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October 15, 2013

Steve O'Donnell

THE MODERATOR:  Good morning, everybody.  Welcome to a slightly earlier version of our NASCAR teleconference.  We're joined by Steve O'Donnell, NASCAR's senior vice president of racing operations.
Steve, you have news to share of the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule.
STEVE O'DONNELL:  Yes.  We're excited this morning to officially announce our 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule, starting with the 56th running of the Daytona 500, which will be live on FOX Sunday, February 23rd.  Once again, we'll showcase 36 points races, two weekends of non‑points action, which will include the All Star weekend in Charlotte on May 17th, and wind up at Homestead‑Miami Speedway on November 16th, which is the final Race for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, which will be live on ESPN.
Although there are no real surprises on the schedule, we will have four spring date changes.  Texas will hold its event one week earlier.  They're moving to a Sunday afternoon event on April 6th.  Darlington will run on April 12th.  Kansas will hold its first‑ever NASCAR Sprint Cup Series night race, and that will be shifted to May 10th.  Finally Martinsville in the spring will host the series on March 30th, one week earlier than this year.
One of the things we're excited to announce today, in addition to another great season of racing, we're also working as hard as we can for fans in the stands and those watching on TV for them to have the best chance at each of our events to see a completed race.
We're happy to announce that the NASCAR Air Titan drying technology will be at every Cup weekend in 2014.  We all know that the time it takes to dry the track, the impact it's had on either those watching in the stands or on TV, was the main reason Brian France tasked the R&D center to come up with a solution to reduce that timeframe.
We put the decision in the hands of the tracks for 2014.  We met with a number of media members in Daytona at the beginning of the year and talked about this being PhaseI of a technology.  We're happy to announce that we've learned a lot of things through PhaseI.  We've seen the Air Titan at a number of our tracks this year and we'll be moving on to PhaseII in 2014 as well.
You'll see that again at all of our Sprint Cup Series weekends for 2014.  We think it's the right thing to do for the fans.  We feel we're really in a good position in terms of the technology that's been advanced through the R&D center.  We look forward to showcasing that, hopefully minimally, because we'd like to see the sun shine for each of our events.
With that, we're headed to Talladega for the Chase.  Excited about what we'll see for this upcoming weekend.  Certainly want to just remind everyone from the Air Titan standpoint, it played an important role last time being able to get those races in on time.  Hopefully we won't have to use that technology, but we're excited to head to Talladega this weekend.
THE MODERATOR:  Why don't we take questions for Steve O'Donnell.

Q.  Steve, as far as the Air Titan goes, were you able to reduce costs or did sanction fees go up for the tracks in order to accommodate your mandating it for every race?
STEVE O'DONNELL:  We've certainly reduced costs.  We're taking it upon ourselves to have it at every race.
I think with PhaseI, there were some costs that were associated with the program in terms of executing or putting it to use while it was at the track.  We took care of a lot of those details, did all the R&D.  But there were certainly costs in the execution.
This year some tracks chose to use it.  We'll have it at the remaining ISC tracks for 2013, which is great.  In 2014, NASCAR is going to take over that role entirely and have it at every event.

Q.  As far as the schedule goes, there was rumors and talk about some major changes, major overhauls.  Does 2015 provide more of an opportunity for that with the new TV partners?
STEVE O'DONNELL:  I think we're certainly going to take a look at it.  I think the timing with the new TV partners makes sense.
One thing to keep in mind, though, is with each of the tracks, if we constantly are shifting dates, it becomes more and more of a challenge for each track.  Our fans like some of the familiarity.  We want to balance that.
I think we'll do that for 2015, but it's certainly something to look at as we head into that year for sure.

Q.  Steve, on the schedule, is it any more difficult from year to year to put that thing together?  Have things changed in some of the markets that make a race more or less attractive that you have to look at or does it stay pretty standard?  And on the Air Titan, as far as the continued development of that, what do you see down the road?  Are there a lot of improvements that can be made to that or is it pretty much I don't want to say you won't change anything on it, but has it reached a place where you are pretty happy with what it accomplishes?
STEVE O'DONNELL:  On the first one, I think I'd like to say it gets a lot easier, but I think the schedule gets more and more complicated.  As NASCAR has grown and becomes one of the real major sports in the world, we've got to take into consideration, as do other sports, what is in the marketplace that you're potentially competing with.  Television plays an important role when you look at going up against potentially the Masters or the Final Four.  Any sport wouldn't want to do that, making those adjustments and working closely with the tracks.
It's been a really good process, but I think something that all parties have had to learn a little bit and grow.  But I think we're on the right track for that and we'll see more of that in 2015.
When you talk about the Air Titan, I think our goals there are for more of a self‑contained unit that you'll see in PhaseII probably about the second quarter of 2014.  The first quarter you'll see the technology you saw down in Daytona or you've seen this year, then you'll see more of a self‑contained unit.
From there what we want to look to do is continue the evolution of what kind of fuels we use in that, what kind of technologies we can bring.  Down the line, can you obsolete some of the equipment that's necessary today?
I think looking at that technology, we'll be in a much better space from a look in 2014.  But then efficiencies are something we're certainly going to look for in the green space second half of 2014 for sure.

Q.  Do you see a situation or possibility down the road where now you have numerous jet driers that go to the different tracks?  Do you see having maybe more than one Air Titan unit at your disposal?
STEVE O'DONNELL:  I'm not sure I'm following.  You mean in lieu of jet driers?

Q.  You have the one unit now that you can take to a track.  Would there be a possibility down the road, once it gets developed further, the cost continues to come down, you would have more than one?  For instance, if you have a Nationwide race that's being held as a standalone and a Cup race somewhere else, could you have it at both tracks?
STEVE O'DONNELL:  Actually, the goal for us would be, if we're hitting on all cylinders, this would be at not only every Cup, Nationwide and truck event, but every All American Series track.  We suffered more than ever before this year with rain‑outs at our weekly series tracks.  Our goal is to develop this so that it's feasible for a short track to be able to purchase one of these or be given the technology and use that for their tracks as well.  Really a game‑changer not only at the national series, but all throughout racing.

Q.  Steve, as far as the difficulty of changing the schedule, what is holding you back from making sweeping changes on sort of a regular basis?  You often hear fans talk about whether they want road courses in the Chase, Chase races shaken up, things like that.  Are you aware of that kind of talk?  Where are your thoughts on what the possibilities of stuff like that is on an annual basis?
STEVE O'DONNELL:  I think we do look at that every year.  We're certainly aware of it.  We're also very aware of fans at tracks who are happy with the dates they have and have made plans years in advance from a camping standpoint to attend certain dates.
You've got to factor in weather.  I know fans have talked about a road course in the Chase.  We'd never rule that out.  Under our current schedule, that's very challenging for us to do.  If you asked both of those road courses, I think they have a pretty successful thing going on right now.  We're very happy with where those dates fall as well.
It's certainly something we look at, but it's not as easy as just flipping the switch and moving one.  There's a lot of things that come into play with weather, TV calendars, travel.  So it's something that we're taking a bigger look at every year.  I think that we're more open than we've ever been to looking at those things.
As you look ahead to 2015, there will be some more opportunities on the horizon.  When we talk about Nationwide and Truck, we did take some I wouldn't call them risks, but we went to some new venues in terms of Eldora, back in Canada.  Those are going to be important to us across all national series as we go forward.

Q.  Steve, when you do make changes, and you have a couple changes on the schedule, can you only sort of shake it up so much in one year?  You may be looking at other changes down the road but you can't make that many changes in one year.  Also, what about Truck and Nationwide, when those schedules might come.
STEVE O'DONNELL:  I think you could probably expect Nationwide as early as the end of this week.  Truck possibly as well.  We're 99% of the way there, wrapped up with both of those.  Feel confident we'll have those out probably towards the end of this week.
On change, my good friend Jeff Gluck just asked a question.  I'm sure I've tweeted back and forth with him sometimes that NASCAR is changing too much.
So it's a delicate balance that we've got to play of taking advantage of opportunities that are out there for tracks that really want to move or see an opportunity, i.e., a Kansas wanting to see a night race, Texas agreeing to get off of a night race in order to have a better date in their marketplace, then looking at future opportunities.
I think those, with all the planning that goes into it, I think one of the lessons we've learned, we have to look two, three, four years in advance now in terms of what is out there from a competing landscape, what are the opportunities.  I think you'll see us do more of that in the future as it becomes more and more competitive in sports, as NBC, ESPN, FOX, all the television partners come in and make a really big bet on NASCAR, we're going to do the right thing and put events in the most successful position we believe they should be in.

Q.  What is the one thing you would want fans listening to remember when discussing or digesting what you have changed or not changed this year?
STEVE O'DONNELL:  I think that we do hear them.  I go on Twitter as often as I can.  But the fans' voices are important.
The one thing I think that gets missed sometimes is we have a lot of different parties to manage.  We want to do first and foremost what's right for the fans, but we've got to take into consideration our TV partners, our track partners, our drivers, our owners.  There's a lot of different factors that go into the decisions we make.
Sometimes a fan may not understand why we did something.  There's probably a good reason behind it.  We don't expect every fan to agree with us.  That's why you are a fan.  We want passionate fans who sometimes agree, sometimes don't, but we just want them to be involved.

Q.  Here in the Philadelphia area I hear a lot of talk about, Why can't NASCAR end its season sooner instead of the weekend before Thanksgiving, maybe like right now?  I don't have to tell you you're competing with Major League Baseball playoffs, college football, et cetera.  Is that at all possible?  You'd have to reduce the number of races.  Track promoters don't want to do that.  I'd be interested in your response.
STEVE O'DONNELL:  I don't think we're interested in reducing the number of races we have.  We're happy with that number right now.
I think there's always things we could look at in terms of when we race.  There's been talks of could you ever race a Monday night or midweek.  That's something that we've had dialogue about.
But in terms of the schedule, that's one of the things that I think is also a benefit of NASCAR.  We've got a number of sponsors that are involved in our sport.  We've got millions of fans that want to have that chance to see us.  By having 36 events, it gives them an opportunity in certain markets they might not have in other sports that we're proud of.
We certainly know there's a competitive landscape out there in sports.  But that's been out there a long time.  Our job is to make NASCAR as big as possible, put more eyeballs on the sport during that time.

Q.  Has there ever been any thought about an embargo on the racetracks announcing their individual dates so NASCAR can make a bigger splash about releasing the schedule?
STEVE O'DONNELL:  Can you come to work for us, please (laughter)?
I agree with you.  We have tried that.  I think we will try and do a better job of that for next year.  I think one of the challenges candidly that we're up against this year, we got so late with having to make some of these changes, in fairness to some of the tracks, they wanted to get out there with date changes, with ticket sales, promotional materials they needed to put out.
I don't disagree with you.  We would like to kind of do it all in one.  That is the goal.  We'll work to do that next year for sure.

Q.  I assume that ISE requested the Darlington/Kansas switch.  Can you talk about why you allowed that to happen?
STEVE O'DONNELL:  We worked with the track.  When we looked at the schedule for 2014, one of the challenges we were going to have is, candidly, the competing sports landscape.  You looked at two things:  Kansas has always wanted to race at night, wanted to get one of the races under the lights.  We've known that's been a request out there.  We've been challenged to put that in place.  When we looked at competing dates, we were scheduled to go head‑to‑head with the Masters on Sunday, which from our standpoint didn't make a whole lot of sense when you're trying to grow a sport.  We looked at some different opportunities.
ISE was aware of the issue and came to us with this proposal.  We thought it worked out, was a win‑win for everyone, allowed Kansas to get that night race.  Darlington, as well, we could keep that going, really get behind the promotion of Darlington, do some cool things.  They've got some ideas for that event as well.
That's how that fell into place.

Q.  Did you have any other requests for realignment that you ended up rejecting?
STEVE O'DONNELL:  We did not.

Q.  Steve, you've touched on the variables the schedule brings, the way that NASCAR can't knee‑jerk to things like a lot of people, fans and so forth, can sometimes do.  Could you talk a little bit, too, about what NASCAR has done with science.  They went to science when they needed the seats and belts changed, when they needed SAFER barriers.  Science hasn't figured out how to divert rain clouds, but you got the Air Titans.  Can you talk a little bit about that.
STEVE O'DONNELL:  I think you're going to see more and more.  That's a great question.  As we go forward, embracing technology, relying heavily on our R&D center is going to be more and more important for us.  You saw that a little bit yesterday with the test we had at Charlotte led by Gene Stefanyshyn, our R&D group, involving the team engineers, making sure we're out listening to some of the brightest minds in the world, quite frankly, who work for those race teams in terms of how do we continuously improve our race product.
We're going to rely on a lot of the data, a lot of the science that comes out of racing.  We're going to apply that where we can.  Not to be a 'techy' company, but get that data to the younger fans.  They want data.  They want to be involved.  They want to be in the seat of the racecar, especially our younger audience.  The more data we can provide to the race fans, in the stands or on television, we want to do that, and we want to do that in a smart way.
We all know with technology potentially costs come in.  We want to manage it and do it smartly.  But we think that's the future for us embracing the fan experience through technology.

Q.  We had several drivers at the Martinsville test a few weeks ago say there's a bit of a disconnect between fans of grassroots racing and the current NASCAR product.  Many fans would argue the current schedule, the tracks are too similar.  Is NASCAR aware of this perception?  Is there a longer‑term plan of trying to diversify the schedule in terms of road courses or short tracks?
STEVE O'DONNELL:  I think we're fairly happy with the balance on the Cup side of where we race.  Our job really is to put on the best product that we can at each of those racetracks.  I think that's where we're concentrating, is working on that.
We did take a look when we went to Eldora, to some heat races, to formats that fans are used to from the short tracks.  I think there's a possibility as you look down the road in some of our series that we could look to embrace what we've learned from Eldora at some future events.  I would never rule anything out.
We're very close to a lot of the short tracks.  We're involved with a number of them, through George Silbermann and his group.
Those ideas that we see succeed are some of the things we want to promote at the national series as well.
THE MODERATOR:  Thank you, Steve.  We appreciate the time today.  We know you have a busy schedule ahead of you.  We appreciate the opportunity to touch base on the schedule and the Air Titan, if needed, being at the tracks next year.
STEVE O'DONNELL:  Thank you, everybody.
THE MODERATOR:  Thanks to the media for joining us this morning.

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