Transcript: 2013 NASCAR Media Tour with Brian France, Mike Helton, Robin Pemberton, Steve O'Donnell And Joie Chitwood
DAVID HIGDON: Good afternoon, everyone, and welcome to the NASCAR Hall of Fame for the annual preseason NASCAR conferences as part of the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway. My name is David Higdon, and I'm a member of the NASCAR integrated marketing communications team. Many thanks to our hosts at this awesome NASCAR Hall of Fame, an appropriate facility to hold today's media session, because it's within these walls that you can really see the evolution, particularly of the race car, which we are highlighting today.
If you look back, of course you've got the iconic Hudson Hornet, which is back here, you've got Petty's famous Plymouth, so we go Generation 1, 2, 3, on up until you come to our Gen-6 car which we're very excited about.
So before today's program gets underway, let's take a further look at the six generations of speed in NASCAR.
DAVID HIGDON: The Gen-6 has truly been an industry collaboration among the auto manufacturers, the race teams, the drivers, and NASCAR. Here to provide a little bit more insight into how this all came together and give a little bit of a preview on the competition season, somebody who's worked very hard on this car, NASCAR vice president of competition Robin Pemberton.
ROBIN PEMBERTON: Thanks, David. We believe there's a great deal of momentum that has carried over from last year to the 2013 season. We have a brash new champion in the Sprint Cup Series and close competition in the Nationwide Series and the Camping World Truck Series.
The emergence of young talent on our tours and weekly series might be the best we've ever seen. That certainly bodes well for the future of our sport.
The excitement continues to build for the on-track debut of the new Gen-6 Sprint Cup Series race car. The collaborative efforts between the manufacturers, teams and NASCAR has been unparalleled in my 34 plus years in the sport.
Developing this new race car has been amazing. The OEMs, their engineers have come up with a unique, stylish design that has the fans and the drivers as anxious as a six-year-old on Christmas morning, or 56 in my case.
The cars look terrific, and I congratulate the manufacturers, the teams, and the folks back at the R & D Center for putting the stock back in our race cars.
We've been highly encouraged by the results that we've seen at the tests at Daytona and Charlotte earlier this month, and are optimistic that not only will the cars look great, we believe they will race great. The teams have been doing a great job getting their cars ready. The drivers have provided excellent feedback.
I really believe we're going to see some of the most competitive, intense and exciting racing that we've seen in quite some time. We're excited about the direction we're headed with our competition. We made some changes with the series directors leadership back in December. I believe these changes will provide our sport with a greater opportunity for growth and strengthen our position not only in the U.S. but abroad, as well.
So before I close, I'd like to recognize some of the series directors that will be heading up our respective racing disciplines this season: John Darby, managing director of competition and NASCAR Sprint Cup Series director; Wayne Auton, NASCAR Nationwide Series director; and Chad Little, NASCAR Camping World Truck Series director.
With that, I hope everybody enjoys the show. Have a great afternoon. Thank you.
DAVID HIGDON: Thanks, Robin. Those guys will be available afterwards. Chad, do you want to stand up and wave a little bit? This is our new Truck Series director. Great job he's done on the touring and weekly and moving up.
As we embark on the next season, the NASCAR Drive For Diversity program, this year's roster, which looks awfully good sitting right there, has a tough act to follow on the heels of 2012. Here to introduce the 2013 NASCAR Drive For Diversity class and provide an update on the program, please welcome our senior VP of racing operations, Steve O'Donnell.
STEVE O'DONNELL: Thanks, David. Last week the 2013 NASCAR Drive For Diversity class was introduced through NASCAR's first-ever Google+ Hangout, and for those of you who missed it, I think it's still online via NASCAR's YouTube page. We had a great time with the class, the media, the fans, everybody who joined us through YouTube and Twitter and really provided us with a unique touch to our yearly unveiling of the class.
The NASCAR Drive For Diversity program really set the bar high in 2012, capturing the NASCAR K & N Series championship, a first for the program and for Max and Rev Racing, and throughout the course of the last couple years, the NASCAR D4D initiative has strengthened its position as a leading driver development platform in our sport. The program has captured two Sunoco Rookie of the Year Awards in the K & N East in just the last three years, and our program graduates continue to show great promise. Darrell Wallace Jr. had three top 10s in four NASCAR Nationwide Series races in 2012 and became the first African American to win a pole in one of NASCAR's three national series. And Kyle Larson not only won the East Championship and the Sunoco Rookie of the Year Award, he also had a successful national series start with three top 10s in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.
So all that said, it's my pleasure today to introduce you to, as David said, a great class of drivers from 2013, a class who once again is rich in talent, and more importantly rich in drive.
The 2013 class; welcome, Max. First up in the class, 22-year-old Ryan Gifford from Winchester, Tennessee. Ryan is in his fourth year with Rev Racing. Ryan will compete in the NASCAR K & N Pro Series East. He completed the 2012 season 11th in points with two top 5s and three top 10 finishes.
Second we've got 22-year-old Mackena Bell of Carson City, Nevada. Mackena has still promised everyone she's going to sing at some point, but she's competing in her fourth season with Rev Racing. This year Mackena will race a full season in the K & N Pro Series East, and in 2009 Mackena made history by becoming the first female in Super Late Model Division to make the podium with a third-place finish at Irwindale Speedway.
Third, 23-year-old Bryan Ortiz of Bayamon, Puerto Rico, competing in his third season with Rev Racing. In 2012 Bryan finished fifth overall in the standings and runner-up to his teammate Kyle Larson, so he's in pretty good company for Rookie of the Year. He's a three-time winner of the Sunoco Rookie of the Race Award and the season-long winner of the Coca-Cola Move of the Race Award.
Next up, new to the program is Daniel Suarez, a 20-year old from Monterrey, México. Danny will race in the program a full season in the K & N Pro Series East. Previously you might have seen him in the NASCAR México Toyota Series, where he finished third in the 2012 season. Like Larson and Wallace, Danny has been spotlighted in the Next Nine program as part of NASCAR's Next Nine that we look to promote again in 2013.
2013 will mark 19-year-old Jack Madrid's first season with the program with Rev Racing. Jack will compete in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series. In 2012 he reached a milestone in his career after concluding four races in the NASCAR Super Late Model Series as the fastest qualifier in three of those races. He scored his first 2012 Super Late Model victory at Las Vegas' Bullring.
Up next is Annabeth Barnes. Annabeth is an 18-year-old from Hiddenite, North Carolina, and she joins Rev Racing for the first time, as well. Having run stock cars for her first full season, competing in the Limited Late Model Division at Hickory Motor Speedway in 2011, she's come a long way. During her rookie year, she finished the season with the first win of her career in a stock car and nine top-5 finishes.
Devon Amos, 21-year-old out of Rio Rancho, New Mexico. Devon will join Rev Racing for the first time this year and be competing in Rev Racing's Legends program. Prior to this, Devon raced Modified Midgets in the New Mexico Series with nine feature wins, 12 heat wins, 18 top 5s and 20 top 10s. Pretty good effort there.
Ladies and gentlemen, the 2013 class of Drive For Diversity.
I'm going to ask our chairman Brian France to join us for a photo, as well.
DAVID HIGDON: Thank you, Steve. Unfortunately Marcus Jadotte wasn't able to join us today, but the two of them, Steve and Marcus, did a great job with the team on the announcement. Congratulations to this year's class. We're proud to have you on board.
In four days, engines will fire for the GRAND-AM road racing's premier event, the Rolex 24 at Daytona. Look forward to hosting and seeing many of you there. It's going to be a great event. Obviously, with the merger fresh on our minds, we're very excited about that. And 33 days from now the green flag will wave on NASCAR's marquee event, the 55th running of the Daytona 500, to be shown on FOX TV on February 24th.
Here to talk about the fast-approaching Daytona Speedweeks, faster than he probably imagines, which this year will begin with the Sprint Unlimited race, followed by the first-ever UNOH Battle at the Beach for NASCAR's weekly touring series. We're very excited about that. Please welcome president of Daytona International Speedway, Joie Chitwood.
JOIE CHITWOOD: Thank you, David, and I appreciate the time to address you today. It's an exciting time at Daytona; the future is bright. There's so many things that we're working hard on. I want to talk to you a little bit about the events that we have.
Our Rolex 24 event, this is race week, and last year we celebrated the best we've ever had, our 50th anniversary. We have former drivers who had won the race, over 30 former winning cars. For us we had to raise the bar for this year. We've actually added some other elements to make this event ever better: The addition of the Ferrari Challenge; the 50th anniversary of the first Formula V event at Daytona. We'll have 10 vintage Formula Vs on property to actually take a ride around the track; and of course with the impending merger of the ALMS and GRAND-AM, the future is bright. And this Rolex 24, I venture a guess, will be better than our 50th anniversary, and what a great opportunity for us.
As we turn the corner, we look at the Daytona 500. There's so many exciting things that we're doing right now with the addition of the UNOH Battle At the Beach, Daytona International Speedway is the only racetrack that hosts every form of NASCAR racing product. Of course we talked earlier about Sprint stepping up for the Sprint Unlimited at Daytona, and Budweiser shifting their role to actually now take over the duels for us, it's a great dime.
Of course when we think about Daytona, we think about last year and the challenges that we experienced with weather and ultimately the postponement, and of course Juan Montoya wanting to spice up the event in Turn 3 during primetime TV. Although we don't have any in-race pyrotechnics planned for this year, after seeing the tests of the Gen-6 cars, I think that's all the excitement we'll need on track for our Daytona 500. So we're excited about those two events.
When we think about Daytona, I'm sure if I asked everyone in this room about their memories from our great property, it might be the first time that you ever visited, seeing a special winner in Victory Lane, or maybe it's a family experience that you've enjoyed. But when you think about the history of Daytona, you also have to look to the future. You have to say, what are we doing to continue to create those memories and those special opportunities.
A couple months ago in our community we started working with the city of Daytona Beach and Volusia County on appropriate zoning rules so we can start considering a potential redevelopment project in Daytona International Speedway. Make no doubt, this property has survived the test of time, over 50 years of great experiences and great racing. But for us we have to continue to look at the future and what do the next 50 years hold.
We've actually enlisted Rossetti Architects out of Michigan to partner with us as we consider what this redevelopment might mean. Rossetti Architects has over 40 years in the sports and entertainment architecture including projects at Ford Field and the USTA Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, New York.
With them we've been able to create a new grand vision, and so today for the first time I unveil some creative as it relates to what we consider the new vision for Daytona International Speedway. As you look at this image, you can see the massive structure and feel to it, grand entrance statements and architectural skin, very reminiscent of professional sport that you see nowadays.
As we continue through a look at the artist's rendition, you can see what it might look like on race day with a new tower and the structure behind it. For us we're very excited to unveil for the first time these images.
Images Courtesy of Daytona International Speedway
Now, there's a lot of hard work left for me to do, and this is the exciting time, the ability to unveil some creative. I hope to actually get in front of the media again in February and maybe even unveil some more detail as it relates to all the hard work that we've done. For now, though, I have to very work on the business case associated with this potential redevelopment project. I hope that later in 2013 I'll be able to get in front of senior management at ISC and make sure that I have all the things buttoned up so that we can consider this project for approval. But we're so excited about where we are today, we wanted to showcase it to the folks in front of you today.
So when you think about 50 years at Daytona, and I can't imagine what big Bill France went through in the late '50s in terms of moving the racing from the beaches to the high banks, but I can tell you I do know what his excitement level must have been like because I think our team is enjoying it right now as we consider what the next 50 years of Daytona might be like. And of course the best way to predict the future is to create it, and so as NASCAR focuses on racing to innovate, I think the track at Daytona is taking up the same challenge as we look to race to innovate the experience our fans have when they come to Daytona International Speedway.
Thank you very much.
DAVID HIGDON: Thanks, Joie, and thanks for whetting our appetite. Certainly something to look forward to at Daytona. NASCAR begins its 66th season this year, clearly one of the most anticipated that we've had in quite some time. The visionary behind it and what we're doing here and the stuff we're doing here with the innovation and technology behind the Gen-6 car, our chairman and CEO, Brian France.
BRIAN FRANCE: Good afternoon, everybody. I'm just going to touch on a few things, much of which you already heard today, that we're obviously excited about going into 2013. It starts with the new car, the Gen-6 car, and you're seeing, I think, what we started a few years ago was an unprecedented amount of collaboration with our entire industry, certainly with the drivers, teams and tracks; that's a given. But we've stretched that out to work a lot closer with the OEMs, all the car manufacturers and others to do two things: One is to get a car that looks from a technology standpoint and a resemblance standpoint similar to what is on the showroom. We've done that.
The second part, though, that we're still working on, is using innovation, using our R & D Center, and I want to give a quick shout-out to the group that's worked very, very hard on this project, which starts with Robin Pemberton, starts with Steve O'Donnell, that goes down to a lot of the engineers that you'll never see who are working on making sure that our promise or the closest most competitive racing in the world is kept. That's a hard promise for us to get right all the time. But that's why we're using innovation, we're using, as I said a time or two recently, a lot more science than art to accomplish that.
So our recent testing is all designed not just to shake the car down and obviously get the car in the best position we can from a rules packages for the drivers, that's a given, but the second part of that is to what are the things we can do with a clean -- almost a clean sheet design to tighten up and close the racing up even tighter than it already is. And we're learning some things, as I said, we're using a lot more engineering, a lot more third-party expertise to accomplish that, and I'm quite satisfied that we're going to be on -- it will be a continual thing for us to get right.
Let me touch on just a few more things as we go into 2013. You saw the Diversity group. We're real proud of that program that's been going on for a number of years. We've got some talent now, not only hopefully in this class, but as you saw with Darrell Wallace a year ago, and I think he'll be on to bigger things. I'm hopeful that he's going to be on the national stage, one of our top national divisions at some point soon. So we know that program is delivering results for us.
I'm excited as a matter of fact that we're going to take a NASCAR Mexico event and host it in Phoenix to get a real flavor of our diversity plan in our racing that's gone on very well south of the border.
You hear the word "innovation" a lot, right, and we talked about that with the car and so on. There's a couple other things that we're excited about that innovation is bringing us. And one of them is the track drying, which has always been a difficult thing for our fans, both on television and certainly at the track, that once it rains, how long it takes us to get the track dried again. So what I declared to our team a couple years ago is let's change the way we do it, let's innovate, let's get a system, and the goal is to improve it by 80 percent. So that means if we're drying Daytona off, where it usually took two and a half hours, we get it down to 30 minutes. That's the goal.
And we're real close. We'll be debuting our first cycle, our first generation of this track drying system, which is pretty interesting, and we also are going to do it in a much more green, carbon-emission friendly way. So what that means is obviously when you're at the track, we're going to be able to dry Martinsville off in 15 minutes. It's going to be a spectacular thing, and all auto racing will benefit from this as we go down the road.
So why are we doing all this? Obviously everything we're doing is designed to make the racing either better or the experience better when you're at track or watching us on television. That's what -- everything that we're up to and trying to get done at the R & D Center and throughout the industry, coming together, that's the goal. That's why we're so dedicated on doing that.
Let me talk about just a couple more things because I'm going to take obviously a number of questions, but the television, we've obviously announced the renewal of FOX for the first half. We're excited about extending that relationship on for eight more years past 2013, and we are in the discussions right now to get the rest of the packages completed, and I anticipate that to be done here in the coming weeks and months.
But it's a good time for premium sports properties like ourselves, so we're quite confident that we're going to get the right packages, the right partners. We have great partners now. My hope is that we'll be able to extend those relationships. But those negotiations are alive and well, going fine.
But look, we're excited for everybody to get down to Daytona. We're always -- this is always an interesting time of year because you have teams -- got new drivers, Danica in this case, and some other rookies that always come in. Then you have team members that have changed places and teams that have made adjustments, and they're all anticipating competing at the highest level.
But this year with the new car, it adds that unbelievable excitement and anticipation. So it's a great time. We'll kick it all off here, as Joie said at the 24 Hours this weekend, and we're looking forward to a spectacular 2013. I'd be remiss if I didn't say, too, thank you so much for covering this sport week in and week out. We know you love it as much as we do. Thank you very much.
DAVID HIGDON: Brian is joined on stage by our president Mike Helton. We'll go about 20 minutes. They'll take any of your questions.
Q. Brian, can you talk about the moment or the time or the transition from when NASCAR seemed to be reacting and now is innovating? Some of your executives were talking about the fans and media engagement center, and you said, get it done. When did all this start happening in your mind to get these initiatives not so much reacting but innovating in your mind?
BRIAN FRANCE: Well, that's really why we built the R & D Center in the first place was to stay ahead of safety, of advancements, and fortunately we don't talk a lot about that now, although it's a continual centerpiece of what we do at the R & D Center.
But it's also the world that we live in. There's so much technology that is going around in every industry, and so for us to embrace that in a smart way hopefully, we always have to when we're doing things make sure that we don't just put technology or innovation in without regard to what things cost the industry. Team owners, certainly the track operators, so whatever we do we have to balance that. But clearly we're declaring big things. We may not get all of them accomplished exactly the way we set out to, but I think we're putting the resources behind it to make these improvements and align the industry to make racing better and more exciting. And that's what we're going to continue to do.
Q. My question is a little bit technical. You said earlier that the Generation 6 car was created to make races more exciting if I understand it correctly for the fans. Nevertheless, according to the press release, there are some details mentioned that, for example, the hood and the deck lid is made from carbon fiber, so carbon fiber is a very exclusive material, especially in Europe, it's very light. Nevertheless it's very, very competitive. From the cost reduction point of view, would it be better to choose another material?
BRIAN FRANCE: Well, we balanced that. We balanced the weight, the strength of it for safety, and we balanced that, so that is a -- that's something we looked at, something we chose.
You know, but the enhancements that I'm talking about that improve the racing to keep our promise of the most exciting racing in the world often aren't going to be things that cost team owners or teams additional money. It very well could be in the packages that we create, downforce, tires play a big role into that, so on and so forth. And the goal is real simple: We want to see the closest competition that is possible. That's the goal.
MIKE HELTON: And just, afterwards, when you get one-on-one with Robin you can get more detail, but a little bit more in-depth on us choosing to do a composite material, we get the fact that steel is cheaper than carbon fiber, but in today's world with the technology of building carbon fiber, it's not that much of a bridge as it used to be to start with. But the way we've introduced this piece is this is a standard piece that no one can alter. Steel, if we left the steel deck lids the way we've done in the past from our experience, then this new car would be a generation of evolution again. But we standardized the deck lids with carbon fiber.
We went to a third party to produce the rear deck lid. The manufacturer has to submit the hood, and the aerodynamics around the 2013 or the Gen-6 package is critical with these components in it. So Brian was right; there is a balance that we have to reach. If our goal is for the car to be safe but very competitive, there is a balance against cost, and we have to balance all of those out.
But get a little bit more detail on this piece in particular, because there's a good story behind the cost as well as us managing the sport to keep 43 cars on a very similar playing field.
Q. Going forward, how will you measure or judge the success of the Gen-6 car?
BRIAN FRANCE: I think we'll measure it by lead changes, we'll measure it by how it races, we'll measure it by how the drivers feel about it, and knowing that not everybody will always love every rules package or thing that we do, that's for sure, but we'll look at it very simply. Everything is designed to have closer competition, and we'll see -- and I'm quite confident that I know we're going to make improvements. By the way, that's not a new thing for us to -- a new issue for us to consider. That's always job one past safety. That's always job one. It's just today we're just -- as I said, we're using a lot more science, and so we're going to get answers to questions that -- where we used to use a lot of art and judgment, which we still do, but I think this new mix of the way we're looking at our tests, at the packages that we're -- as we drew up the car, it was all for that in mind. And I think the benefits will be there.
Q. Brian, it's expected that the new car will kind of increase manufacturer lobbying for rule changes throughout the year. Is that something you're trying to avoid, or do you want it for, while controversial, it creates buzz?
BRIAN FRANCE: Well, I don't think we ever enjoy a lot of good lobbying, that's for sure. But look, that's part of it a little bit. There will be a little bit more of that, which we anticipate, to give the manufacturers the look that resembles their cars. Obviously we had to go away from the complete common template that really would have defined the old car. So that goes with the territory a little bit. But having said that, we're also working closer with them than we ever have, and that's -- and they're really excited about that, and that's good for us and good for them.
Q. How different is this new proposed drying system from what we have now with the jet dryers?
MIKE HELTON: Quite a bit, visually and operational. It uses compressed air as opposed to jet engine. It's designed to expedite, obviously, the removal of water using compressed air and heat, where the jet dryers were simply designed around blowing and depended more on hot air. The new system depends more on compressed air.
The evolution for -- there's a few faces out here that will remember when we used to dry tracks off with just a fleet of vehicles going around the racetrack, or dragging tires behind pickup tricks, and then someone came along with the jet dryer that expedited it quite a bit and served its purpose for a long period of time, but in today's world with the expectations of getting the show done and getting it on, there was a high priority placed by Brian and the rest of us to come up with a way that we could expedite that, and Robin and the folks at the R & D Center responded to that and come up with ideas, and this one seems to have quite a bit of validity to it.
Appearance wise it's considerably different. It's a gain of pipes behind a pickup truck that the air is being pushed through as opposed to a jet dryer.
Q. Mike, the fans come for entertainment and to see the racing. You walk up to a tower to do a lot more. That's a job for you, to watch more than just an entertaining race. Will the Gen-6 car increase what you have to do over the first part of the season, or will it lessen some what you have to do?
MIKE HELTON: Well, our hope is that the driver of the Gen-6 car increases more of what we have to do. But the visualness of the Gen-6 car combined with the driver skill and talent and what they do will make the show exciting for us in the tower and everybody in the grandstand and the folks at home watching it on TV.
But from operating a race from the green flag to the checkered flag, it doesn't matter if it's a Gen-6 car or a tractor and trailer. That all comes out about the same. But the expectation is that the visualness of this car and the attractiveness of it as it relates to the manufactured brands, as well as the ire aerodynamic package that the team has put together around this car will produce more exciting opportunities. But it relies on the drivers doing what they do more than anything.
Q. Mr. France, with all the talk of the new fan engagement center and all the emphasis on social media and trying to reach fans in various ways, it's still important to have the eyes on the sets when it comes to TV contracts and the revenue, and when numbers are down from people watching, I know there's a lot of concern across the industry. How do you balance the social media and what you have going on on the internet, because if fans can watch a race, so to speak, on the internet with all the things they can do now, they're not going to watch the TV set. How hard has it been to balance between the new social media initiatives and the traditional television?
BRIAN FRANCE: I don't think it's hard to balance that at all. I think one drives the other over time. The idea is that you're engaging your fans in different ways to take in, to go behind the scenes or whatever it is, their favorite driver, their team, their track that they like to go to, you're able to in real-time communicate those things with our fan base. It should strengthen the relationship with our fans who will obviously ultimately -- the best thing is to go to an event; the next best thing is to watch it on television; and if it doesn't drive and promote those two things, then we wouldn't -- we obviously wouldn't put the focus on it, but we do.
Q. This will be the 10th Chase. How do you feel that has reshaped the sport, and how do you respond to those who question if the Chase has consistently delivered the attention that maybe you intended?
BRIAN FRANCE: Well, I've said before that I was surprised that we didn't have in those 10 years some more tighter battles going down the stretch in the last few events. We've certainly had some very memorable -- including the first one and including last year was amazing. And the year before that was Tony. So we're getting back into what I always thought would be the benefits of a Chase.
What it really has done for me, though, as a fan, because we're fans, too, is it shows that the drivers and teams, when it's all on the line, can really elevate their talents, and you saw that with Tony and that incredible run two years ago; you certainly saw it with Brad getting on a roll and competing. And you know, you never had those moments to judge a driver in the old system, and I like that. I like what that does to the teams, and we certainly like the Wild Card, by the way. We thought that was a -- and that came from one of our drivers, actually, in the driver-owner meetings that will start later on today, getting that feedback.
So we really like the emphasis on winning, winning your way in and so on. I think that's exactly what we want.
Q. Mike, how satisfied, in regards to tech inspection, how satisfied are you with the new laser measuring system, and is the goal to get rid of the aluminum templates or metal templates altogether?
MIKE HELTON: Not altogether, but think the laser system helps retain the accuracy of the car and shows the rest of the garage area that here's what everybody else's car measures up to be, and so I think the -- it's mostly a gain on inspection as opposed to a replacement on inspection. But I think so far, and you can ask John later on in the breakouts, but I think what we've seen and what we've used so far shows us that it's the right direction to go.
More importantly, though, it gives NASCAR the ability to have the credibility of showing everybody else in the garage area that these measurements on everybody's cars are the same.
Q. Mike, at the two tests and already on the media tour, we've heard several comments from drivers who believe that the racing and the quality of the racing will be better with the new car. I just wondered from your perspective, have you seen enough on-track testing or testing that you have done yourselves from the NASCAR side to give you confidence that the promise of that that seems to be coming forth will actually transpire on the track?
MIKE HELTON: Yeah, I don't know that you ever see enough evidence until you go racing, but certainly the amount of testing that NASCAR has done with the teams to get prepared with this car and work on very specific areas to promote side-by-side racing at tracks other than the Superspeedway in particular, has been intense. On the computer, in the wind tunnel, at the race shops, at the R & D Center and at the racetracks, there's never been as much effort put into a car to get it ready to go racing, and the testing that we've seen in Daytona, the testing we've seen in Charlotte shows us, and the voice that you hear that from, is the most important voice for the drivers to say that we think this car is going to offer up the best racing we've seen. It's got us all going in the right direction, so we expect to see that.
But Brian mentioned earlier, and it's been talked about, that it's a really, really strong start with the Gen-6 aerodynamically and the chassis and all the rules and regulations that go along with it. But it's also from experience, we know that while we may have closed the gap on the effort that we have to do once we see it racing, there are probably still things that we will tweak along the way to give the drivers what they want a little bit of but give the fans what they want mostly. And if it requires tweaking from our part, we'll do that.
Somebody asked earlier about the manufacturers with the different looks and everything. That's a good thing. But science and technology gave us the ability to do this with the Gen-6 car that we didn't have in the Gen-3 and -4. We didn't have that technology to build a car that looks and is extremely different in appearance but comes out aerodynamically the same. But it wouldn't surprise us very early in the year to see manufacturers come and lobby about spoiler dimensions or something that is traditional in our sport.
But so far all the indicators and the voice of the sport is telling us that we're on the right track.
Q. We hear from time to time from fans that the length of races is a little bit too long. Last year at Martinsville for the late model race they invoked heat races to set the field for a future event. Has there been any thought of adapting a heat race format for the Cup Series where the total number of laps raced during the weekend would be the same but you would race it in heats and then set a feature that was shorter in length?
BRIAN FRANCE: No, we're not considering heat races at the Sprint Cup level. We have shortened events. We obviously have changed our qualifying procedures around, and we will continually look at the format in terms of mostly how long or short an event can be, and that's obviously balanced against what the track operator believes his customer base wants to see, not just what the broader television audience or whatever might -- everything we do, it's got to be balanced. But we're watching that.
Q. Brian, part of the promo earlier talking about the Gen-6 car talked about the racetrack and the showroom arm in arm again, and I'm wondering if the COT brought you too far away from that relationship and if it harmed NASCAR, and if so, in what ways?
BRIAN FRANCE: Well, I think it did. Looking back, you're always 100 percent accurate when you get to look backwards, right, and I think that would be fair, that we certainly didn't intend to do that, intended to try to make racing better, and costs were a huge thing, as they still are today, and we did significantly bring costs down, and safety was a big thing as it is now. We significantly improved that. But it would be fair to say that in doing those things, we weren't as in step as we are today with the manufacturers.
And so it wasn't just that, too. By the way, that obviously had huge business issues going back to '06, '07, '08, '09, that they fortunately have really rebounded on that.
So a combination of things, but this is going to -- and also not just sort of get in the car in terms of more like the showroom cars. It's also working closer with them, because there's other things that are now much more important to each of the car manufacturers that maybe wasn't as important 10 years ago, things like innovation. We've talked about a glass dashboard. That's coming. We'll balance, again, against costs and what they want. But that's things that are going to be -- with ever-increasing fuel mileage cap A standards for them, they're using a lot of technology to obtain those goals and reach their goals, and they want to use the NASCAR relationship and the platform to help develop some of those, and we're going to be a very willing and good partner in doing just that.
Q. Moving forward are you looking at pretty much status quo with the three manufacturers, or what are the prospects of bringing back a fourth down the road?
BRIAN FRANCE: Well, they're a lot better now than they were a year ago because there's an opening of some sort. It's still very difficult. But my hope is, and I know there are a couple of big manufacturers, and there always are - this is not breaking news - there's always somebody who has an interest in at least understanding the NASCAR opportunity, and so my sense of it is over time that we will have a fourth manufacturer. And we'll have to see how that plays out.
But sure, we're certainly open to it, and there's -- much past that I don't think -- it would be very difficult for a car manufacturer to get enough quality teams to make their program work properly, but four is certainly manageable, and we would -- we're encouraged that at some point we'll attain that again.
Q. Dale Earnhardt Jr. brought the spotlight on concussions last year with what happened to him. Are there any new procedures, policies put in place by NASCAR to make sure a driver doesn't end up driving with a concussion as he did for several weeks before the second one?
MIKE HELTON: Well, I think over the years we've made great strides in our relationships with the drivers in regards to their medical posture or situations. With the liaison program that Steve O'Donnell puts in play and modifies every year, we've grown in that relationship. So we've got confidence in our current program, certainly.
Having said that, I think Dale Earnhardt's event last year highlighted to a lot of folks, including the garage area, the other drivers, the seriousness that you should pay attention to when it comes to your own health as a driver so that you've got a pretty good life afterwards.
And through that experience that Dale went through, we also ourselves had a real-time working model to go look through, and the different steps that Dr. Petty and his organization took Dale through gave us the ability to see things used firsthand. Through those experiences, we've learned, and I think in '13 our goal is to explain more to drivers what's out there in regards to advance information, in regards to elements that can be used by them to be on -- and to carry the load from there on in as far as responsibility is concerned.
And then it also gives us the opportunity to look at our own program, not necessarily immediately but certainly immediately look at it as it goes forward, and are there other elements or steps that we can add to our program to make it bigger and stronger.
But I think our most current issue is to take what we've learned from Dale's experience and make sure the other drivers know what's out there to collect data and for them to be in practice of, and then it's an opportunity for us to look at what we might institute going forward.
Q. Brian, this isn't dissimilar from Viv's question, but how would you describe the COT era, and what impact did that era ultimately have on NASCAR's product?
BRIAN FRANCE: Well, I mean, I don't want to build too much into it. Obviously we think -- we love the new car, the Gen-6 car, and we have said that we made some errors in -- really in collaboration to getting the car. We achieved a lot of things with that car: Costs, as I said; safety went up; a lot of benefits that the industry and that the teams and drivers gained from that car.
Obviously we got away from some things that historically had worked well for us: The manufacturer rivalry, which we're excited about; the relevance issue with the car manufacturers. And then I think we put a lot more focus in the new car into the rules package surrounding the car that we didn't put nearly -- I can tell you we didn't put nearly as much science into the old car as we tried to achieve better racing.
No sense in worrying about what happened in the past; we're excited about the future.
MIKE HELTON: Yeah, and Brian is right. We shouldn't stick a dagger in the Gen-5 program and say, man, we're glad you're gone, because that era, that Gen-5 created a lot of great moments for NASCAR. The last two championships for one, a lot of races in its stable or its time in existence.
It also led to the evolution of the collaborativeness that we now operate the sport by when it comes to the parts and pieces and the cars themselves.
It also served very well in an era when the car manufacturers involved in our sport were struggling with their own businesses, and we weren't a front burner topic to them. We had a car that could survive that era. So there's a lot of positives to the Gen-5 era that we shouldn't overlook as we celebrate the Gen-6.
Now, I've got to tell you the enthusiasm and the energy around the car that we'll see in 2013 on the Sprint Cup events is phenomenal, and it's wonderful, and it's everything that we want it to be. But it's Gen-6, so there were five before it that gave us the opportunity to get to Gen-6, and we should never forget that.
DAVID HIGDON: Thank you, Brian and Mike. Appreciate it. We now invite the media to head back up to where you were served lunch for the breakout sessions. We'll have three different booths set up there. Thank you again for your coverage, and we will see you soon.
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