Report: NASCAR memo: France family ‘dedicated to the long term growth’ of sport

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NASCAR President Brent Dewar told employees that the France family “remains dedicated to the long term growth of our sport” in an internal memo obtained by the Associated Press on Tuesday.

The memo was issued a day after a report by Reuters, citing unnamed sources, that the France family was in the exploratory stages of possibly selling their majority stake in the sanctioning body.

Dewar said in the memo that NASCAR does not comment on “industry rumors,” but did not mention a potential sale by the France family, which owns the sanctioning body founded by Bill France Sr. in 1948.

Bill France Jr. replaced his father as NASCAR President in 1972, a position he held until 2000. He was NASCAR’s Chairman and CEO until 2003 when Brian France took over from his father and has held the position since.

A NASCAR spokesperson told NBC Sports on Monday that “we do not have a comment on this.’’

In a February 2017 story, The Wall Street Journal reported the Brian France had sold his stake to other family members more than a decade earlier.

The WSJ story said Jim France, Brian’s uncle, and Lesa France Kennedy, Brian’s sister, still hold stakes in the privately held company, and that they must approve any “major changes” in NASCAR.

Jim France also is chairman of the board of publicly traded International Speedway Corp., which has Lesa France Kennedy as its CEO. ISC owns 12 tracks which play host to races on NASCAR’s premier circuit.

Report: France family exploring possible sale of NASCAR

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Reuters, citing unnamed sources, reported Monday that the France family is exploring the possibility of selling their entire stake in NASCAR.

The report states that the France family is working with investment bank Goldman Sachs Group to identify a potential deal for the company, according to unnamed sources. Those sources also stated, according to the report, that the deliberations are at an exploratory stage, and no agreement of any kind is certain.

A NASCAR spokesperson told NBC Sports on Monday that “we do not have a comment on this.’’

Bill France Sr. founded NASCAR in 1948 and the family’s heirs have run the organization since. Bill France Jr. replaced his father as NASCAR President in 1972, a position he held until 2000. He was NASCAR Chairman and CEO until 2003 when Brian France took over from his father and has held the position since.

In a February 2017 story, The Wall Street Journal reported the Brian France had sold his stake to other family members more than a decade earlier.

The WSJ story said Jim France, Brian’s uncle, and Lesa France Kennedy, Brian’s sister, still hold stakes in the privately held company, and that they must approve any “major changes” in NASCAR.

Jim France also is chairman of the board of publicly traded International Speedway Corp., which has Lesa France Kennedy as its CEO. ISC owns 12 tracks which play host to races on NASCAR’s premier circuit.

Friday 5: Questions about size of future Hall of Fame classes

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After NASCAR celebrates the ninth Hall of Fame class tonight (8 p.m. ET on NBCSN), questions may soon arise about how many inductees should be honored annually.

NASCAR inducts five people each year. When NASCAR announced eligibility changes in 2013, a former series executive said that the sanctioning body would “give strong consideration” to if five people should be inducted each year and if there should be a veteran’s committee “after the 10th class is seated.’’

The 10th class — which Jeff Gordon will be eligible for and expected to headline— will be selected later this year and honored in 2019. That gives NASCAR a year to determine what changes to make if officials follow the schedule mentioned in 2013. NASCAR has discussed different scenarios as part of its examination of the Hall of Fame.

Among the questions NASCAR could face is should no more than three people be inducted a year? Should only nominees who receive a specific percentage of the vote be inducted? Should other methods be considered in determining who enters the Hall? 

Only one of the last five classes had all five inductees selected on at least 50 percent of the ballots. Five people in the last three classes each received less than 50 percent of the vote.

The challenge is that if NASCAR reduced the number of people inducted after the Class of 2019, it could create a logjam in the coming years.

Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards (provided Edwards does not return to run a significant number of races) would be eligible for the Class of 2020.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth (provided Kenseth does not return to run a significant number of races) would be eligible for the Class of 2021.

Stewart would appear to be a lock for his year and it seems likely Earnhardt would make it as well his first year.

If the Hall of Fame classes were cut to three a year, and Stewart, Earnhardt and Kenseth each were selected in those two years, that would leave three spots during that time for others.

The nominees for this year’s class included former champions Bobby Labonte and Alan Kulwicki, crew chief Harry Hyde (56 wins, 88 poles) and Waddell Wilson (22 wins, 32 poles), car owners Roger Penske, Jack Roush and Joe Gibbs and Cup drivers Buddy Baker, Davey Allison and Ricky Rudd.

A 2019 Class that might feature Jeff Gordon, Harry Hyde, Buddy Baker and two others would still leave some worthy candidates who might not make it for a couple of years if the number of inductees is reduced.

Of course, there are those who haven’t been nominated that some would suggest should be, including Smokey Yunick, Humpy Wheeler, Buddy Parrott, Kirk Shelmerdine, Neil Bonnett, Harry Gant and Tim Richmond. That could further jumble who makes it if the number of inductees is reduced.

Those are just some of the issues NASCAR could face as it examines if any changes need to be made.

2. Hall of Fame Classes and vote totals

Note: NASCAR did not release vote totals for the inaugural class (2010 with Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt, Junior Johnson, Bill France Sr., and Bill France Jr.). Below are the other classes with the percent of ballots each inductee was on:

2018 Class

Robert Yates (94 percent)

Red Byron (74 percent)

Ray Evernham (52 percent)

Ken Squier (40 percent)

Ron Hornaday Jr. (38 percent)

2017 Class

Benny Parsons (85 percent)

Rick Hendrick (62 percent)

Mark Martin (57 percent)

Raymond Parks (53 percent)

Richard Childress (43 percent)

2016 Class

Bruton Smith (68 percent)

Terry Labonte (61 percent)

Curtis Turner (60 percent)

Jerry Cook (47 percent)

Bobby Isaac (44 percent)

2015 Class

Bill Elliott (87 percent)

Wendell Scott (58 percent)

Joe Weatherly (53 percent)

Rex White (43 percent)

Fred Lorenzen (30 percent)

2014 Class

Tim Flock (76 percent)

Maurice Petty (67 percent)

Dale Jarrett (56 percent)

Jack Ingram (53 percent)

Fireball Roberts (51 percent)

2013 Class

Herb Thomas (57 percent)

Leonard Wood (57 percent)

Rusty Wallace (52 percent)

Cotten Owens (50 percent)

Buck Baker (39 percent)

2012 Class

Cale Yarborough (85 percent)

Darrell Waltrip (82 percent)

Dale Inman (78 percent)

Richie Evans (50 percent)

Glen Wood (44 percent)

2011 Class

David Pearson (94 percent)

Bobby Allison (62 percent)

Lee Petty (62 percent)

Ned Jarrett (58 percent)

Bud Moore (45 percent)

3. Charter Switcheroo

Five charters have changed hands since last season. One will be with its third different team in the three years of the charter system.

In 2016, Premium Motorsports leased its charter to HScott Motorsports so the No. 46 team of Michael Annett could use it.

The charter was returned after that season, and Premium Motorsports sold the charter to Furniture Row Racing for the No. 77 car of Erik Jones for 2017.

With Jones moving to Joe Gibbs Racing and Furniture Row Racing not finding enough sponsorship to continue the team, the charter was sold to JTG Daugherty for the No. 37 team of Chris Buescher for this season. (The No. 37 team had leased a charter from Roush Fenway Racing last year).

So that will make the third different team the charter, which originally belonged to Premium Motorsports, has been with since the system was created.

4. Dodge and NASCAR?

Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne excited fans when he said in Dec. 2016 about Dodge that “it is possible we can come back to NASCAR.’’

One report last year stated that Dodge decided not to return to NASCAR, and another countered that report.

While questions remain on if Dodge will return to NASCAR, Marchionne announced this week at the Detroit Auto Show that he’ll step down next year, and that Fiat Chrysler will release a business plan in June that will go through 2022. The company will announce a successor to Marchionne sometime after that.

Marchionne said, according to The Associated Press, that the U.S. tax cuts passed in December are worth $1 billion annually to Fiat Chrysler.

A Wall Street Journal story this week stated that Fiat Chrysler makes most of its profit from its Jeep and Ram brands, writing that those brands “have been on a roll as U.S. buyers shift to these kinds of light trucks and away from sedans, which is a segment the company has largely abandoned.’’

5. NMPA Hall of Fame

The National Motorsports Hall of Fame will induct four people into its Hall of Fame on Sunday night. Those four will be drivers Terry Labonte and Donnie Allison and crew chiefs Jake Elder and Buddy Parrott.

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Martin Truex Jr., Sherry Pollex win prestigious Myers Brothers Award

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Cup champion Martin Truex Jr. and girlfriend Sherry Pollex were selected as the recipient of the Myers Brothers Award Wednesday in Las Vegas.

The Myers Brothers Award, named for Billy and Bob Myers, honors those who have made outstanding contributions to the sport. The award, presented annually since 1958, is voted on by members of the National Motorsports Press Association.

WATCH: NBCSN to air special NASCAR America at 7 p.m. ET Thursday, followed by Cup Series Awards Show at 9 p.m. ET.

Truex and Pollex were honored for their charitable work around childhood and ovarian cancer that includes the Catwalk for a Cause, which was held an eight consecutive year and raised more than $550,000 this year, and their second annual “Drive for Teal & Gold.”

“I didn’t see that coming,” Truex said to Pollex on stage after accepting the award.

“I didn’t either,” Pollex said. “I’m going to try really hard not to cry. It’s been a crazy, crazy year for both of us. Personally and professionally with my cancer and …” she could not continue.

Truex then added: “This is definitely an unbelievable honor to receive this award. We definitely didn’t see it coming. Did not expect it. I think Sherry and I have been very fortunate in our lives to have all the things we needed, great families, great parents that raised us right and taught us right from wrong. I think they probably deserve a lot of the credit for us being who we are and being able to give back and help people. Being a part of this sport, it’s who we are.

“We are so proud of everybody. We’ve learned so much from past champions. Just everybody in this sport is willing to give back and willing to give their time to great causes. We don’t deserve all the credit for this. I think we’ve learned a lot of lessons from a lot of people in this room and a lot of people in this sport in general. We’re very fortunate and definitely lucky to be able to give our time to great causes, and I’m so proud of (Pollex) for her fight and her battle and what she’s been able to pull through and get through, and at the same time willing to help others to give her time. Just really, really proud of this. Thank you all very, very much.

“We’re humbled. We’re very lucky to be here, and we’re very proud of this.”

They both then said: “Thank you.”

Previous winners of the award include Ned Jarrett, Richard Petty, the Wood Brothers, Junie Donlavey, Kyle Petty, Dale Earnhardt, Mike Helton, Bill France Sr., Bill France Jr., Benny Parsons, Barney Hall, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart.

Truex was named on 82 percent of the ballots cast for this year’s award. Others receiving votes were NASCAR team owner Jack Roush and seven-time Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson.

Other awards presented Wednesday at the Myers Brothers Awards included:

SMI Chairman Bruton Smith won the Buddy Shuman Award for contributions to the sport.

Chevrolet honored Dale Earnhardt Jr. with the Chevrolet Lifetime Achievement Award and donated a car for his foundation to auction.

NBC Sports and Fox Sports were jointly honored with the 2017 NASCAR Marketing Achievement Award.

“We are fortunate to have two world-class television partners dedicated to presenting our sport in new and innovative ways each weekend,” said Steve Phelps, EVP, Chief Global Sales and Marketing Officer. “Both FOX Sports and NBC Sports are deserving honorees, each delivering dynamic marketing campaigns that introduced our sport to new audiences and brought fans closer to our athletes than ever before.”

“NBC Sports is incredibly proud of our long-standing partnership with NASCAR, and we are thrilled to accept this award,” said Jenny Storms, Chief Marketing Officer, NBC Sports Group. “This prestigious honor is the direct result of an insights led strategy, combined with the passion and creativity of our team, to continue to connect and engage with fans in new and exciting ways.”

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Where Are They Now? Jimmy Spencer: No more ‘Mr. Excitement’, it’s ‘Grandpa’ now

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After speeding through much of his life, Mr. Excitement has finally slowed down.

Instead of worrying about a race car setup or qualifying, Jimmy Spencer spends his days enjoying a different kind of excitement, like his first grandson Hudson, who turned 1-year-old Tuesday, working on antique cars or trucks, or just playing with his five dogs.

After more than four decades of rushing from one track to another, Spencer and wife Pat still travel a fair amount – but at their own pace.

“I raced, I raced every damn night, working on my race cars and raced as much as I could,” Spencer said in a recent interview with NBC Sports.

Spencer in the 2001 Brickyard 400.

He had to race so much to keep food on the table and clothes on his kids’ backs. But he also knows he missed a lot while competing not only in the Cup, Xfinity and Camping World Trucks Series but also modifieds and late models in the Northeast early in his career.

Today, the 60-year-old Spencer wishes he could have some of that time back. He’d have done some things differently.

“You can’t go back and watch the kids play soccer on the weekend you’re racing,” he said. “You decided to do that. I’m not mad, I don’t regret anything I’ve done. But would I change stuff? Oh, hell, yeah.”

Sister’s death had profound impact on his life, racing

Spencer has stopped breathing race car exhaust and is now smelling the roses, enjoying much of what he couldn’t while racing.

It was his sister Chrissy’s death in 2010, after a long battle with ovarian cancer, that began Spencer on something he never thought he’d do. Eventually make an exodus from racing.

“It was time for me to say it’s time to start enjoying life,” Spencer said. “She was worried about retirement and so many things in life and she couldn’t enjoy them.

“I said I’m giving it all up. I still think about her all the time. We sold most everything we had and I retired. My wife and I have been traveling. I still dabble in antique cars and trucks.

“An old buddy of mine once told me you have to make a decision when enough is enough and your quality of life is more important. So my quality of life is I don’t need my jet or other stuff anymore. I don’t need to live that flagrant lifestyle, I never did.

“I watched my dad die from Alzheimer’s (in 2014), a hard-ass working man. There are certain things that change your life, and Chrissy’s death changed mine. Her death touched my wife and me so much. We still cry on her birthday, Nov. 23. It was time to move on.”

These days, Spencer and his wife split time between homes in North Carolina and their native Pennsylvania. You’ll usually find him tinkering with old cars, attending car shows or playing poker with friends.

Racing just isn’t as important as it once was

But when it comes to racing – the thing that was his life for more than half of it – is just not as important as it once was.

“I still watch some races,” Spencer said. “It’s not a top priority anymore, but I miss it. During my career, I made fans and so many friends. I still have friends from my modified days in Connecticut.

“I miss the officials, seeing the crew members, seeing the drivers, having a good time. I was pretty good friends with (Dale) Earnhardt, I still go see Rusty (Wallace) some, Ernie (Irvan) I see once in a while, I went up a couple months ago and spent a whole day with Harry Gant.”

In addition to being one of the most fiery and colorful drivers in all forms of stock car racing, Spencer is one of the sport’s best storytellers.

His all-time favorite racing memory revolves around, like many other drivers, Daytona International Speedway.

Spencer and his parents had grandstand seats for many years for the Daytona 500.

“One day, we were sitting in the stands and I was winning a lot of short track races, and my mom asked me, ‘What are you thinking about?’ I said, ‘I’m going to win here some day, Mom.’ She looked at me and said, ‘You’re just like your dad. You’re just as determined as he was and you probably will.’

“And I won Daytona (1994 Pepsi 400). That was big, but the most important thing was my mom and dad were sitting in those bleachers when I started sixth in my first Daytona 500 in the Heinz 57 car (in 1990, finished 15th), behind Dale Earnhardt and Bill Elliott.

“I looked up in the grandstand and saw my mom and dad and said, ‘I finally made it in my career, I finally became a Winston Cup driver.’ I was nervous and shaking, I could not believe that I did fulfill my wish and promise to my mom. That was probably one of my biggest memories ever.”

A special bond with the late Bill France Jr.

And then there was Spencer’s relationship with late NASCAR Chairman Bill France Jr.

It paid to have friends in high places for Spencer, including the late Bill France Jr.

“I was a cocky sonofabitch,” Spencer laughed. “I was winning in the Busch Series and made some comments to the media about some officiating. I thought I was the cock of the walk. One day, a Saturday, practice was over and an official came up to me and said, ‘Mr. France wants to see you.’

“Bill always used to tell me there were two heroes he had. One was Earnhardt and the other was me. I was one of his heroes. Bill France (Jr.) was special. Well, I was his hero up to that day.”

Spencer sat across a desk from France, who pulled out a piece of paper and drew a circle on it. Then he drew a second circle, and a line that bisected the circles.

“That’s when he looks at me with a stare and I knew I was in trouble,” Spencer said.

France continued to draw on the paper, adding grandstands, a pit area and a clubhouse. He asked Spencer what he thought it was.

“I said, ‘Bill, that’s Stafford (Speedway in Connecticut, where Spencer raced a lot in his early days).

“Bill then said to me, ‘You keep (expletive) around with me and you’ll be back there racing.’ All I said was, ‘Mr. France, I understand.’ From that day on, I realized not to mess with Bill France Jr.”

NASCAR is a different world today

As for NASCAR racing today, Spencer is somewhat disillusioned.

“We as a society have lost a lot of the passion,” he said. “I can remember falling asleep underneath my race car. I can remember Earnhardt telling me he borrowed $300 so he could get to the next race so he could buy a set of tires.

“These people today, the sport has changed for me and I know the world’s changing, but I don’t see the passion I saw with a lot of the guys I grew up with.”

Like many of the peers of his era, Spencer admits he doesn’t attend many NASCAR races in person, nor does he have any desire to get back into the game as perhaps a team owner or return to broadcasting like he previously did with SPEED TV and Fox Sports.

“That ship has sailed,” he said. “I have a great life, the Lord’s blessed me, I have a grandbaby now to keep me busy. I have no regrets.”

One thing Spencer will never get tired of is his legion of fans.

“Fans still come up to me today and say, ‘You were a damn good racer,’ and ‘I enjoyed you when you were racing,’ and stuff like that,” he said. “It makes you feel good because they still notice you. I still have a good time with them.”

The Jimmy Spencer File:

  • Competed in 478 Cup races; 2 wins, 80 top 10s. Both wins came in restrictor-plate races in the summer of 1994 at Daytona (Pepsi 400) and three weeks later at Talladega (Die Hard 500).
  • Highest Cup season rank was 12th in 1993.
  • Made 211 Xfinity starts with 12 wins and 93 top 10s. Made 31 Truck starts and earned one win and 11 top 10s.
  • Last season of racing was 2005 in Xfinity Series at age of 48.