Lesa France Kennedy previews Daytona Rising
LAS VEGAS – Clearly, the CEO whom Forbes just named “the most powerful woman in sports” for 2015 was delighted to talk about an extraordinarily powerful vision for the future of motorsports as it nears realization in Daytona Beach, Fla.
“I think our fans are going to have a brand new experience,” said Lesa France Kennedy, CEO and vice chairperson of International Speedway Corporation and vice chairperson of NASCAR. “The core fans who have been coming for years will see a brand new modern facility that has 23 escalators, for instance, 17 elevators. They’re going to have wider, more comfortable seats.
“It’ll be a true modern motorsports stadium, something like we haven’t seen before.”
Kennedy, of course, was referring to the ongoing $400-million Daytona Rising project, which, when completed in time for the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona (Jan. 30-31, 2016), will transform iconic Daytona International Speedway and, with it, the fan experience at the Birthplace of Speed.
Opening the SportBusiness Journal’s Daytona Rising/NASCAR Motorsports Marketing Forum on Wednesday at the Mirage, Kennedy allowed herself a nostalgic turn when reflecting on the speedway where she worked and learned the stock car racing business under the tutelage of her father, Bill France Jr.
“It’s been a little emotional,” Kennedy acknowledged. “When they took down part of the grandstands—that’s been a part of my life since the very beginning. Now we’re starting to see the progress and the project come to life, and you can start to see what it will be like for our fans when they arrive in February (for Daytona 500 Speedweeks).
“This one hit home in a lot of ways, in a lot of ways.”
Kennedy also indicated the Daytona Rising project could serve as a model for other speedways within the ISC group.
“When we open it, it will be to an international audience for the Rolex 24, so I think it will give us the chance to show the world what a modern motorsports stadium will be like,” she said. “There will be many specific elements which I think will be very attractive to our other tracks.”
Kennedy topped the list of Forbes’ most powerful women in sports, a distinction she also earned in 2009.
“As we celebrate the 2015 NASCAR season, it’s an honor to be recognized by Forbes alongside so many other women in sports,” Kennedy said. “I’m very proud of what we’re doing at International Speedway Corporation and NASCAR. Exciting changes are ahead throughout our industry, more fans than ever are consuming our sport, and we’re all eager to unveil a re-imagined Daytona International Speedway in 2016.
DEWAR SUMS UP SUCCESSFUL 2015 NASCAR SEASON
The 2015 NASCAR season wasn’t just about hitting important metrics, though the sport did precisely that.
As NASCAR Chief Operating Officer Brent Dewar noted on Wednesday at the SportBusiness Journal’s Daytona Rising/NASCAR Motorsports Marketing Forum, the 2015 season has been one of change, both in terms of business models and the sanctioning body’s quest for a new entitlement sponsor for its foremost series.
Dewar said he talks almost daily with Race Team Alliance leader Rob Kauffman, and those discussions have far-ranging implications for the ownership model in the sport, including a possible charter system for team ownership.
“Like Rob, I’m cautiously optimistic that we can get something that really helps provide a foundation for the future,” Dewar said, stressing the importance of building stability in the sport.
In that same vein, Dewar expressed pride in the recently completed and unprecedented five-year sanctioning agreements with race tracks that host NASCAR events.
Asserting that NASCAR racing is more popular today than ever before, Dewar noted that the sanctioning body is in an excellent position to broaden its base of potential replacements for Sprint, which will leave its role as title sponsor for the Sprint Cup Series after 2016.
Fundamental changes in the sport, such as an elimination-based Chase format, give NASCAR executives the opportunity to re-introduce the sport to a wider audience.
“If you haven’t been around NASCAR in the last two or three years, you really haven’t been around NASCAR,” Dewar said. “It’s really allowing us an opportunity to talk to a wide group, whether it’s blue-chip domestic companies, to internationals, to regional companies—and we have a great story to tell.
“It’s casting a wide net. We’re in a nice place, and we’ve been to some really cool companies, talking about our sport. We hope to find a partner that will deliver equally the strength that we’ve gotten from Sprint.”
Dewar said there’s no specific timetable for finding a new partner but added that, “I’m as excited today as I’ve ever been in the sport.”
TECHNOLOGY HAS TRANSFORMED NASCAR OFFICIATING
The numbers are in.
Through its partnership with Microsoft, NASCAR’s automated officiating system already has created substantial, measurable efficiencies.
Since its implementation for the 2015 season, the new system has cut the time needed for opening inspection from six hours to three. The tablet-based recording of information has saved roughly 7,500 sheets of paper.
But on a broader scale, the partnership with Microsoft has had an enormous impact on the way NASCAR inspectors do business, from streamlining communications to enabling real-time data capture—something NASCAR was unable to do with a paper-based system.
Now, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Director Richard Buck can monitor the progress of all 43 Sprint Cup cars simultaneously from one location.
The introduction of Windows 10 and the use of Cloud technology will only enhance NASCAR’s ability to function at the track.
Likewise, Hendrick Motorsports also has entered into a partnership with Microsoft that will help the organization by leveraging the Cloud to analyze data, with the expected result being better, faster race cars with strong, more durable engines.
“No sport generates more data than motorsports,” said HMS general manager Doug Duchardt, indicating the partnership is invaluable in terms of analyzing complex sets of data toward the goal of improved performance.