The France Factor

Brian France, NASCAR’s Chairman and CEO, exploded into the collective consciousness of the ethanol industry in 2010—when he announced NASCAR would fuel its race cars with E15.
By Holly Jessen | June 13, 2011

Brian France has a rich history backing his leadership of the largest stock car racing organization in the world. His grandfather Bill France Sr., a 6-foot, 5-inch man they called “Big Bill”, founded and led NASCAR until 1972, when his son, Bill Jr., stepped in until his son, Brian, took over the wheel in 2003.

France will talk more about NASCAR’s historic move to E15 on June 28, the first full day of the Fuel Ethanol Workshop & Expo in Indianapolis. While important, the use of E15 is just one of the facets of a six-year deal to promote ethanol at NASCAR events. For example, green American Ethanol flags are used at the start and finish lines as well as passed out to the fans. NASCAR is also airing commercials, with a pro farming and pro ethanol message. The list goes on, but the point is: ethanol promotion will be a highly visible part of NASCAR racing.

In the weeks leading up to the FEW, EPM had a conversation with Brian France about NASCAR, sponsorship and E15. Here’s what he had to say.

Q: Sponsorship in your sport is more intentional than any other sport and your fan base really seems to embrace your sponsors. Why do you think that is?
A: Year after year, NASCAR fans rate as the most brand-loyal fans in sports.  They understand the critical role sponsorship plays in putting on events and running race teams.  Therefore, NASCAR fans make it a point to purchase partner products and services.  In fact, according to a recent independent study published in the Sports Business Journal, NASCAR fans ranked first amongst the major sports leagues in five sponsorship categories, including ‘recommend,’ ‘regularly consume’ and ‘consider trying’ when asked how they support sponsors. Also, Forbes recently listed NASCAR drivers Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Jeff Gordon as three of the top 10 influential athletes in American sports today, based upon data from E-Poll and Nielsen Media Research.  Johnson topped the list, beating out the biggest names in sports. That is a great testament to the power of our sport and our fan base.

Q: You’ve pioneered many of NASCAR’s biggest partnerships including relationships with SIRIUS Satellite Radio and many television networks. What makes NASCAR so appealing to these media outlets?
A: Our brand-loyal fan base has consistently made NASCAR the No. 2-rated regular season sport on television as more than 100 million unique viewers tune in to NASCAR programming each year on FOX, ABC, ESPN, TNT and SPEED.  Combining that with the thrilling action on the race track makes NASCAR a very compelling product for our media partners.  Our broadcast partners are drawn to the great content and loyal audience that only NASCAR can deliver week in and week out.  With fan interest and television ratings on the upswing, we’ve got great momentum heading into another exciting chase for the championship this fall.

Q: Introducing a new fuel blend into the highest performance automobiles in the world is a big deal. How rigorous was the fuel testing employed by NASCAR and the various race teams with the new Sunoco Green E15 fuel?
A: It was very rigorous. The testing was done in several phases and there was extensive formulation work done by our official fuel partner Sunoco.  Many months of testing was first done on the dyno to check performance and endurance. Once the dyno testing checked out, we had extensive live on-track testing done, running thousands of miles at race speeds to make sure we would be in good shape before we announced the partnership last fall and debuted the fuel blend this spring at the Daytona 500. The testing process involved our R&D team, multiple race teams, drivers, engine builders, as well as Sunoco. It has been truly a team effort across the board.

Q:I’ve heard some teams are reporting increased horsepower with Sunoco Green E15. What can you tell us about that?
A: Early on in the dyno testing, we heard there was additional horsepower, which was encouraging.  This is also now being seen on the track.  We’re hearing all good things in the garage on the E15. The drivers and crew chiefs are excited and pleased about the transition.

Q: Fuel ethanol production is currently a Midwestern phenomenon. That said, some experts suggest that half of the biomass in this country that may be used to manufacture next generation biofuels are located in the Southeast. Do you think NASCAR fans in the heart of your sports fan base are becoming more aware of the economic opportunities presented to them by ethanol?
A: Part of the value of this partnership is that NASCAR gives a platform for greater awareness of the facts and figures with American Ethanol.  We think the visibility that NASCAR offers is helping to get the basic messages and facts out to our fans about American Ethanol.  It’ll be a work in process over the long run as the program evolves, but we are working very hard to maximize the impact on the awareness that NASCAR offers.

Q: What is NASCAR’s biggest hope for its partnership with American Ethanol?
A: That this partnership really moves the needle for the American farmer and for the country in terms of advanced thinking about energy independence going into the future.  Together with the American farmer and Growth Energy, we are showing that NASCAR is a stage where you can accomplish that in a very positive and very practical way.

Author: Holly Jessen
Associate Editor, Ethanol Producer Magazine
(701) 738-4946
hjessen@bbiinternational.com

 

NASCAR’s Rise

In the years immediately following World War II, stock car racing experienced the greatest popularity it had ever seen. Tracks throughout the country were drawing more drivers—and bigger crowds. Nonetheless, there was a serious lack of organization. From track to track, rules varied and some were downright makeshift. In December 1947, Bill France Sr., of Daytona Beach, Fla., organized a meeting at the Streamline Hotel to discuss the problems facing stock car racing. France operated a local service station and also promoted races on the city’s famed beach-road courses, often racing himself. By the time that meeting at the Streamline Hotel was completed, the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing was born. Not even France, who believed a sanctioning body was exactly what the sport of stock car racing needed, could have envisioned what NASCAR has become.

Things came together quickly. The first NASCAR-sanctioned race was held in Daytona just two months after the organizational meeting. In the first race, fans were treated to something that each year still brings millions of fans to NASCAR races—close competition. The winner of the first Daytona 500 wasn’t declared for three days—it took that long for officials to study a photograph of the finish between Petty and Johnny Beauchamp before declaring Petty the winner.

In 1976, NASCAR’s premier series took the lead in worldwide motorsports attendance for the first time with more than 1.4 million spectators making their way to events. Television exposure grew as well. The 1979 Daytona 500 became the first 500-mile race in history to be telecast live in its entirety. By the mid 1980s, Fortune 500 companies not only were involved in sponsoring NASCAR, but individual races and teams as well. By 1989, just 10 years after the first 500-mile race to be broadcast live flag-to-flag, every race on the NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule was televised, nearly all of them live.

Today, NASCAR is the world’s largest stock car racing organization. Millions of fans pack NASCAR venues across the country each year. 

Source: NASCAR