Tom Sorensen

Brian France represented changes that NASCAR needed but not everyone liked. Now what?

Brian France, chairman and CEO of NASCAR, introduced change the sport needed but old fans didn’t want. Now the question is what impact his arrest on driving while intoxicated and controlled substance charges will have on racing.
Brian France, chairman and CEO of NASCAR, introduced change the sport needed but old fans didn’t want. Now the question is what impact his arrest on driving while intoxicated and controlled substance charges will have on racing. AP

Brian France, the chairman and CEO of NASCAR, which is one of the country’s largest ma and pa businesses, was charged Sunday night with driving while intoxicated and criminal possession of a controlled substance.

There was a time when what would have upset NASCAR fans most is that France was charged in Long Island, N.Y. NASCAR still is a Southern sport. What was he doing up in the Hamptons?

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France has always been more Manhattan than Martinsville. Fans don’t see him. Increasingly, they don’t see the sport he runs.

France is the man to whom NASCAR was passed down, from his grandfather, who founded it, to his father and then to him. He’s taken chances his predecessors didn’t. A fan of other major sports, France had the guts to incorporate NASCAR’s playoff concept. I think it works. He pushed for diversity in a sport that was whiter than most country clubs.

France represented change. That change meant that the old way of doing things was insufficient. I don’t think Dale and Cale and Junior done it this way.

France wasn’t trying to offend old-time fans. The idea was to attract new ones. There weren’t enough of the old ones to go around.

His arrest doesn’t help. France apologized for the Long Island incident and will take an indefinite leave.

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I know France a little. I’ve been in his Daytona Beach, Fla., office and drunk Starbucks with him. He invited me because, I think, I favored the playoff system. I was the one.

Sports are cyclical, but I can’t see NASCAR making the kind of run it did in the early 2000s when new fans discovered this sport with the clean-cut drivers that was devoid of work stoppages.

The new fans didn’t stick, and some of the old fans, offended by the changes, didn’t return.

Reuters has reported that France was in discussions to sell his stake in the sport. Forbes reported that France was seeking minority investors.

Whatever France does, I hope he’s all right. I hope his sport is, too.

Tom Sorensen is a retired Charlotte Observer columnist. Sign up for his newsletter, and follow him on Twitter: @tomsorensen

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