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Random Lugnuts: Trying Too Hard (A Defense of Brian France and NASCAR)

Stock Car Racing Topics:  NASCAR, Brian France
What is Random Lugnuts?  It's random bits of stock car racing commentary written on an irregular basis by an irregular racing fan.  The name is a reference to the lugnuts that go flying off a car during a pit stop:  you never know where they are going to go, what they're going to do when they get there, they can be annoying, they're often useless after a race, and every once in a while someone gets hit and they don't know exactly where it came from.
Opinions expressed by Bill Crittenden are not official policies or positions of The Crittenden Automotive Library. You can read more about the Library's goals, mission, policies, and operations on the About Us page.

Random Lugnuts: Trying Too Hard (A Defense of Brian France and NASCAR)

Bill Crittenden
April 11, 2015

Thankfully I escaped Easter dinner last week without any conversations about politics or religion, but I couldn't escape without hearing another complaint that Brian France was personally trying to ruin NASCAR.

Probably because Brian really desperately wants to be a hobo but can't bear to just give away his ownership stake in NASCAR and has to bankrupt it instead. Or maybe having grown up around stock cars he's just tired of the noise and wants a second career running the night shift at McDonald's but can't bear seeing Lesa Kennedy run it in his absence so he has to run it to the ground himself first. Or something like that. Whatever it is, he hates success and is desperately actively trying purposely to ruin NASCAR.

You might disagree with how Brian runs his company, but I doubt anyone wants NASCAR to succeed more than he does. I mock because it's just silly and stupid to suggest otherwise. I know what this guy is trying to slyly say, basically that "it's so oooooobvious to aaaaaaanyone how NASCAR should be run that nobody could possibly miss it unless they were doing it on purpose." Yeah, because you know NASCAR's financial books, business model, and dealings from your vast experience of having been on a pit crew for a half dozen races about thirty years ago?

Yeah, I know I have a lot of ideas for how NASCAR could improve, too, but at least I try to qualify my suggestions for the sport with "y'know, this would be really nice for the millions of casual fans who watch it on TV and don't have the money to make it to the track every year..." I may express my opinion that I don't agree with a decision, I might have a suggestion, but I don't disparage their motivations or effort or intelligence just because they don't do everything exactly the way I would if I ran it.

At least, I don't disparage them in a serious tone. Mocking for the sake of some humor is different. (And if you go digging through my archives and find something mean I might have said from seven years ago, I was less mature and less experienced. We all make mistakes.)

Now that that rant's out of the way, the point that started all of this was NASCAR's new qualification procedures. I've heard a bunch of negative feedback as most any changes in the series end up with at least the traditionalists complaining about NASCAR's "decline," even when it's a very necessary safer car design (for all their claims of loving the sport's history, they seem to have completely forgotten how Dale Earnhardt died).

The first thing to know about NASCAR is that it isn't a museum, a university, a church, or some other cultural institution. NASCAR is a for-profit business. Their goal is to make money. They're not honor bound to preserve history, NASCAR plays up its history only as it helps sell the product.

In business, if anything, Brian France could be accused of trying too hard. Most businesses, at some point or another, fall into the trap of expected growth. Regardless of the millions pouring in, if there isn't steady and consistent growth, something's wrong. Post a $30 million dollar profit, but Wall Street's analysts expected $40M? Heads will roll, business plans will be rewritten, and a couple of quarters or years of missing their "expected earnings" targets results in a panic and maybe a changed business model.

If you want tangible evidence of how a company can saturate a market to the point where there's no room to grow and gets desperate for the growth that investors assume is possible, you need look no further than your local McDonald's, which is routinely rolling out crazy new crap that distract from their core business of being a fast food burger joint. Remember how they tried pizza in the 80's?

Oh, speaking of the 1980's, how about Coke 2? Coca-Cola was still NUMBER ONE IN THEIR MARKET and nobody in the country could have possibly said, "Coke? I never heard of 'em." But growth must always exist, so a little market share lost to a surging Pepsi prompted Coke to completely and embarrassingly shoot itself in the foot.

Oh, and sometimes those changed business models make conditions worse, panic gets worse, and suddenly the company isn't making a profit and a full-on freak out is inevitable. Coke quickly admitted their mistake before real damage was done and reversed course, but when pride gets in the way of admitting mistakes this can be how good companies can lose their identity to the point where nobody even recognizes them anymore or cares when they finally slip into bankruptcy. Is anybody else following the strange tale of how Eddie Lampert is running Sears & Kmart into oblivion?

Perhaps the changes are because NASCAR hit #1 in the American motorsports business and has run out of room to grow. Maybe some see the NFL's numbers and think there's still room to grow but don't let the ESPN coverage or fan overlap fool you, racing isn't in the same category as stick-and-ball team sports the economics of racing isn't at all the same, either.

Maybe the people who run the show just expect success to mean green arrows on all numbers instead of evening off and holding steady, even if steady means more profits than some small countries' GDPs. Hey, it's a competitive sport full of competitive people from the top to the bottom, more so than any non-motorsport business.

They could back it down a bit, plan a little more for the long term, stop trying to turn qualifying into a strange yet still 90% meaningless spectacle to squeeze every last bit of ratings out of already saturated TV coverage.

But I know that's nothing more than a polite suggestion. I'm not really experienced enough to make that call. What I can tell you with complete confidence is that, whether they're right or wrong on individual decisions, Brian France and the folks who run the sport are trying their God damned asses off, I can guaran-damn-tee you they care more about the sport than you do because it's their life, not just their recreation, and anyone suggesting otherwise ought to try a little harder themselves at understanding how little the casual fan knows about the business side of NASCAR.

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