Our series of weekly NASCAR interviews continues with a special edition: NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian Z. France. In order to maintain the typical '12 Questions' format, we pulled questions from the past three years of interviews to find the ones that would apply to a non-driver. France spoke with us in Daytona.
SBN: I asked drivers to name the best race they've ever driven; what's the best race you've ever seen in NASCAR?
BZF: That's easy for me. And I don't know the exact date of it, but it was when (Dale) Earnhardt won a dramatic race at Talladega. He came from behind with three laps to go or something, and that was clearly the (best) race.
SBN: Oh yeah, the one in 2000 where he was way back in the field and won?
BZF: Yeah, no question.
SBN: Who do you think is the most underrated driver in NASCAR?
BZF: Right now, that's probably Brad Keselowski. I think so.
SBN: Do you feel like he's a guy who could come up and be as big of a star as some of the huge names you have in the sport?
BZF: You never know what ultimately will give traction to being a star. Just as a driver, he's been winning a lot and he doesn't get quite the recognition from his peer group and others yet. But he's a young guy.
SBN: I asked drivers a couple years ago what they'd change if they were in charge of NASCAR. Since you are in charge of NASCAR, is there anything you'd like to see changed?
BZF: I just came out of a meeting – and I come out of meetings every day – and we're changing things at a rapid pace. If you look through the list of what we've done with personnel and the IMC (NASCAR's Integrated Marketing and Communications department) – which you deal with a lot – and digital media, our recent announcements with the R&D Center, there's not any one thing. We're changing things as intelligently and as fast as they need to. There's nothing else I can come up with.
SBN: What is something people may not know or understand about you?
BZF: Oh, probably how big of a sports fan I am in general. In the company, I'm probably the biggest sports (fan). I go to a lot of events in a wide variety of things. And I'll pick up things other people are doing, and I also enjoy it.
SBN: Do you have certain teams you pull for in different leagues?
BZF: Not so much anymore. I did as a kid. But I like keeping up with a lot of different sports.
SBN: What is the last time you got nervous about something?
BZF: Oh, I get nervous quite a bit, actually.
BZF: Well, there are a lot of things outside our control – outside my control. And this is true with anybody's life: You try to keep the train on a certain track, and then there are a lot of moving parts that you can't control. And that tends to make you nervous.
SBN: What's a question you get asked a lot that you're tired of answering?
BZF: I can't think of one particular one, frankly. I get asked a lot of questions by fans and you have to take that in stride, because they don't know a ton of people might have asked it (already). So I can't say there's one I would single out.
SBN: You come into contact with a lot of fans as part of the job, and sometimes they can ask people awkward questions or put them in an uncomfortable position. Do you have any stories along those lines?
BZF: You know, not to sound dull and boring here, but not really. I haven't had a super awkward moment. I can't think of one. Drivers get more of that than I do though.
I will say this: And it's not really weird, but people do bring a lot of old photos from 30 years ago. And I'm always a little surprised they haul them to the track. It'll be something about my grandfather or something about the history that they'll want me to comment on.
SBN: So they'll bring a picture of your grandfather for you to autograph?
BZF: No, not even to be signed. Often, it's just a story or an article from a local newspaper from 30 years ago they've somehow framed and they carry it into the track because they just want to share it with you. I would call it more interesting than strange though.
SBN: Who is somebody famous you'd like to meet who you haven't met yet?
BZF: I would have to say maybe Bruce Springsteen, just given his place in American pop culture and how soulful his music is. He's at the top of my list.
SBN: So it would be like 'The Boss' and NASCAR's boss together at the same time?
BZF: Well, I'd say he'd be the boss on that particular day. (Laughs)
SBN: I asked drivers a couple years ago which person they thought would win the 2015 championship. I know you don't like to make specific predictions, but is there a driver or two we might not expect who you think could contend by that time?
BZF: Well, I get funny feedback on that. A lot of drivers don't want me to jinx them because there are too big of expectations. But I would say it's very conceivable, given the young crop of talent, it's going to be somebody not in the (Cup) Series today.
SBN: So, uh, I have to apologize in advance for this next question – and it comes from Brad Keselowski, not me. But I ask each driver to give me a question for the next interview, and Keselowski's question is this: 'Who has the hottest wife or girlfriend in the garage?'
BZF (without hesitation): I can answer that one really easily: My wife! There's no question about it, hands down. (Grins)
SBN: Oh, well there you go.
BZF: And she actually is, too – in my opinion. But tell him I'm going to box his ears when I see him (pretends to hit imaginary Keselowski's ears).
SBN: Hey, you should. Can I also box his ears without getting a penalty from NASCAR?
BZF: I'll authorize you to do that, Jeff.
SBN: OK, great. So the next interview is Austin Dillon. Can you give me a question for Austin?
BZF: Yeah. Ask him, 'What's up with that cowboy hat?'
SBN: Right? He's not from Texas.
SBN: He said it's partially to keep him from getting sunburnt, but I don't think that's the whole story.
BZF: Well, you could go to Bass Pro Shops and get one of those floppy hats if you want to do that. You know, he's not a country music singer – that I know of – and like you said, he doesn't live in Texas. So, you know, we'll see.
SBN: And finally, is there any message you'd like to give NASCAR fans who might be reading this interview?
BZF: Yeah. Generally speaking, I think we have a whole lot of people in this industry, through a bunch of tough times with the economy and car manufacturers...who are very focused on creating the best racing product in the world. We have the hardest challenge of that, only because we have so many different divisions where we have to manage those goals.
But once we deliver that to them, there's this unbelievable content in many different ways. It's exciting. You look at how people are going to consume sports and entertainment in the future, and the sport they love is going to be a big part of that. And that's an exciting thing for all of us.