NASCAR holds 'town meeting'

Suggestions to improve sport offered

Staff WriterMay 27, 2009 

— No solutions but plenty of ideas.

That appeared to be the consensus among drivers and team owners who participated Tuesday in two town hall-style meetings called by the sanctioning body to discuss the state of the sport.

"We talked about everything - about the drug policy, about marketing, about where the sport is today, about the fans, about the races, things we can do to make the sport better," veteran driver Mark Martin said after the morning session at NASCAR's research and development center. "Whenever you put a group together like that you typically get a lot of people who don't agree. Everybody has their own ideas. It's always been that way."

As wide-ranging as the topics of discussion were the ideas on how to improve the NASCAR product, including on-track racing and ways to entice fans who may have stopped watching or attending to take another look.

Suggestions included changes to the car NASCAR uses in its Sprint Cup Series, changes to the tires and reduction in horsepower in the engines.

"It was interesting to hear different people's opinions about the speed of the cars, talking about the engines and what the racing would be like if we didn't have as much horsepower," driver Ryan Newman said. "In the end, I think to me personally, it's important to have driver control. Driver control is what we're out there to see.

"Mr. [Mike] Helton said that a true sport is where the athletes can do things that normal people can't or people on the street can't. The more we have control of the cars as drivers, the better the racing is in my opinion."

Almost a dozen NASCAR officials, led by chairman Brian France, president Mike Helton and executive vice president Lesa France Kennedy, led the discussions in both meetings.

France said many suggestions were made about the new car and that he would be open to adjustments to the car if it didn't dramatically change the financial model of owners.

"We've heard some ideas today that we will continue [discussing]," he said. "They also heard what our thinking was on staying the course on the car the way we have."

Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick applauded the decision to hold the meetings.

"I learned a long time ago that if you get everybody involved, they can't complain. I think that's what happens a lot in our sport is they feel they don't have a voice," Hendrick said. "I think today was a great step toward Brian and Lesa and Mike and all of the folks in answering questions, taking some criticism and explaining why some things are like they are and giving everybody a chance to speak up."

Turnout by Cup drivers was not 100 percent, in part because of the late notice of the meetings and drivers' previous commitments, including testing.

Hendrick said although NASCAR plans additional meetings, it hoped to be able to provide more advance notice in order that more people can participate.

"We're going to do more of it because it was productive," France said. "We do a lot of communication with our teams and drivers, mostly at the track.

"This was a really good forum and an opportunity to talk about things that were out there that we can improve on as a sport. From my take on it, we had a really good exchange."

jutter@charlotteobserver.com or 704-358-5113

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