Antique-auto-charm

NASCAR SPEEDS TOWARD THE MAINSTREAM...

 Steve McKee Wall Street Journal  05/26/05

This past Friday was Nascar Day. Did you buy your official Nascar Day pin and wear it to work ($5 each, proceeds going to a trio of officially sanctioned Nascar children’s charities)? According to the stock-car group, at least 60,000 pins were sold via its Internet site. In addition, 2,500 companies-from SunTrust Banks Inc. in Atlanta to Lively Motorsports Inc. in Brandon, Fla., run by the husband-and-wife team of Dennis and Candy Lively-climbed on board as well, exposing the day to about one million people. Last year’s Nascar Day raised about $140,000 in its inaugural effort; that number-already smoked by Web sales-will surely be left in the dust once final figures are tallied.

"We ran out of pins," says Ms. Lively. Her 18-month-old shop specializing in hard-to-find Nascar die cast car and  collectibles and apparel, including nascar clothes for youth expects to write Nascar Day checks totaling $2,000. 

"We sold them to walk-in customers. We sold them at our day jobs. We see someone wearing Nascar apparel, we’d go up to them and try to sell them a pin," Ms. Lively says enthusiastically. "Yes, it was a way to help our business-we got into this because we always wanted to own our business and we think Nascar is the fastest-growing sport. But it was more than that. This was an easy way to help out. Nascar is so family oriented. It just really touched our hearts."

Friday was also a sort of unofficial take-your-Nascar-stuff-to-work day. And there is plenty of it out there to be brought in:( Don't you wonder how many nascar drinking mugs were brought to work ?) Nascar says it sold $2.1 billion in licensed gear in 2004. Kay Moore, vice president of human resources at Barkley Evergreen & Partners Inc., an advertising agency in Kansas City, Mo., figures about half of the 200 employees who showed up Friday for the firm’s Nascar Day lunch and remote-control-car races in the parking lot were sporting their official shirts and hats and jackets.

John Rineer, the owner of T.D.T. Paving Inc. in Phoenix took his stuff to a manufactured-housing convention. "My big vinyl Dale Earnhardt Jr. poster looked right at home" in the company booth, he says proudly.

Meanwhile, out in California, Jeff Davis, a seventh-grade history teacher at Tioga Middle School in Fresno, didn’t bring his Nascar stuff to work because that’s where he keeps it. "I’ve got a corner of my classroom that’s my Nascar corner," says the Jeff Gordon fan. "All my kids knew that Friday was Nascar Day."

You might not have heard, in your own neck of the woods, that the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing and its nearly yearlong Nascar Nextel Cup Series now has its own "day," however self-declared. But that silence is not likely to continue for much longer.

Have you ever been to a Nascar race? It is thunderously, apocalyptically earsplitting. It obliterates all other reality. It demands your attention as a matter of right.

By almost any measure-TV ratings, attendance, stuff sold, etc.-the National Football League is the king of sports. "If you look at the sheer numbers and reach of the NFL," says Peter Land, executive vice president, sports and entertainment marketing at Edelman Worldwide, "I don’t think Nascar even comes close to the NFL, and might never." But here’s what fascinates about Nascar. Its Southern roots are deeply entrenched. By rights it should have remained the kind of thing you either get or you don’t-and consequently continued to go merrily in its own little circle. Indeed, at times watching a Nascar race resembles nothing so much as a bunch of colored marbles getting endlessly spun around the bottom of a metal trash can. But since the mid-1990s, Nascar has been taking its game to places where you would think people wouldn’t get it-Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, Mexico. And it turns out the getting has been very good indeed.

"For years Nascar was just a niche sport," says Peter Roby, the director of Northeastern University’s Center for the Study of Sport in Society. "The fact that it all was flying under the radar is what gave it its identity. Somehow that has carried over. Even as Nascar has gotten so much more popular-really, become mainstream-for a lot of people it has retained the niche-sports appeal. And they were their hats and jackets as a badge of honor."

The trick now is for Nascar to maintain that under-the-radar allure to hold its fiercely brand-loyal fans while attracting the attention of the rest of America with a big marketing campaign. That has meant at times plucking race dates from traditional, old-time venues to satisfy newer, larger, richer demands.

"They’re going to have to be real careful," says Bob Davidson in a matter-of-fact tone. By profession he is a financial planner with Smith Barney in Columbia, S.C.; by passion he is a dyed-in-the-red Dale Earnhardt Jr. fan. "My grandparents lived up around Lake Norman, N.C., up near where Nascar was founded," he says, recounting a typical tale of why and how Nascar resonates so deeply for so many. "We used to run into Dale Earnhardt Sr. in this hole-in-the-wall restaurant called The Little Kitchen, in Mooresville. I think by then he’d already won a couple of championships. ‘The Intimadator!’ But he was nice as can be. He would just come right up and talk to you.

"I understand that they have to follow the money and expand into new markets and bring a whole new kind of fan. But they’re going to have to be real careful. They’ve already gotten rid of North Wilkesboro and Rockingham and one of the two races at Darlington. That hit real close to home here in South Carolina."

For its part, Nascar says it is being careful, aware of its "core values." It likes to point out that in its 57 years it has had only three chairmen-Bill France, Bill France Jr. and now Brian France. "Even as Nascar continues to grow and reach a broader level of fan involvement, it will still embrace the traditional fan," promised George Pyne, Nascar’s chief operating officer, in an email from Nascar yesterday. Edelman’s Mr. Land agrees: "It wouldn’t be worth the risk to leave the traditional fans behind, based on their size and the passion they bring to the track."

Which brings us, finally, to New York City. in the late ‘90s there was talk of Donald Trump’s involvement in a race-track plan at the Meadowlands in New Jersey. The TV promised to be spectacular: cars racing the New York skyline. The plan, however, never gained traction.

Early this year, International Speedway Corp., a publicly traded entity that owns race tracks and its separate from Nascar, bought the last parcel of a 677-acre tract in Staten Island with plans to build a track and bring Nascar to the Big Apple. Total investment, so far, $100 million. The permit process and land-use issues are of gridlock proportions, and that’s before talk of traffic jams. At the earliest, ISC says, they’re talking late 2009, probably 2010.

Still, the mind boggles at the thought of Nascar bringing its noise to New York City, its mammoth marketing machine wheel to wheel with the East Coast media monster. Like when Dale Junior and Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart come at you three across down the back stretch at Daytona, there ain’t no stopping the roar.

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