There are situations that I call the blind obvious. It's so apparent there are issues you need to deal with and changes that have to be made, yet we just stand there blinking. But there's a point in every organization where you have to step it up another notch, and I think that's what Brian France was able to do for NASCAR. The Chase (for the Nextel Cup) is a good example. The end of the season began to drag; some years there wasn't much doubt about who would win the championship. Now we have a 10-race championship, and there's excitement right until the last race. And I don't think they would have got the record TV contract (worth $4.5 billion) if it hadn't been for France's work.
It's not that NASCAR was broken. The France family started NASCAR and drove the business to the top. They control it even though they wear multiple hats. For instance, they own some of the racetracks. And when they put their hats on, they aren't all hat and no cattle: they have a lot of hat and a lot of cattle.
I like France's management style: he doesn't go to the racetrack much, and some people criticize him for that, but he has such a good working knowledge of the people and the position they are in. In NASCAR you manage from the middle. That way you can go up or down the ladder, and he seems to be pretty good at doing that.
We've got some issues ahead. We need to rethink the schedule because we're crisscrossing the country too much. And France, 43, has spearheaded a huge effort on everybody's part to increase diversity, because we need to create new fans down the road. And that road leads to a racetrack in New York City. It's almost like a do-or-die thing for France and his sister Lesa. They are investing heavily, and they are not accustomed to failing. Eventually, there's going to be a pretty darn good track. Because when NASCAR goes to town, they're not just there to be a part of the show. They are the show.
A three-time NASCAR driving champion, Waltrip is a race analyst for Fox Sports