Betty Jane France Award Presentation Conference
October 9, 2011
THE MODERATOR: Thanks for joining us today. Very special day for us today, the NASCAR Foundation is recognizing the outstanding charitable and humanitarian volunteer efforts of NASCAR fans. It's really through the passion and commitment of Betty Jane France that this award has started. So we have the four finalists for the first-ever NASCAR Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award with us today, so I'm going to go from my right across. First we have Patty Aber; next to Patty is Jake Bernstein; next to Mr. Bernstein is our chairman and CEO Brian France; next to Chairman France is Brenda Doner; and then the man next to her who needs no introduction, that's the Ice Cream Man, clearly; and next to Mr. Weaver is Sandy Marshall, the executive director of the foundation.
Why don't we kick it off with Brian. Why don't you tell us a little bit about the roots of this award, obviously a big part of your mother's legacy and what she's done and what she's meant to NASCAR.
BRIAN FRANCE: Yeah, I will. Good morning. You know, this is a family business and a family sport for that matter, and no clearer evidence of that when you look at the driving force behind the foundation's work, which is my mother Betty Jane, and she originally started out having an impact at the local hospitals in the children's area, where they really needed the funding and all the things that go on in terms of being able to care for young kids in an experience that at least they'll be halfway enjoying the circumstances that they're in a lot better.
And she took that concept, Speediatrics, over to South Florida, at that track and out to Arizona and other places, and the foundation has basically originated with her original vision, and of course the foundation today is the tip of the spear for the industry. I don't think there's a foundation in sports that has so much participation from the industry and from our drivers and team owners. It's a pretty amazing thing.
And so we're able with the foundation to take the lead and be -- and really propel their efforts and our own efforts to get a much bigger impact in all kinds of communities, mostly focused on children who need the help the most. This is an extension of that because we're now recognizing some fine folks that we're going to have out in Las Vegas and their particular efforts. So it's neat to see the foundation and the commitment getting bigger and getting more local and getting -- just getting bigger and better.
So with that, I appreciate everybody here in the room recognizing the hard efforts of not only my mother but certainly the foundation, and through the industry what it takes to really give back and do some positive things on behalf of NASCAR. So thank you.
THE MODERATOR: Sandy, you want to tell us a little bit about the roots of this? Obviously this is a signature element of the foundation moving forward.
SANDY MARSHALL: Absolutely. Well, the foundation is honored to have this award, and we've had the great opportunity to work with Mrs. France for eight years and learn about her interests and see her volunteer and all that she does for the community, so we're honored to have this award in her name.
We had 305 applicants for the award, and the foundation staff and an outside agency narrowed that down to 25. We had a group of 12 NASCAR industry VIPs from industry members, media members, charities. We then narrowed that group down to nine, and then those went to the NASCAR Foundation board, and over much debate we ended up with these four incredible candidates.
I've had the last few months the ability to visit them and work with their charities and work with them, and I think we've ended up with some incredible folks, and we're very excited to present them to you today. Each of them gets $25,000 for their charity, and they're competing for $100,000 for their favorite charity as well as a 2012 Ford Explorer. The voting starts today, NASCAR.com/award. You'll see some great videos and learn all about them, and that will end midnight December 1st, and on December 2nd at the Sprint Cup awards banquet, we will see live on Speed who the winner is. Mrs. France will present the award at the banquet. We're very excited, we hope this continues, and I think you're just going to be in awe over these four candidates.
THE MODERATOR: Before we get to know them, we thought it would be a good idea for you to see a little video that shows exactly what these four people are all about.
We thought the four of you actually might enjoy some of our NASCAR friends, so we have a few special guests who want to say hello to you today. These are their favorite drivers, by the way, if you haven't figured that out.
I'm going to ask a couple questions and you guys are certainly welcome to go after you start off here. We'll go one by one. Patty, since you obviously started this books foundation, you must be a big reader?
PATTY ABER: Yes, I do. I love to read.
Q. Who's your favorite NASCAR writer?
PATTY ABER: Somebody in the room? Don't ask me that kind of question.
THE MODERATOR: How did you actually get started in this foundation? How did this come about?
PATTY ABER: Actually I didn't start the foundation. The foundation was already started, and I read this staggering statistic that in my state the ratio of books to children in middle class families was 13 books for every one child. In low-income families it was one book for every 300 children. That overwhelmed me, and I knew I needed to be part of the solution to that because that's just an unacceptable number.
THE MODERATOR: You're doing great work, and we appreciate everything you're doing. You go to about half dozen NASCAR races a year?
PATTY ABER: I try to, yes, sir.
THE MODERATOR: First time in Kansas?
PATTY ABER: First time in Kansas.
THE MODERATOR: Jake, 17 years old, wow, I'm kind of embarrassed I haven't done anything half of what you've done so far at your age. It's definitely great to meet you, and you come from a military family?
JAKE BERNSTEIN: I do. My dad is in the Navy.
THE MODERATOR: So you're looking at some colleges?
JAKE BERNSTEIN: I am currently in the college process being a senior right now.
THE MODERATOR: Where are you going to go.
JAKE BERNSTEIN: We'll see. I'm going to hopefully apply early action to UNC if I get my application done.
THE MODERATOR: My son wants to go to UNC, so the competition has just gone up. Thanks for everything that you do.
Brenda, how you doing?
BRENDA DONER: I'm doing good, thank you.
THE MODERATOR: You've got to tell me if this means peanut butter and jelly or not.
BRENDA DONER: It does. Our director likes to say it's because when she started her farm they ate so much peanut butter and jelly. If you think peanut butter and jelly, you automatically think of kids, too, so it's a direct connection. So needless to say when Rocky and Eddie both host their holiday parties, we make sure there's peanut butter and jelly.
THE MODERATOR: We'll continue the food theme, and we'll talk to the man on your right, Mr. Weaver. Glad to have you here. I think one of the things that Brian was most happy about these finalists was that we've got a 17 year old and we have a 84 year old, and the range of age and backgrounds is something that I know his mother was looking for here in the finalists. Ice Cream Man, how did you get your name, and tell us a little bit about yourself.
ROBERT WEAVER: Well, I've been very fortunate. I was born with all the human drives that everybody else was, but I had another one, and that's to be hungry to volunteer, and when I can't volunteer, I'm starving.
But it's been a pleasure through the years to be associated with the deaf and blind and deaf/blind children at the Alabama Institute For Deaf and Blind. To be qualified for this, a person had to be doing volunteer work for the last five years, which in my case was ages 79, 80, 81, 82 and 83. During that time I had a stroke, but God blessed me and gave me the strength and the love to continue doing the things that I like to do, and he's given me the opportunity to have a desire to be a shining light for those children who cannot see and to be a beautiful melody in the hearts of those children who cannot hear.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, sir. Glad to have you here. Questions from the media to any of our finalists or Mr. France related to this award?
Q. Brian, how long has this been in the works, and how long have you been putting this together, and when did the plan begin to sort of unveil this process?
BRIAN FRANCE: Some time ago, well over a year ago. It's really an extension of what the foundation has been doing all along. We do a lot of different programs, a lot of different things. This is a way for us to recognize behind every great program are the people, right, and here are four of the best at giving back and doing something special in their local communities and elsewhere.
And so there will be other programs where we can recognize the people who joined with us in giving back and doing incredible things for people who need that the most, mostly young people.
Q. I'd like to know from the four finalists how they heard about the program and got involved with the NASCAR Foundation.
PATTY ABER: How we heard about the NASCAR Foundation originally?
Q. And this particular award.
PATTY ABER: I've been a friend of the foundation since the beginning, since '06, and I'm on their mailing list, and it's something that they put out to us as part of their NASCAR Unites program this year.
JAKE BERNSTEIN: I was nominated by my grandmother via social media. She's very into technology and she had heard about the award, and she nominated me, and I was very grateful.
BRENDA DONER: I am on the NASCAR mailing list, the foundation mailing list, so I got the email, and I thought, wow, what a cool idea. This is really great, NASCAR is going to reach out and connect with all the organizations and the great volunteers. I think that's really cool. Delete. And that was in April. And I didn't tell anybody.
And then somehow it came out on various -- there were various grant and philanthropy emails that Lynn, our grants guru, gets, and eight days before the deadline she is flashing me emails like why didn't you tell me about this. Never thought about it. So in eight days she managed to dig up enough out of me to submit it because I would have never done it.
ROBERT WEAVER: It's been exciting to me to be associated with NASCAR, and I guess the thing that I enjoyed the most was about 30 years ago I was able to produce the National Anthem at the Talladega Superspeedway with deaf and blind children. A blind teenager sang the National Anthem, and three little deaf boys sang with their hands in sign language. And this not only was a thrill, but it allowed us to move on to Washington, D.C., with that same act to the National Prayer Breakfast, where this time they did the Lord's Prayer with President Reagan present, and the governor of Alabama was there, and he suggested to the president of the Alabama Institute For Deaf and Blind that a chapel be built with private funds so that the children would have a place to worship, and I thank NASCAR for getting all of this started.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Mr. Weaver, and we're looking forward to going to race in your hometown very soon.
Thanks to all of you for joining us. The four finalists are going to be in the drivers' meeting, so if you want extra time with them you can get it there or arrange through one of our IMC members. They're going to depart, but Brian is more than happy to stay and we can ask some general questions to Brian as soon as we clear out our finalists. Thank you very much for joining us today.
BRIAN FRANCE: I'll just get started real quick. I know we're all short on time. As you know, from time to time I will take some questions for the record and elsewhere, and today is one of those days. Obviously I'm not sure we can be any more pleased with how the Chase is unfolding, and frankly how the season has unfolded, with the level of competition, the closeness in the Chase, some of the moves that we made, the wild card being one, and streamlining and simplifying the points system being another, to make it easier for people to understand how you qualify and of course add some additional drama. It's done all of that, and if you look back, those were at the time viewed as small moves that we made, but they're actually having a really big impact, and that's terrific.
I think it's still very wide open. Our hope and our hope always is that we come down to the finale in South Florida at Homestead and have as many drivers really in the thick of it as possible. That's the goal. That's what we hope. We'll see, and we'll also see if Jimmie Johnson can continue to make history, as well, winning six in a row.
But with that, I'll be happy to take a few questions if you'd like.
Q. Two local questions: Since the last time you were here, we got a soccer stadium and a casino. Just your thoughts on the property, and I'm sure you weren't here Friday night, but we had our first night race, which went pretty well, for ARCA. I was wondering if you envision maybe in 2013 when the schedule gets back to normal if we'll see some night racing, trucks or even Nationwide or Cup here?
BRIAN FRANCE: Well, I'm sure that that will be a consideration, a fan favorite typically. You've got weather concerns in this area; being a particularly warm October I'm told but may be not indicative of how it usually is. But look, this whole facility and the surrounding developments are impressive, as impressive as any place that we go, and how fast they're coming on line. I'm going to take a tour of the casino here after the drivers' meeting. The soccer stadium is beautiful; it's very additive to the complex here. So yeah, and they continue to take good care of their fans. It's nice to see this track now hosting two events, two Cup events, and doing a great job with it.
Q. There's been a lot of talk about the companion series, Nationwide and truck, returning to the roots, going to Rockingham. Is there an interest in looking at the cost of travel and things of that nature of kind of returning to the roots of NASCAR for some of the companion events in the future?
BRIAN FRANCE: Well, I think that that's probably true to some level. We've been doing that. You think about Iowa, you think about other places that can't host a Cup race but they're able to host a truck or a Nationwide, and we've been able to use that series to do that.
And so, yeah, I think Rockingham is interesting with all that heritage, so we'll have to see how that all plays out. And there's a new facility on the horizon if you believe what is being written about, which is down in Texas with a big road course. We have some road racing product that might be possible, too. So yeah, we'll take a look at that for sure.
Q. Obviously we're near the home of Sprint. They've got two years left on the deal. They've had some kind of good days and bad days. Where do you see that relationship? Have you started renegotiating the series sponsorship?
BRIAN FRANCE: Well, relationship is very good. It's a program that's worked extremely well for them. They would, I think, tell you that. We're in a time when we're having those kind of discussions about extending the relationship. My hope is that we will. That's always a goal when we have a really good incumbent sponsor who's done such a good job. You obviously want to extend the relationship if you can.
Q. Can you talk about not only this speedway but the repaving project that is about to begin here, your thoughts on the surface and the project that lies ahead?
BRIAN FRANCE: Well, I know that they're learning so much with the repaving efforts that have gone on, going back to Homestead a few years ago, certainly Talladega, Phoenix recently, I know with compound banking and other things, with Daytona being a recent example. But when they do pave a track, and it's obviously -- it's obviously in that time period where it will happen, they really want to improve the racing. I know that's the engineering of that, the kind of asphalt that they lay down, and even sometimes changing the configuration a little bit as they did in Phoenix all designed building on what they know, which will be more side-by-side racing, which is what we're all about. That will be the goal, I'm sure, when the track gets down into doing just that.
Q. You've had some good news as far as TV ratings go early in the Chase. Any data yet as to what demographics the increases are coming from in particular, and what's your gut feeling in terms of why there seems to be a heightened level of interest this year?
BRIAN FRANCE: You know, the increase is primarily coming frankly right where we would really want it to be, which is the younger demo, up I think 20 something percent, has consistently been up 20 something percent.
I think in major sports today, you're going to see this in the various playoffs and championships that will be decided in all kinds of sports, it gets down to story lines and match-ups is that last 10 percent, 15 percent, whatever it's going to be, and when you have more of that, good story lines and great racing in our case, you should do better, and we are doing better. We've just got to keep building on that and hope that the racing and the story lines continue to do what they have done.
Q. You've seen a lot of races this year that have come down to fuel mileage races, and I was wondering if NASCAR is considering any competition changes going into 2012 to kind of put more emphasis on the side-by-side racing rather than who's not going to run out of fuel.
BRIAN FRANCE: Well, that's part of the strategy, it's part of the game, and it's part of the racing. We're not going to be trying to overregulate that. That's cyclical, too. There's going to be times when there tends to be more of that for whatever reason, the way races play out, and then there will be times when there are cautions like there was yesterday in the Nationwide, where the cautions happen late in the race and bunches everybody up, and people always say you don't like too much of that, either, do you? Of course we like it all. We like to see all the strategies and scenarios play out.
Q. You've had good story lines on the track, but off the track there's still been some unsettling news with teams filing layoff notices with the state of North Carolina, and it appears there will be maybe five or six less full-time Cup cars next year at this point. How would you characterize the labor environment for teams and the sponsor environment for teams going into 2012, and do you see any hope of this rebounding?
BRIAN FRANCE: Look, I've always said I'm not an economist, but I know what you know, and it's very, very difficult out there for companies and for people in the general economy. That has impact on us, and it will continue to have some impact on us.
One of the things that does happen when availability comes forward in terms of if a team or two doesn't elect to compete next year, we often see in the off-season teams that were thinking about moving up but did not want to because there wasn't availability, they couldn't make the event, couldn't make the top 35 or whatever else, you'll see where those five or six teams don't necessarily turn out to be five or six teams. I hope everybody comes back and everybody gets what they need to compete, but if the economy is difficult, it does allow opportunities for others, and that's, I guess, the only silver lining in it.
Q. The Truck Series in particular, somewhat related to Nate's question, seems to be some teams struggling. It's very hard for teams to get to the races in some cases. Do you still consider the Truck Series to be a viable, healthy series, and what do you think the future of that is?
BRIAN FRANCE: It's very viable. It's a franchise for the SPEED Channel. It's their highest rated programming every week, depending on what venue. It does fairly well. But yeah, there's no question that that series and every motor support series in the country has got some impact, and some greater than others.
I will say that with that particular series we've done unprecedented things in the last two or three years to take cost out of the system for those team owners and the drivers for that matter. But limiting crew members and doing all kinds of things on the regulatory side that have proven a great deal of cost savings, it's a lot cheaper to operate a truck team than it was three years ago.
Q. You mentioned Austin and the Formula 1 race. I assume it's not like a companion race with one of Bernie's shows.
BRIAN FRANCE: That's a good assumption.
Q. Are you looking at Nationwide? Are you looking perhaps at Cup in 2012, 2013? Are you looking to -- what are your talks there? Are they coming to you, are you going to them?
BRIAN FRANCE: We are having conversations. We have conversations at one level or another with all the major motorsports facilities, and they're no different. Remember, we've got Grand American Road Racing. We're arguably the best road racing product in this country. When you look at how these events play out at Sears Point, Watkins Glen, I mean, by all accounts, there's not a better road course show in this country for sure.
Now, that said, obviously we're not talking -- the cup is full and all those things, we're not having those conversations, but we have a lot of motorsports products, so we are speaking to them.
Q. I heard possibly trucks at Watkins Glen, and what's the story with Montreal? Will it be a NASCAR race next year for somebody?
BRIAN FRANCE: I believe it will, and there's some changes going on in the marketplace with the promoter and otherwise that are happening, how they're promoting the event, some changes. But it's a very popular event, does very well. My hope is we'll continue to be there.
Q. There's been some rumblings that your hopes of attracting maybe more youth that you'd either go into the rally business or do some sort of companion events with rally type vehicles. Can you give us some sort of update on where you stand on that?
BRIAN FRANCE: Well, there's no update because that's -- I mean, we will look -- we look at all kinds of motorsports, and sport for that matter, that we could have an impact in or a marketing opportunity. You've seen some crossover drivers or riders in motorcycles and otherwise, so that's not anything new, so we'll continue to be opportunistic to try to see when we can expose NASCAR to a different audience. We do that racing and non-racing, and that's just -- there's no plans for us getting in rally or any other business like that.
Q. You mentioned some cost-cutting measures in Nationwide and the Truck Series. Is NASCAR considering any further measures there, either technical or in any other way, to help those owners save more money?
BRIAN FRANCE: Absolutely. It's a core principle at the R & D center that there's a group of people that are looking at safety, performance and cost all the time. You don't see them, you don't need to see them, they're not going to come to the events very often, but that's what they're trying to do. And we're trying things out in the touring divisions frequently that we don't talk a lot about, but we do, to see what can work and what can't, and obviously the conditions are different. But that's all good.
I did want to say one last thing about our diversity efforts, and you think you're starting to see some really top-notch talent that I believe will make it into the Cup level and certainly the Nationwide level shortly. Darrell Wallace being one has got the attention of a lot of owners, and Sergio Pena is another talented driver winning races in a tough environment. We could have what we've been hoping for, which is to spotlight some talent that will be with us at the highest level for a long time. That will be good for NASCAR, and obviously Danica coming over and competing full-time next year in the Nationwide and some Cup events is another positive thing. She's talented, and I hope she does well.
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