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Feature Story


by Bob Hagin

January 31, 1997

The National Association for Stock Car Racing, better known by its acronym NASCAR, had its humble beginnings in the bootlegging days of the Deep South. According to folklore, "runners" would meet on the weekends in designated local pastures to see whose "delivery car" was the fastest. Several of these local business men did time for their clandestine operations and later went on to be the venerated founding fathers of stock car racing.

But that all happened back in the '30s and '40s and bears little resemblance to the big business that NASCAR has become today. Having been on the mailing list of NASCAR for a long time, I receive its monthly newspaper, NASCAR News, and in the past few years, I've noticed that the organization has become more and more business-oriented. But this never comes at the cost of its main aim: to provide entertainment to its racing fans.

Take as an example the latest fax that came in regarding a recent NASCAR venture. The NASCAR Cafe is located in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and was recently opened to the public with an extravaganza rivaling the Hollywood opening of a multi-million dollar movie. Myrtle Beach is a prime tourist area and during the Summer months, over 100,000 tourists a day circulate the area.

The restaurant is owned and operated by H&C Racing of Knoxville, Tennessee and was built utilizing 18,500 square feet of floor space that can accommodate up to 300 diners at one sitting. The opening was so well accepted by enthusiastic NASCAR fans that the crowd began to queue up two hours in advance to be able to say they were there when it opened. The lineup of attending NASCAR greats - past and present - reads like the "Who's Who of Stock Car Racing." Cale Yarborough, and David Pearson were there representing the Old Guard, while current champion Dale Earnhardt lead a contingent of modern top NASCAR drivers.

David Beasley, Governor of South Carolina, was the host of a presentation called "NASCAR Legends of South Carolina" and its opening was so successful that H&C Racing has scheduled another 10 NASCAR Cafes for the next decade.

NASCAR business enterprises also includes a complete line of sports wearing apparel that ranges from the prerequisite baseball caps with NASCAR logo to sweaters, jackets and other items that announce the allegiance the wearer has to NASCAR. Cups, dishes, pens and beer mugs all carry the NASCAR theme and are merchandised through a string of NASCAR Thunder specialty stores.

In a recent study underwritten by NASCAR, Interbrand Schechter, a marketing research organization in New York, has determined that NASCAR fans are extremely enthusiastic. It found that over 70 percent of them stated that they are loyal to the brands that sponsor the cars and drivers that run on NASCAR tracks. With this in mind, NASCAR is now licensing its name to a variety of auto parts makers. NASCAR and the NASCAR logo is now found on Raybestos brake pads as well as a variety of automotive chemicals, ignition parts and "hard" items like clutches and engine parts. All are aimed at racing fans who traditionally make up a large segment of the automotive do-it-yourselfers.

Many of these same do-it-yourselfers also perform their own automotive maintenance, and to tap this market, NASCAR has entered into an agreement with Uniroyal to make 76 NASCAR High Performance Motor Oil to market through parts stores around the country. Fans will also be able buy NASCAR-approved oil and air filters to go with their tri-monthly oil changes.

Even MCI, the communications giant, has gotten on the bandwagon and entered into an alliance with NASCAR to become the "Official Communications Company of NASCAR," according to another press release.

Unlike other racing organizations such as the Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART), the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) and the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA), NASCAR realizes that in order to grow as a source of entertainment, it has to offer something for the children of its fans. To this end it produces a publication called "Racing For Kids" which features puzzles, contests, comic strips and stories about the top drivers, all with a NASCAR slant. With this outlook, NASCAR officials are confident that they won't "gray" themselves out of business as so many others are doing.

From a its humble beginnings as a group of small town rum-runners who began racing for fun in the '40s, NASCAR has burgeoned into a multi-faceted marketing and entertainment organization that produces billions of dollars in revenue each year and is now branching out into Pacific Rim countries like Japan and Australia. With its marketing savvy and skills, the sky is the limit for this all-American business.

Watch out, Disney, here comes NASCAR.