This week should have been a good week in NASCAR. Chase Elliott, the second coming of Dale Earnhardt Jr., finally won a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race after 99 starts, of which eight of them ended with Elliott in the runner-up spot.
A young, personable, talented individual finally made it to Victory Lane and the whole racing world rejoiced. It certainly helped that the win was attained in dramatic fashion, as Elliott held off last season’s Cup champion Martin Truex Jr., who is arguably one of the best in the business right now. This was a win that could have been marketed to NASCAR’s benefit, drawing in numbers the sport needs.
Instead, on Monday, the racing world receives a report that NASCAR Chairman and CEO (and the grandson of the founder of NASCAR, might I add), was arrested on a DUI charge in the Hamptons; he also happened to be in possession of Oxycodone to boot. Allegedly, according to TMZ.com who first reported the arrest, during the stop France acted in a belligerent manner, name-dropping his relationship with President Donald Trump and asking, “Do you know who I am?”
France doesn’t hold an ownership stake in NASCAR, serving instead at the behest of his uncle Jim France and sister Lesa France Kennedy. But on the business side of things, France is the face of the sport. He is the face of a sport that touts a rigorous drug testing program, a sport that involves driving vehicles at high rates of speed, mind you, a sport that several Fortune 500 companies have poured billions of dollars in over the course of the years, at that.
Some of these sponsors may stay, and if so, great. They may pay at a lower cost because there is no question that on the business side of things, considering that NASCAR is up for sale, all hands are on deck in damage control mode to keep as many advertisers as possible involved in the sport. It’s easy to speculate how much money this arrest has cost the sport, because who wants to be involved in a motorsport where the Chairman has no qualms about operating a vehicle under the influence? What does that tell potential buyers and advertisers?
It’s easy to be angry, to spout doom and gloom on what was supposed to be a happy week. It’s easy to be angry at France because each year thousands are injured or killed in accidents caused by drivers who are under the influence. But it’s also easy to have pity on France. Rumors have carried on for years that he had a substance abuse issue, and although they were easy to dismiss as rumors, this arrest does add a validity to them. This may have been an isolated incident. It may have been a sign of his rumored addiction. But given his conduct and questionable decisions over the course of his tenure as NASCAR CEO, it can be speculated that France does need help and on that note, he should take it.
The ramifications of this arrest have yet to be seen, but they will arrive and they will not be pretty. Aside from the obvious jokes and vitriol across social media (let’s keep in mind that the target demographic NASCAR’s been trying to reach will be too busy laughing at them to even care), there will be the ever-present loss of money, another problem that the sport does not need.
NASCAR has been quick and efficient with the damage control so far, issuing this statement shortly after news of France’s arrest broke:
“Brian France has taken an indefinite leave of absence from NASCAR as chairman and chief executive officer. Effective immediately, NASCAR Vice Chairman and Executive Vice President Jim France has assumed the role of interim chairman and chief executive officer.”
Shortly after, Brian France issued this statement:
“I apologize to our fans, our industry and my family for the impact of my actions last night. Effective immediately, I will be taking an indefinite leave of absence from my position to focus on my personal affairs.”
It looks that NASCAR has realized that instead of carrying on like everything is okay, it would be best for all involved if France were to step down. He needs to step away, seek help or treatment, and tend to his own issues. NASCAR will need recover from this, meanwhile, and if they play their cards right they will.