Lesa France Kennedy

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Brad Keselowski says NASCAR leader should be at track every weekend

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Former champion Brad Keselowski’s comments this week that NASCAR’s leader needs to be at the track more often is a refrain that has hounded NASCAR Chairman France throughout his reign.

Unlike his father, who was at the track each race and ruled from a perch near the NASCAR hauler, France has repeatedly said that the demands of running the sport are different and require him to be elsewhere. France, who became NASCAR Chairman in Sept. 2003, also notes that NASCAR executives are at the track each week when he isn’t.

Even so, Keselowski raised the issue when asked Wednesday what he would change if he was a NASCAR official for a day.

“If I could make one change it would be that the leader of the sport is at the race track every weekend,’’ the 2012 Cup champion said. “That would be my change.”

Keselowski explained why:

“It is important for any company that relies so heavily on outside partners to have a direct interface. This is such a big ship with so much going on week to week. With some respect, I would say that it is impossible for the sport to be managed with someone being here every week because of the travel situations being what they are and different things that come up. I completely understand that. But to some extent you have to be here.”

Asked about the sport’s future, Keselowski said: “There are some bright spots and some dark spots too. I think we would be arrogant to not think there aren’t some spots that could use some work. The sport isn’t going away tomorrow.”

Keselowski’s comments about NASCAR’s leadership come two years after Tony Stewart told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that drivers “never see Brian France” and were worried that he was not hearing their concerns.

“I want to see Brian France at the track more,’’ Stewart said in Jan. 2016. “I want to see him walking through the garage more. I want to see him being more active than just showing up and patting the sponsors on the back and going up in the suite. I want to see him down in the trenches with everybody and understanding what’s truly going on. I think that’s where he needs to be for a while.’’

Stewart also called for France to attend a driver’s council meeting. France indicated he had not attended those meetings to avoid stifling discussions between drivers and NASCAR.

“I want to see he cares enough to be there, not sit there and get a report from somebody,’’ Stewart told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio then.

France attended a driver’s council meeting in April 2016 at Talladega Superspeedway. France was in the meeting for about an hour before leaving for a prior commitment.

“There’s a tremendous amount of good faith that is earned when Brian comes to a meeting,’’ Keselowski said after that meeting.

This week wasn’t the first time Keselowski has raised questions about how NASCAR’s leadership operates. In 2013, Keselowski discussed his vision of the sport to USA Today and raised questions about how well France and his sister, Lesa France Kennedy, then president of International Speedway Corp.) worked together for the sport. Shortly after his comments, he met with both Frances separately.

In Nov. 2008, amid questions that were growing more prevalent about his absence in the garage, he was at Phoenix and spoke to the media for about 25 minutes in one of the longer sessions with the media that year.

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NASCAR America: Four finalists for Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award announced

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Betty Jane France passed away last August.

But the wife of the late Bill France Jr. and mother of NASCAR Chairman/CEO Brian France and International Speedway Corporation CEO Lesa France Kennedy left a legacy that will go on for decades to come.

France and the NASCAR Foundation established the Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award in 2011 to honor NASCAR fans that have made profound impacts upon their community through volunteerism.

The four finalists for the seventh annual Humanitarian Award were announced today.

They are:

  • Shannon Goldwater, Scottsdale, Ariz., founder of Feeding Matters, which specializes in pediatric feeding issues. Said Goldwater, “No children or family will have to suffer the way my children did for so many years.”
  • Julian Maha, Vestavia Hills, Ala., founder of KultureCity. Oldest son suffers from autism. Said Maha, “The mission is to rethink accessibility in order to create a world of acceptance and inclusion for individuals with unique abilities.”
  • Tammy Richardson, Las Vegas, Nev., volunteer for the Nevada Childhood Cancer Foundation. Lost her daughter to cancer. Said Richardson, “Every kid in Nevada that comes to Camp Cartwheel, I get to meet. I started a store, I give away toys, I get to be happy, I get to make a difference in the life of a child.”
  • Chante Gonzalez Vido, Jamul, Calif., founded the Seany Foundation. Is a two-time cancer survivor. Said Vido, “The experience my counselors have given me, I was ready to give that to the next generation of campers.”

One of the four will receive $100,000 to further their efforts in their particular voluntary effort. The winner will be named Nov. 30 as part of the NASCAR Cup Awards weekend in Las Vegas.

Fans are encouraged to go to NASCAR.com/Award to view video vignettes of the four finalists and to cast a vote for which finalist they’d like to see win the award. Voting is open now and continues through Nov. 29.

Since the inaugural Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award in 2011, the NASCAR Foundation has donated more than $1 million to charities across the country.

NASCAR Vice Chairman Mike Helton, who stopped by Thursday’s show, spoke highly of the Foundation’s efforts.

“It’s appropriate it’s named after Betty Jane France,” Helton said. “She really took the first lady role of our sport serious and she guided our culture.

“As much as what we do on the racetrack, she was always behind the scenes making sure NASCAR and all the members of NASCAR, particularly the employees of NASCAR, were good community citizens. It’s appropriate to perpetuate her name in this sport. She was a great lady.”

 

Brent Dewar promoted to fourth President in NASCAR history

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Brent Dewar on Thursday was promoted to President of NASCAR, effective immediately, the sanctioning body announced.

Dewar, who has served as NASCAR’s Chief Operating Officer since joining the sanctioning body in 2014, becomes only the fourth president in NASCAR history.

“Brent has helped lead a cultural transformation at NASCAR,” NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France said in a media release. “From collaborating with team owners to building the charter framework; to partnering with tracks, auto manufacturers, entitlement sponsors, and broadcasters to deliver better racing and a more dynamic fan experience; he has spearheaded some of the most impactful enhancements NASCAR has implemented in its history.

“I couldn’t be more thrilled about the impact Brent has had on our industry and I am confident he will continue to help serve and grow our sport for many years to come.”

In his new role, Dewar will continue to serve on the NASCAR Board of Directors. He’ll also continue working with International Speedway Corporation President Lesa France Kennedy, Brian France and NASCAR Vice Chairman Mike Helton in setting the strategic course of the sport and sanctioning body.

Steve Phelps, Executive Vice President and Chief Global Sales and Marketing Officer, Steve O’Donnell, Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer will continue to report to Dewar.

Dewar, who is active on Twitter (@BrentDewar), joined NASCAR after three decades as a global automotive executive, including assignments in North and South America, Brazil and Europe.

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Talladega is Sweet Home Alabama for track chairman Grant Lynch

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Grant Lynch has served as chairman of Talladega Superspeedway since 1994, the third-longest tenured track operator in NASCAR.

Yet in all that time, he has never found his way to victory lane after a race.

“I don’t have to be the guy that gives out accolades,” Lynch said. “I’m comfortable not being there, and I have other people that know how to do that.

“Also, I want the teams to spend time with the sponsors in Victory Lane because they’re the ones that pay a lot of money to put on these races. It’s just something I do.”

While winning drivers and teams are celebrating, Lynch is usually found directing operations to get race fans on their way out of the track as quickly as possible.

“Bill France Jr. once told me, ‘It’s your job to get these people out of here so they’ll come back.’ I believe Bill France Jr.,” Lynch said.

It’s one of many valuable lessons Lynch learned from France, his former boss. With France’s mentoring and leadership, Lynch has turned Talladega into a must-see track on any race fan’s bucket list.

NASCAR RETURNS TO ‘DEGA THIS WEEKEND

For the 47th time in his tenure, Lynch throws open the gates and doors to his second home, welcoming tens of thousands of fans to this weekend’s racing action for the NASCAR Cup and Xfinity series.

During his time as head of Talladega, Lynch has elevated the fan experience with enhancements such as unlimited free camping, alcohol-free campgrounds (even though Talladega is still known for its parties) and Sunday morning church services.

Lynch is the third-longest serving track operator in NASCAR behind Martinsville Speedway’s Clay Campbell (assumed his role in 1988) and Atlanta Motor Speedway’s Ed Clark (1992) – who are also among his best friends.

But Lynch is more than just a track operator. For several years, he split that role with a role as a high-level operative for parent company International Speedway Corporation, which included overseeing the development of both Kansas and Chicagoland speedways.

He also flew to Washington State 70 times within a two-year period to seek legislative support to build a new racetrack in the Pacific Northwest.

“I’m not known for doing that because y’all see me two times a year at the races,” Lynch said. “Most people assume I’ve been here all the time, but I haven’t been here as long as people would think.”

IT ALL BEGAN BY DRIVING A SHOW CAR

Lynch has had a long career in motorsports. He began as a show car driver for RJ Reynolds, rising to that company’s Senior Manager of Operations and Public Relations during its tenure as NASCAR’s primary sponsor, before moving to Talladega in 1993 as general manager.

He learned his duties at the track from – and succeeded – a most familiar name in the sport: NASCAR Vice Chairman Mike Helton, who was Talladega Superspeedway’s president before handing the reins to Lynch.

“Mike brought me into the fold very quickly and said, ‘Here’s the deal: I’m going to run May (1993), and you follow me around. And then you’re going to run July (1993) and I’ll see how you do. And if you do good, then I’ll plan to get out of your way.’

“He mentored me and showed me what to do and then he got out of my way. Once I took over, the sport was just blowing up and we grabbed a hold of it, rode it as hard as anybody did and built the place to what we built it to.”

A NEW ERA FOR NASCAR — AND TALLADEGA

Like pretty much every other NASCAR track today, Talladega has gone through an evolution due to the downturn in the economy, less demand for tickets and fewer fans attending races.

Lynch remains optimistic that things are turning around for both his track and the sport.

“Of course, we’re in a little downturn now and now we’re refining it,” he said. “We’re taking the seats that used to be uncomfortable, the little 18-inch chair back seats – I know I can’t fit into an 18-inch seat – and now they’re 22 inches wide in the towers and 21 inches wide elsewhere.

“We’ve spent money wisely here and continue to do things for the fans to tell them we don’t just want you here for the races, we want you here for the concerts, for the Big One on the Boulevard party, and we want you to have a good time.”

Even though he’s been at Talladega for nearly a quarter century, Lynch credits his development as an administrator to the late Bill France Jr. and ISC chairwoman Lesa France Kennedy, who both hired him.

Lynch with NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott, who still holds the NASCAR speed record, set at Talladega nearly 30 years ago.

At the time, ISC only owned only Daytona, Talladega, Darlington and half of Watkins Glen. Since then, with Lynch at the helm of much of its development, ISC has grown to own 12 tracks from Watkins Glen in New York to Auto Club Speedway in California.

“To have had the attention that I got from Bill France Jr. when I was learning how to run this place, it’s hard for people to understand in the fast-paced environment we have today, how many phone calls I got from Bill saying ‘What are you doing about so-and-so?’” Lynch said. “I became a much better track operator because of the attention Bill and Lesa gave me as I was coming up.”

ALABAMA HAS BEEN A GREAT HOME

Even though he grew up in North Carolina, it’s been Sweet Home Alabama for Lynch and his family for nearly 25 years.

“It’s a place I love,” he said. “The state of Alabama, when we moved here, I’m a big outdoorsman, and it offers so much in natural resources throughout the state to experience. Plus, my girls went through school here, then both went to college at Auburn and both are now in Birmingham, so that anchors us down to the area as well. It’s our home.”

Lynch is active in the community, serving on a various board of directors, and is involved in a number of charitable endeavors, including the Alabama Institute for the Blind and Deaf.

Sitting on a site of more than 400 acres, Talladega’s overall footprint is larger than that of sister track in Daytona. Its infield is so large that some have joked you could fit a small third-world country in it.

Or, as Lynch likes to say – especially since he’s deep in football country: “We can put every SEC football stadium inside Talladega … it’ll hold all 14 stadiums. Now that’s big!”

Lynch and Kurt Busch in 2010

But like Dale Earnhardt Jr.Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart, the checkered flag is slowly coming into view as Lynch eyes his own eventual retirement.

“I’m in my early 60s and I don’t want to work forever, but at the same time, people are living a lot longer,” he said. “I plan on working some more years. We’re obviously going to be going through something with Dale Jr. retiring, which is another challenge we’ll face going forward as a speedway, and I’d hate to just bail on something like that coming down the pike.

“I want to continue to work. I don’t know if I want to work 10 more years, but I’m probably going to work more than one or two and then see when it’s time for me to leave.

“At some point, everybody is going to ride off into the sunset and I hope to be smart about making that decision and stay long enough that I don’t want to be un-useful or wear out my welcome, either.”

WHAT WILL NASCAR AND TALLADEGA DO WITHOUT DALE JR?

This will be a rather unique weekend at ‘Dega, as it will be Earnhardt’s next-to-last scheduled race at his most successful racetrack (six wins). While Lynch admits he’ll miss Junior after he retires from racing, he’s bullish on NASCAR’s next generation.

“The greatest thing we have going for us is the names we have coming up right now and how good these young people are,” Lynch said. “You see what an Erik Jones and Chase Elliott and others are doing right now.

“The teams are very strong right now, the finances are working for everybody right now, the sport is strong, we’re not what we were but we’re still very important in the motorsports world in the United States without a doubt. I think we’re going to have a time where we’re going to find some new fans that are going to attach to some new drivers and go on.

“I’m positive on the fact that we don’t need to quit what we’re doing here at Talladega because it’s generating good interest with the race fans, we’re beating most of our peers in a lot of the things we sell, and I think we have a bright future here just because of what we can do here that other people can’t.”

Come Saturday and Sunday, Lynch won’t be in victory lane once again. But that’s the way he likes it. It’s not about him, it’s about the drivers and the fans – and that’s the way he wants it to continue.

“I’ve really enjoyed what I’ve gotten to do,” he said. “I don’t know what I would trade it for. I’ve gotten to see a lot of places and go to a lot of places and meet a lot of people and worked with a lot of great people at the track and have been involved with some of the greatest fans in the world, so that’s a pretty blessed life.”

TALLADEGA — HOME OF SPEED AND RECORDS

Talladega Superspeedway has seen a number of NASCAR records set there, most during Grant Lynch’s tenure.

Here’s some of ‘Dega’s most notable racing achievements:

* All-Time qualifying speed record: 212.809 mph – Bill Elliott (1987).

* Elliott also holds the record for most poles at TSS (8).

* All-Time race speed record at TSS: 188.354 mph – Mark Martin (1997, which was also the first caution-free race ever contested there).

* Closest NASCAR Cup series finish: 2011 – Jimmie Johnson over Clint Bowyer (.002 seconds).

* Closest NASCAR Xfinity Series finish: .1999 – Terry Labonte over Joe Nemechek (.002 seconds)

* Closest NASCAR Camping World Truck Series finish: 2010 – Kyle Busch over Aric Almirola (.002 seconds)

* Most lead changes in a NASCAR Cup race: 88 – April 25, 2010 and April 17, 2011

* Most Leaders in a single NASCAR Cup race at TSS: 29 – April 25, 2010

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Richmond president: ‘Everything’s on the table’ to improve track’s attendance

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After Richmond International Raceway had many empty seats during Sunday’s Toyota Owners 400, track president Dennis Bickmeier said “everything’s on the table” in hopes of improving attendance of future races, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

That includes moving the late April race back to a night event.

The 0.75-mile track has 59,000 seats, according to International Speedway Corp.’s annual report, and those were about half-full Sunday afternoon, according to the newspaper, as Joey Logano won his first Cup race of the season.

Bickmeier told the Times-Dispatch there had been three years of growth in the track’s “Richmond Nation” season-ticket package.

“You see glimmers of hope, and you build on that,” Bickmeier said.

Richmond announced in early 2016 that it would remove bleachers on the backstretch, reducing its seating by about 9,000. The “Action Track” had a seating capacity of 109,000 seats in 2008, according to ISC’s annual report that year. It recorded 33 straight sellouts from 1992-2008.

The streak ended with the September 2008 race when Tropical Storm Hanna resulted in the race being postponed.

RIR is under consideration by International Speedway Corp. as one of its next tracks to be revamped.

In March 2016, ISC CEO Lesa France Kennedy named it and Phoenix Raceway as tracks the company would pursue improvements at following the completion of the $400 million renovation of Daytona International Speedway.

“Those are great markets that we need to look at and also great racing experiences,” Kennedy said.

While nothing has been announced regarding Richmond, ISC approved a $178 million renovation of Phoenix last November. The project is scheduled for completion in late 2018.

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