten up on the competitors allow their character to unfold more than the way we had forced it to do based on keeping your score card as you mentioned.
So we started that process already of lightening up, and what Brian mentioned today is we continue to do that, we continue to look for ways to continue to do that. So it doesn't mean that you get a free pass out of jail card or anything from some of the characters we have got in the sport, but it certainly means that what we are encouraging the competitors to do as we have for the past couple of years is for their character and their personality within reason to be unfolded. And as we looked at over the course of the off-season, at the rules and regulations we had, and what inspired that regulation, what caused it, and what it applied to and was it necessary today, we asked Robin and his guys to take a look at ones that we could talk about letting up on.
And we'll continue that process. We will continue to look at those rules and regulations as the season unfolds, but we have to be sure that we don't step too far the other direction but certainly we are encouraging the characters of the sport, the athletes and the crew members for their personalities to be a big part of the sport.
Q. When did the impetus, the idea of going back to the spoiler, originally begin, and also did it seem that no matter what you guys did with the wing, the fans just didn't really seem to like having a wing on these cars?
MIKE HELTON: Some people would say, I wouldn't say this, but some people would say that it started after the first race. But internally it was a work-in-progress from day one when we got more and more experience are in our belt as to exactly what was happening at the racetrack in the garage area, and on the racetrack itself.
And as Mike Fisher and his guys started generating the Nationwide car, part of that exercise was to look at the difference and take a look at a spoiler versus a wing. We went in and put the wing in for all of the right reasons, and over the course of the little over two complete seasons that this car has been on the racetrack, the general acceptance of the wing didn't grow past the point we thought it should have.
So the move now is to go back to a more traditional-looking NASCAR-type Sprint Cup car, which includes a spoiler.
BRIAN FRANCE: I will make one comment, because I have seen a lot of -- well, it looks like we did that because of the Talladega, Ryan Newman's getting air under his spoiler contributed to that. As John Darby reminded me, we had a similar instance of more than one at Talladega with the spoiler, as well, in terms of the car lifting off. That's always something we will address; and putting the spoiler on doesn't have anything to do with the fact that we have car lift at Talladega. Lift is a problem and we will solve that and already lots of ways to do that. The spoiler is coming on for the look of it to look for like it used to and to drive differently and create better racing. That's the premise of the spoiler.
Q. Mike, I realize you take these things on a case-by-case basis, driver incidents, but the new policy you are talking about, do you expect fewer driver trips to the woodshed or maybe the same amount and just more discussion and fewer fines? What do you anticipate?
MIKE HELTON: I think today's conversation is as much about any master changes in the conversations NASCAR might have to have with folks in the garage area from time to time, because again, we will continue the track that we set out a couple of seasons ago. And quite frankly and honestly, you can look at the 2009 season, and I think even back when we announced that some of the drivers say, well, I'm not sure what that means just yet, and they are going to have to gain confidence in what that meant. And I think if you look at '09, particularly the last couple of races in the Nationwide Series with Denny Hamlin and Keselowski, at the last Sprint Cup race with Montoya and Stewart, our reaction to those, No. 1, we gave it a lot of latitude, and then when we finally had to say enough's enough, our reaction to that was, a good deal less than it might have been through or four years ago.
So that process will continue. And I honestly believe that the visits to the Sprint Cup hauler (ph) for the last couple of seasons has been less than it's been in the past, and hopefully that continues, because that works well for everybody. But what we are saying today, more importantly, is that what happens on the racetrack, particularly in Daytona, where we for the past several restrictor plate races had enforced a bump-draft policy and we elevated it in Talladega last October; we are going to back off completely in Daytona, beginning in Daytona here in a few weeks, and put that back in the hands of the driver.
And they choose what they can and cannot do out on the racetrack. Now, they all understand that we are still sitting there, looking at the unfolding of the race as it might relate to a driver going too far, but if we look at Daytona and Talladega now the same way we do at Charlotte or Texas or Kansas City, there still could be a line to cross but it's not going to be related to bump drafting, per se. It will be over-aggressive driving if it got to that.
But even the incidents like that we have had in the past, they might have called us to the woodshed, but we made the call during the race and it was over with as far as we were concerned.
Q. I want to ask a question about the point at which NASCAR's green initiative goes from the tracks to facilities and recycling, things of that nature, to actual competition; is this related to a shift to fuel-injected engine technology, and what is a reasonable time frame for a change in the engine technology and moving to fuel injection?
BRIAN FRANCE: I'll take the first part of that. I'll let Mike mention about the future of the engine.
But I would tell you that, you know, we are looking at all of the things that you would think we would be looking at. One of the things to consider is all of the car manufacturers that we deal with are all going to obviously high energy-efficient cars. They are going to some versions of technology that's different today in the engine and beyond. And certainly, as a power plant of the car, there are lots of things on the table, and it's our hope, too, frankly, to be in step with them best we can because there's a lot of different views and lanes that people are in trying to push these new technologies.
But one of the things that you've heard us say is that in addition to being good stewards of the environment, we also want to be appealing to new, green companies, new companies that are going to have technologies that they want to verify or validate. And we want to be a place that they are encouraged to do that.
And I know, because we met directly with all of the car companies; they really appreciate that we are thinking about these things, that we are in instep, it's very important, and frankly it's very, very important to many of the correspond sores that have their own green initiatives or ongoing -- we can do this in a way that doesn't put a big burden on the industry or our tracks.
We can do it without a bunch of mandates and different things. We can do it carefully. We can do it with incentives. We can get over a long period of time a sport that has a better carbon emissions footprint attached to it; that as I said validates new technologies that way that only we are going to be able to -- there is no one in the world, when you think about new power plants, new technology, we are going to be one of the real great places to test, validate and experiment, if you will, at the highest performance levels.
So we are excited about this, and it's a long, long plan that we are on, and we are going to do it carefully.
MIKE HELTON: And John Darby and Robin can speak to this in much greater detail in the next go-around or even at the one-on-ones. But from the competition level, and particularly the fact that NASCAR very much includes Grand Am today, and you saw the touring series, the K&N Pro Series, and our weekly program; we have got a lot of opportunity to do things.
And so here at the R&D center now, we are looking at alternative fuels. We are looking at alternative architectures for engines. And in the meantime, we are doing everything we can at the racetrack already as was mentioned in the video, about how we run races, how we move to and from races with our transporters, our different vehicles, and the move and the cross back and forth track to track that we have already made a lot of headway. But there's a good deal of effort going on here at the R&D center that John and Robin can expand on later on.
Q. Your grandmother and father worked under a benevolent dictatorship and I'm seeing a few more senior vice presidents up on stage than there were even five years ago. Can you talk about the restructuring that seems to be going on in NASCAR right now and all of the moves that are being made?
BRIAN FRANCE: Well, it's a bigger sport with a whole lot more complex ties and specialization that occurs today. Hearing us talk about the green economy and that whole initiative, obviously you've got to have people that understand those issues carefully. To regulate the events, you know, is far more complicated. A race team today has a whole lot more engineering, a lot more specialization in their own right. We have to keep up with that. We have got all kinds of things in the digital media space that are a whole group of people working on those issues to help the SPEED Channel, help all kinds of programming things to publicize the sport. Those are all highly talented, specialized people that report to Paul Brooks and Steve Phelps.
So everywhere you turn, it's not because we are just -- the truth is, when you look at the infrastructure of NASCAR over the last three or four years, we even added a lot of people. We changed some roles and changed some directions with some of the different kinds of people we have hired when others have left. We are actually a pretty flat organization, believe it or not. But we are elevating people that are talented for the reasons that you want us to, because they deserve more responsibility, and these issues that I refer to, they need it. They need the -- one of the fun things for me, is that this sport gets bigger and better and all of the things, is getting to work on all of these things. I mean, we have the best jobs I think out of anybody because we get to work on the highest level of sponsorship, certainly the highest level of engineering; what goes on at the racetrack, and all of the things in between. But it takes the right group of people and my job is to make sure we have all those people, that they have the prioritize set, they are clear what we have got to get accomplished, and that I give them the resources and I hold them accountable to where we want to go, and that's how we are managing the sport today.
MIKE HELTON: Let me just add to that. Today's business of NASCAR as a sport and as a business is more complicated than it's ever been, and that's a good thing, because that means it's bigger and it's got more moving parts and pieces to it.
The one thing about the France family that I learned a long time ago is that they have a large, genuine interest in NASCAR, not necessarily just as a corporation that's based in Daytona Beach, but a NASCAR community that we are all a part of to run very seamless as time goes on. Brian's grandfather was concerned with that. Brian's father was concerned with that, and Brian, Lisa, Jim France, are all concerned with that.
So from time to time when you hear us talk about advancing people and putting new faces in places, it's a structural reorganization for us to spread out the responsibility, get more responsibility to some of the new talent that's coming along, and they may be new faces to you when they are not new faces to us, but they have earned the right to take on more responsibility because they are the next generation of care keepers of the NASCAR community.
The big effort, though, is to be sure that NASCAR runs seamless, irregardless of what may happen or what soldier or lieutenant you lose; that NASCAR continues to progress without a hiccup, because the stakeholders, you may not consciously think of that, but the stakeholders certainly expect that, and I think that's a big part of this as much as anything.
Q. For Mike or Brian, how much of a concern is there walking a fine line between promoting it as more of a contact sport than ever before and giving anything up on the safety end? And Brian, you mentioned there are a must be of ways to keep cars from listing at Talladega, wondering what those might be and how close you are to implementing those.
BRIAN FRANCE: Well, there are different things with the body of the car, different pieces we can attach. Obviously the roof flaps and how they deploy, certain angles we can put regardless if we have a spoiler or anything else, so that's always available to us. We are testing that right now and we'll be telling you what we are going to accomplish.
I'll let Mike carry on the contact portion.
MIKE HELTON: Again, Robin and John can speak more to the shark fin that will be added in Daytona that is an aero piece that helps the lift-off speed, which helps the cars to stay on the ground even at a further radius; and at a higher speed than we have got today that they have been able to figure out from a lot of research and everything. The NASCAR racing from day one has always been highly competitive, and there's an age-old saying that NASCAR, if you ain't rubbing, you ain't racing. And I think that's what the NASCAR fan, the NASCAR stakeholders all bought into, and all expect.
Now, our role is to deliver that, correctly, and it also comes with the responsibility of maintaining law and order. And throughout the history of our sport, we go and we come back and we go and we come back, for the last few years, we are on a comeback cycle of backing away from rules and regulations, because I've got to tell you, nobody wants to regulate the sport. We are the last people on earth that want to over-regulate the sport, because it takes a lot to do that. But there's a lot of steps in regulating the sport that we have to take to ensure the safety and the correctness of the competition between the competitors, and also balance the safety between the competitors and the race fans.
You asked, also, I think about giving back more to the drivers and what that relates to on safety, is that's why we are very careful about the decisions we make on what regulations we ease up on. But another factor, again, as we collect data over multiple seasons and we can get more confidence is we know today that this car is safer than five or six years ago, much safer.
And so that balances into the equation, as well, and the racetracks are, too, the SAFER barriers, the different things the tracks have been the past nine years to make their facilities safer, the new fencing, the different things all the tracks have invested in to make the sport safer, it is much safer today and we are not going to let off of that as a topic, but we are also very interested in looking at what we can do to change our role in the sport as far as being too many regulations.
Q. If the wing was dumped for aesthetic reasons, I assume you've gotten similar negative feedback from the fans on the appearance of the front end of the car and the flitter, and I know the manufacturers don't sell cars with splitters and they liked the room provided by the new Nationwide car; and is the front end the next place you'll go to tweak and do you have a timetable?
BRIAN FRANCE: The front end is something we are looking at but we have been looking at for a little while and nothing to report. The spoiler, I wouldn't characterize it as something we did just for the look of the car.
The fact is, it's going to change the downforce and it's yet to be determined. We have not fully determined, and it's important to note, how high the spoiler is going to be. That's going to come out of a future test. We left that a little bit open. We want the drivers to have maximum input when they come to Charlotte, and we get ready to go to Texas, which is my hope we will have it fully implemented by then in terms of on a Super Speedway, we may have it certainly earlier for tracks less than a mile and hey half, but if we didn't think the racing would be improved as a result of the spoiler versus the wing, we wouldn't have done it.
If we didn't hear directly, one of the things that came out of these many, many meetings, and we did them individually as I said in my remarks, that we got a chance -- the teams fell a lot more at ease with telling us what they really thought, as opposed to in a big group, this he were just with their teammates, and we got some different kind of input that we had gotten even back in May, of what they thought the spoiler was going to do and how it might improve things, including racing up to one another, and being able to have a little bit more control over the car and so on, so forth.
So felt a little bit more confident about that, and again, if it doesn't make racing better and open things up a little bit, we wouldn't have done it.
MIKE HELTON: I want to remind everybody that the past couple of seasons of this car, we have made over two dozen changes to it, working with crew chiefs and drivers on multiple things to help them set up the car to accommodate the particular taste that a driver might have at a particular racetrack, and over two dozen changes. The fact of the matter was, none of those are very visible, and so some people are surprised when you make that comment to them. The change from a wing to a spoiler is hugely visible.
As good as we think the competition is today, we are always working on making it better. And you know, once we take small hurdles and the spoiler -- with the wing to the spoiler is certainly a very visible one, then we can see what else we can do. The other thing we have to be conscious of, though, when it comes to what might happen on the nose of a car is it factors in what the manufacturers' input might be, and that takes time and that takes a good deal of effort.
The other thing we have to factor in, though, is how much we can lay on to the industry at one time. How much can you ask of the car owners to convert to and how much -- what does that do to their economy of scale. So all of those have to factor in as we make those decisions.
RAMSEY POSTON: Yes, that will do it, thank you for your time.
We now welcome up for our second Q&A panel, I welcome back to the stage our vice president of competition, Robin Pemberton, our NASCAR Sprint Cup Series director, John Darby, our nation car Nationwide Series director Joe Balash, our NASCAR Camping World Series director, Wayne Auton and our touring series director, Richard Buck.
Q. Robin, in long or short term, I heard you will replace the current carburetors for fuel injection. Are you planning to do it in short term, already tests, and if have you already done test or and have you already chosen manufacturer for the system?
ROBIN PEMBERTON: We are in the process of the development and the testing, and we have been for probably six or eight months. The easy part is to just build the fuel injection system. The thing that we need to put in play is how we are going to regulate it and what's going to be fair for everybody.
But there has been teams that have gone off and they do have track time already on their early production or early prototype fuel injection system. So our goal is to shoot for 2011. I think that's pretty aggressive. I'm sure John will nod his head to that. But you know, we are, you know, we are pushing hard and that is what we are shooting for.
Q. What do you anticipate will be the results of the general results of have-at-it boys at Daytona and Talladega? Do you anticipate closer racing, more passing, a wreck every two laps? What ultimately is going to happen here?
ROBIN PEMBERTON: Well, it's hard to look into the future and predict that. I think it's in the drivers' hands. I think it's all about on how aggressive they feel that they can get to make a pass, how much real estate that they can use up, and it remains to be seen, the outcome of that. But it's back in their hands and I think anything can happen.
Q. John can you talk about your new role and how it will be structured and about your move to the new position?
JOHN DARBY: Sure. It's nice to hear they love me because they don't always tell me that. But I'm not going away. I'll still be as deeply involved in NASCAR racing as I always have been, times four. And what I mean by that is obviously today, my primary concerns and responsibilities are the Sprint Cup Series as we move on, they will be the Sprint Cup Series as well as the Nationwide Series, Camping World Truck Series, the touring series and everything else we have with wheels and tires on.
So I think it's a great idea. I'm quite flattered, actually, that I got the opportunity to advance to this level. The teams I'll be working with in Wayne and Joe and everything are obviously very good at what they do. Having the ability to try to pull the best from each series and create a much more consistent world for all of our competitors from both the technical aspects in the rules and regulations part of our business, it's going to be a fun challenge.
ROBIN PEMBERTON: We have got a close-knit bunch here in the R&D center, all of our series directors. And if you think that you've heard of a lot of meetings over the wintertime with different teams and things like that, that pales in comparison to the work that we do in here. Everybody gets along; everybody works together and we draw on each other's experiences.
You know, I'm running out of old racing stories quite frankly to talk about my experiences in the garage area, but many of the decisions that are made in all of the series is made and we draw from this pool of knowledge. And John works hard. He brings a lot of knowledge. He's been a great leader. You know, his organizational skills are tremendous and we transitioned to the new car, the inspection process and all that, he works very well with the guys here in the R&D center with Mike Fisher and Daniel Honeycutt and Bill Erskine, those guys are unsung heroes and these guys use those resources. John is a big part of that, and he's a guy that with all of his knowledge and experience, everybody leans on quite a bit. So it's a great team effort here and John is really the perfect fit for it.
Q. Is there a time line for the new director, and during this have-at it-era the boys are entering into, are there going to be times when you are glad you are not the series director?
JOHN DARBY: I think first of all, more importantly than a time line for a new director is actually taking the time to find the right director. That person has got to have some qualifications that not only include the competition side of what we do, but there's a lot of part of a series director's job that is more personal than that. It's one on one with the people in the garage, and every Friday we open up, you're almost the mayor of a little city, so to speak. That's the person that we need that can guide the garage, keep everybody confident, not always happy, but at least develop a respect for what NASCAR does, and what their teams do so well in the garage.
So it's not about finding somebody before we go to Daytona or before we go to California. I think it will be a little lengthier process in that and make sure that we choose the right person.
As far as the opening it up to the drivers, obviously the racing is going to get more exciting. And as you look back through the history of restrictor plate racing, not every wreck that we have had at restrictor plate races come from over-aggressive driving. For every aggressive act, somebody is making a mistake, and that's what ultimately creates those.
So I think the drivers will have a respect for what they are doing, because they will now be in a situation where they will be their own governing body, if you will. They will have to watch and help each other, as much as police each other. Their goal is to win that race, too, and I can tell you that sitting in the garage on lap 30 with a car in a lot does not help you accomplish that.
So I think all of our drivers realize that and they will do their best to not only, one, put on some of the best restrictor plate racing that we have ever seen, as well as making sure that they are around for those final laps and the finish of that race.
Q. What was the thinking that went into the big plate for Daytona this year, going back to the biggest plate since '89?
ROBIN PEMBERTON: Well, in the midst of our wind tunnel test over the wintertime, some of the devices that we have added to the car for stability, also added a little bit of drag, and we felt like it was important to give the drivers a little more horsepower, a little more throttle response back, which is something that they have never refused in the past. But it was a perfect time to do that.
RAMSEY POSTON: Wayne, there was a lot of talk last year about the changes in pit road and steps we took. Obviously we made those changes. Talk a little about that process and how we came to those conclusions.
WAYNE AUTON: Well, first of all, let me say that the rules that we implemented last year for the NASCAR Truck Series worked. We saw a lot of new owners, a lot of new teams and drivers coming to the garage area.
Going into 2010, rolling into Daytona, going back to the conventional pitting of one time, where last year we did not, we can go to the double-file, shootout-style restarts, but also with that we can also limit how many crew members we have over the wall, which we are going to do with six, the refueling process that we have affords us the ability to do that.
So we are excited about rolling into Daytona especially going into double-file, shoot-out style restarts.
RAMSEY POSTON: Should fun at Darlington, too, as well, right?
WAYNE AUTON: Let's hope they can get through the first turn.
RAMSEY POSTON: Joe Balash, this year, obviously you are going to have a new rookie at track, a lot of talk about Danica Patrick, your thoughts about her coming into the garage?
JOE BALASH: First of all, I think we need to let the team and Danica set their own level of expectations for what they want to achieve during the season. We welcome her to the garage just like we do any new rookie into the sport, and I think it gives people a lot of things to talk about with all of the things that are happening with the new car and Road America and those type of things.
RAMSEY POSTON: Richard Buck, obviously a great announcement with K&N, but talk about the health much the sport at the development level and the track level as well.
RICHARD BUCK: What we are seeing is a good health of the touring series in general across North America. Car counts are up. The touring series is a great place, that's one of our focus to help build skill sets, not only with drivers, owners, crew chiefs, so a lot of things we pattern ourselves out of in the touring division is to help get them ready to graduate. We have had some great graduates. Obviously the notable Joey Lagano began know, but also we have some really good ones coming up, Ryan Truex, Jason Bowles, we have got some great champions and with evident got some great future athletes coming up.
The addition of the K&N Pro Series is excellent. They are a great partner. They are racing-based. They are it the grass roots. This is what they have done. I know the first toolbox that I ever had, I still own and it has a K&N sticker on it. So that's where they come from.
Q. Talking earlier about the yellow-line rule, how close were you to doing something about that and did the drivers talk you out of it, and also is that something you're going to continue to look at going forward?
ROBIN PEMBERTON: It was a lot of debate. You know, we threw it out there, like everything that we have been doing lately, we work closely with the drivers and the teams. But we respect their opinion, and I would say it was not 50/50. Probably wasn't even 70/30. But most of the drivers said, look, we have got enough changes, let's move forward the way we are, and we can continue to look at it.
Q. Robin, the spoiler that's finally decided, will it stay unchanged for the first race to the last race, or can the angle of attack for lower or bigger downforce change? Question for John Darby. The current rumor in Europe is that from 2011 onwards a lot of unemployed Formula 1 drivers will come into NASCAR. What's your personal opinion about that?
JOHN DARBY: I think we have seen some transition, or we have seen some influx of mechanics, to our sport already, and in some cases they have been a great addition to the race teams that they are employed by. Actually it comes from all different areas, whether it be their engine and power plant departments, their chassis people, or just racing strategists that help organize the teams on race day. But I haven't -- nobody has seen a negative to that. We are a very competitive sport, and you know, the jobs that are available at the race teams are every bit as competitive as that, and it's a matter of making the move and beating the streets, finding the right position, and then improving yourself once you're there.
ROBIN PEMBERTON: As relates to the spoiler, some of the selling points that we have put forward over the past few years is some adjust ability. The spoiler, we are still going to the wind tunnel, conducting tests. But we will probably introduce some things on the body. We have talked to the teams and they have tried some different things on quarter panel extensions to help tune the side forces and downforces. They will not be just locked into one particular aero package. Once again we will work with the teams and give them some options.
Q. For John, regardless of what the person turns out to be, what is the best piece of advice you can give your successor?
JOHN DARBY: I can only explain what's worked for me, and that is just trying to be as fair and consistent with every competitor in the garage that you can. And you know, with that, I think comes a relationship with the competitors, you know, where you like to be is to be able to -- if you have to, issue 150,000 fine in the afternoon and meet for dinner that evening to understand why. That's hard to do, but over time, and a lot of hard work, you can get there.
It's just a very people-oriented position that you have to be a great listener and only talk when you need to, and you're in position to deliver, directly, the philosophies and the responsibilities that go forward with the France family's ambitions and goals.
You have just got to pay a lot of attention to everything that's going on around you.
Q. Could you talk about the health of the Truck Series and how you think the truck count will be this year?
WAYNE AUTON: Sure. That's a good question. Last year, I think we were all sitting here with unknowns, and we ended up having a 25-race schedule with all but two races with full fields. That was very exciting. At the end of the season, we saw an influx of new drivers and owners, as I said before, looking into 2010. If everybody comes that says they are coming, I think we are going to have to build bigger garages, because we really have been getting a lot of phone calls. That's a lot of exciting things happening in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.
Q. Can you tell us a little bit since John will be looking over the officials, and that was before under your umbrella from what I've been told, are there other changes that will come to your job description moving forward?
ROBIN PEMBERTON: It's basically the same for me. I mean, what is going to come out of it is the obligation to delegate a little bit more and do a little bit better managing my time and what I need to do for Mike and Brian and Steve O'Donnell and that group.
So like Brian said earlier, you know, our organization is not just flat as far as growth with people, but the OR g chart was laid out and there was a lot of reports of certain people and it really slowed things down. We will be adding a position with John taking that, and with his experience, so things will -- we should just be able to get more production out of the same people.
RAMSEY POSTON: Gentlemen, thank you very much.
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