Last month at the Coke Zero Sugar 400 in Daytona Beach, I wrote a column claiming that NASCAR CEO Brian France “was asleep at the wheel” and driving his sport into the dirt.
Sadly, as it turns out, France hasn’t just figuratively been asleep at the wheel. He’s literally been driving while intoxicated, according to police in New York.
France was arrested and charged with driving while intoxicated and criminal possession of a controlled substance (oxycodone) at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, according to a Sag Harbor Village (N.Y.) Police Department news release. France released a statement on Monday saying he is stepping away — at least temporarily — as NASCAR’s CEO.
“I apologize to our fans, our industry and my family for the impact of my actions last night,” France said in the statement released Monday. “Effective immediately, I will be taking an indefinite leave of absence from my position to focus on my personal affairs.”
Distressingly, nobody will even notice that France is gone. The harsh reality is that he’s been on an indefinite leave of absence for years.
Latest in series of embarrassing incidents:The DWI is just the latest embarrassing incident for the aloof France, whose uneven behavior has been an issue in the past — most recently when he raised eyebrows at the NASCAR awards ceremony in Vegas at the end of last season. France abruptly and awkwardly handed Martin Truex Jr. his NASCAR Cup championship before rapidly walking off the stage without even shaking Truex’s hand. There were those then who wondered if he might be under the influence of something.
Even though NASCAR is a family-owned business and Brian France essentially inherited his position as the CEO back in 2003, it’s clearly time for him to permanently step down for the good of the sport — and himself.
His grandfather (Bill France Sr.) created NASCAR and his father (Bill France Jr.) turned it into a booming sport with their passion and proficiency. Brian France had done his best to kill it with his neglect and apathy.
MIA for too long: Not only has France now been charged with DWI, NASCAR fans will tell you he has been MIA for far too long. France rarely speaks publicly and is hardly ever seen by fans and media at NASCAR tracks. Even NASCAR employees roll their eyes and shake their heads at the mention of their absentee CEO.
A perfect example came three months ago when Reuters reported that NASCAR might be for sale. France did nothing and said nothing in the wake of the volatile report and still has not stated publicly whether NASCAR is or isn’t for sale.
As I wrote in July, can you imagine commissioners in other sports almost never making public comments? NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, for as much criticism as he gets, at least stands up at a podium regularly and explains himself to his fan base. Goodell, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred are all over the media — on ESPN. Fox Sports and national radio shows —pumping up their product, explaining their decisions, communicating with their fans.
Strong, vocal boss needed: 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, which alarmingly has lost more than half of its attendance and TV ratings in the last decade — not to mention major corporate sponsors bailing out in droves.
Forbes did an article not long ago on NASCAR’s woes and used a race in Richmond earlier this season as an example of the massive decline in attendance. The Richmond race “drew a crowd estimated by news media at about 42,500 — not bad for stands that now seat about 50,000. But there used to be 112,000 seats at Richmond, which were filled for 33 Cup races in a row through 2008.”
Translation: NASCAR cannot remove seats and downsize its tracks fast enough to keep up with the mass exodus of fans.
Brian France has been asleep at the wheel for years, and it took New York police officers to give him a wake-up call on Sunday night.
Hopefully, this arrest will not only save Brian France, but rescue the great American sport that his family founded.