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Motor Sports


by Larry Roberts

November 14, 1997

Even the most casual TV viewer is aware of the impact motorsports have made on the American sports scene. The Mr. Goodwrench auto service ads aired by General Motors feature NASCAR ace Dale Earnhardt pulling into a pit stop and asking if the "services" performed by the crew have the same guarantee as those performed at the shops of Chevrolet dealers. Mercedes-Benz ads capitalize on its racing exploits in CART Indy-style racing and oil companies utilize their motorsports involvement to "sell" their products. Motorsports is big entertainment and this fact isn't lost to the business world.

The use of auto racing to sell auto-related products is self- explanatory but the rationale for other companies to become multi- million dollar sponsors of racing teams may seem strange at first. Tide washing detergent isn't usually associated with race cars, nor is Coca- Cola, Burger King or Kodak films.

And it isn't because the corporate CEOs are "closet" racers, or that the business needs a "showcase" to impress important guests. The reason is that auto racing is the second most spectated sport in America, and every one of those spectators is a potential customer - especially if the sponsor's logo is prominent on the winner's car.

More and more people are watching races in person and every year, Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company monitors the number of spectators at over a dozen major race series' throughout the season. Goodyear obviously doesn't undertake this monumental task simply for the altruistic purpose of promoting the sports. Every spectator is a potential tire consumer and it's a handy marketing tool when it is placing its sponsorship money or determining how much to invest in the development of special racing tires. Goodyear make its finding available as a service to auto writers in particular and the media in general every year and its statics are truly impressive.

While the auto racing season is just ending and the figures for 1997 are not yet available, the numbers from 1996 are nonetheless noteworthy. Auto racing attendance in North America continued its remarkable growth rate and passed the 15-million mark last year. Attendance grew 3.7 percent over 1995 despite the fact that many of the sanctioning bodies were fractured and race schedules were upset.

The most impressive numbers not unexpectedly came from NASCAR. NASCAR merchandising is legendary and 5.6 million people came in person to watch its 31 Winston Cup events for stock cars last year. Its 26 less prestigious Grand National races for budding Winston Cup hopefuls drew 1.7 million into the stands and in its very first year of existence, the 24 NASCAR Craftsman Truck races brought in 880,000 paying fans.

The elite Championship Auto Racing Teams Indy-type car events were less in number at 16 races but they brought in 2.4 million spectators. The National Hot Rod Association held 19 professional drag race meets in '96 and almost two million people came to watch the quarter-milers. Even the flagging SCCA Trans Am series for modified "pony cars" drew 1.3 million race goers, a number that was almost double from the previous year.

A personal surprise came in the number of paying spectators that attended the exciting but little-known World of Outlaws sprint car races. With 70 events, the World of Outlaws held more individual races than any other sanctioning body in 1996 and brought in 1.5 million to watch these amazingly fast sprinters battle it out on short ovals all over the country.

The numbers aren't in yet for 1997, but the folks at Goodyear are busily putting them all together. And judging from the number of new corporate sponsors that are jumping on the bandwagon for the '98 season, those Goodyear numbers must be very, very impressive.