By Stephanie Adair – Last week marked the ten year anniversary of Brian France serving as Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer of NASCAR. Being a third generation NASCAR Executive has allowed him to continue the legacy of his father and grandfather. During his tenure, we have seen many initiatives and innovations brought to the sport.
Here are five major advancements:
In 2004, NASCAR launched a diversity initiative “to engage women and people of diverse, ethnic and racial backgrounds in all facets of the NASCAR industry”. Out of this effort has come their driver development program targeting young female and minority drivers ages 16 through 25. Every year over 200 applications are submitted, but after a lengthy evaluation period only six to ten drivers are chosen to compete for Revolution Racing in the K&N Pro Series or Whelen All-American Series.
NASCAR waFraThere is also a pit crew development program as well as an internship program. The internship program helps women and minorities find jobs in NASCAR broadcasting, communications, engineering, marketing, sales, technology and more.
In January 2004, the Chase for the Nextel (Sprint) Cup Series was announced. NASCAR never had anything like it, and the fans did not know what to expect. Formats have changed over its ten season history, with the most recent being the addition of the Wildcard positions. Despite tweaks and Jimmie Johnson winning five consecutive championships from 2006 to 2010, there has been some great racing. In 2011, the championship came down to a showdown between Carl Edwards and two-time Cup champion Tony Stewart.
No one knew who would be crowned the champion until the checkered flag flew at Homestead Miami Speedway. In the end Stewart won on a tiebreaker and claimed his third NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship. In 2012 at Texas Motor Speedway, championship contenders Brad Keselowski and Jimmie Johnson battled intensely through the final laps. They bumped, banged, and slid giving everything they could to win the race and gain a few more points. Johnson won the race, but ultimately Keselowski won the championship.
Launched in 2008, NASCAR’s Green program leads all other sports in green initiatives. They lead in recycling and renewable energy as well. The tree planting program captures 100% of emissions produced in their races which is a huge undertaking. A few years ago, Sunoco partnered with the American Ethanol industry and produced Sunoco Green E15 fuel. It is a renewable fuel blended with 15% American-made ethanol. Being the Official Fuel of NASCAR, it is run in all three of NASCAR’s premier series.
Over the last decade NASCAR has continued to advance the safety of their sport. In 2005, SAFER barriers were installed to all NASCAR Sprint Cup oval tracks. They have also made it mandatory for all drivers to wear a HANS device and a five or six point harness seat belt. In 2007, the “Car of Tomorrow” was implemented. The idea was sparked by Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s tragic death on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500. The COT had many new safety innovations, like foam in the doors, steel bars on the driver’s side of the car, and a thicker fuel cell.
Looking back at all the major wrecks that have happened over the last five years, the COT very well may have save many driver’s lives. The one drawback on the COT was that it stepped away from manufacturer identity and was more uniform. This is one of the reasons the “Gen 6” car was implemented this year. Since NASCAR strives to improve the safety of their car, the Gen 6 was actually safer and made the manufacturer identity more prominent.
NASCAR Hall of Fame
In 2010 the NASCAR Hall of Fame was opened. It serves not only as a place to honor NASCAR’s best, but also provides an opportunity to learn more about their career and how they affected the sport. To date, they have inducted five sets of five classes, which includes drivers, crew chiefs, team owners, or someone who has contributed in the sport. Some of these inductees include Dale Earnhardt Sr., Richard Petty, Bill France Sr., Darrell Waltrip, “Fireball” Roberts, Junior Johnson, and Dale Inman.
This is quite an impressive NASCAR legacy and it will be interesting to see what happens in the next decade.
Stephanie Adair is a Popular Speed Development Journalist.