What makes NASCAR one of the fastest growing sports in America?
Last weekend, I received media credentials for the first time. I wanted to use this opportunity to see what makes NASCAR such a sports spectacle every weekend. NASCAR is the only American sport which draws crowds of nearly 100,000 people each week.
NASCAR has come a long way in its 64-years of existence.
The sport of NASCAR began on February 21, 1948 in Daytona. The days of moonshine runners competing at the racetrack for bragging rights and small payouts are over. Now drivers compete on huge speedways for millions of dollars. The sport of NASCAR has come a long way since 1948.
In the early years of the sport, drivers would compete in the same cars they drove to the track. Now each team in NASCAR has haulers painted with the logos from their sponsors (If the team is lucky enough to have one).
NASCAR has become a multi-million dollar investment for corporate sponsors. The first sponsor in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series was STP. Last weekend marked the 25-year anniversary of STP as a sponsor for Richard Petty. His car and Petty’s relationship with STP were honored at Kansas Speedway in the running of the STP 400. Aric Almirola’s No. 43 Dodge was painted in the famous Petty blue and orangish-red for the race.
In the first 40 years of the sport, there was no such thing as a backup car. If a driver wrecked his car during the week, he would have to work all night to try and fix it (Yes, the drivers did work on the cars, unlike today).
Many drivers have won races starting in a backup car. In the Budweiser Shootout this year, Kyle Busch was able to win the race in his backup car. If it were not for his sponsor (M&M’), he probably would have never been in the race.
The corporate sponsorship of the teams in NASCAR has added another dimension to the sport; souvenirs. When I arrived at the racetrack, the first thing I noticed was the haulers filled with souvenirs. Almost every driver in the field on Sunday had a souvenir truck. Even Danica Patrick, who was not in the race on Sunday, had a souvenir truck filled with merchandise with her name on it.
Behind the souvenir haulers were displays from the corporations who sponsored the teams in NASCAR. At each corporate display, members from the organization handed out free samples of their products or had a representative to inform the fan about their product.
Fans show up three or four hours before the race begins to walk through the corporate sponsor stands, pick up souvenirs at the team haulers and get autographs from numerous drivers. I cannot think of another sport where fans show up four hours before the event to by souvenirs and obtain players autographs.
While walking through the garage area Sunday morning, I noticed another unique change in the sport of NASCAR. Almost every car in the garage had a computer plugged into it. I am sure that Darrell Waltrip and Dale Earnhardt Sr. did not show up to the racetrack with a computer plugged into their car.
The new Electronic Fuel Injection (EFI) system allows Crew Chiefs to download data from the car to help setup the car for the race. Sometimes I wonder if each NASCAR team should have an IT department instead of a Crew Chief. The problem with that is, if Jimmie Johnson had problems with his car during a race and had to call tech support, he might get a support agent in India. That would be no good for the sport.
As I toured the garage area, I noticed the drivers walking over from their million dollar motor homes to meet their Crew Chief in the garage. NASCAR has come a long ways with accommodations for the drivers. I have heard stories of drivers sleeping in their cars when the sport began. Now some drivers are flown in private jets and sleep in luxurious motor homes.
Some traditions have remained in NASCAR over the years. The command to start engines and the singing of the National Anthem are a few. The one difference in today’s NASCAR is the fly-over. Before the Kansas race a group of A-10 fighter jets flew over the racetrack. Many sports have planes fly-over their stadiums, but NASCAR does it every week.
Once the race began and I made my way to the press box, I started to notice more modern features behind the scenes.
In the press box was a fax machine that would periodically print out stats during the race, televisions with the Fox race coverage, a scoring monitor and a public address system that would relay information from the NASCAR scoring booth (speeding penalties, cars that were black flagged and so on…)
Inside the racetrack, there were more than 100,000 fans. Outside the racetrack there must have been 100,000 cars. Some of the cars had flags flying to let people know who their favorite driver is.
The entire NASCAR experience is addictive. NASCAR is the only sport fans can hear, see, smell and feel the action.
When the cars scream by the stands, fans need earplugs to muffle the sound. The fans can smell the exhaust fumes in the air. The best feeling is when the cars scream by at 180 mph and it shakes your body.
Some people still consider NASCAR as a Southern sport. NASCAR is spreading into all parts of the United States. For those people who have never experienced a NASCAR race… my suggestion is to take the time to go to the racetrack. You will be surprised what a great experience NASCAR is.
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