Advertisement
News

DRIVING FORCES

Coming to a mall near you: the Daytona 500.

No, not that Daytona 500, the so-called Great American Race. The Daytona 500 fragrance, which "embodies the confidence, power and intensity of the men daring enough to race in the ultimate adrenaline rush."

Advertisement

If cologne doesn't get your motor started, there's plenty more for the NASCAR lover in anyone.

Those in need of a heart-racing boost can check out In the Groove, the first Harlequin romance novel based on stock car racing. Families fixing for a cookout can stock up on NASCAR-brand hot dogs, smoked sausages and fresh produce. Women heading out for a fun night on the town might want to trade in their Juicy Couture for Track Couture tees and skirts. And those dressing to impress can strap on a $1,150 PRS516 Valjoux NASCAR watch by Tissot.

Advertisement

Marketing merchandise is nothing new in the world of sports. But the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing is blazing a hot, new trail beyond the usual fan fare of hats, sweat shirts and key fobs into the larger realm of lifestyle marketing. By entering into a growing number of unusual business partnerships - such as with Elizabeth Arden, to create the Daytona 500 cologne - NASCAR is spreading its brand far beyond the racetrack.

The reasons why boil down to the numbers.

As the No. 1 live spectator sport with 17 of the top 20 attended events in the country, NASCAR boasts 75 million fans, according to marketing researcher Ipsos Insight. Stock car racing is the second most popular sport on television, trailing only pro football.

But the driving factor behind the scorching-hot stock car racing brand these days is its intensely passionate fans, who spend more than $2 billion on licensed NASCAR products every year, making it the leading sport in fan brand loyalty, according to Ipsos.

"NASCAR is extremely accessible," says Los Angeles branding expert Rob Frankel. "NASCAR makes a statement, which is a large part of its appeal. You don't get more basic than cars, young guys, pretty girls and going fast. It's everything affluent, over-marketed, hip, slick Madison Avenue is not. There's a rebelliousness to NASCAR. In a way, it's almost an anti-marketing thing.

"NASCAR celebrities dress down and they look like the type of people you'd meet at a neighborhood bar," Frankel says. "They're not high-brow and they're not pretentious. That accessibility really appeals to its fans. You don't have to be a marketing genius to harness that huge wave of popularity."

NASCAR has never been shy about its overt commercialization. Its race cars are billboards for sponsors and drivers have long promoted their sponsors' products. But while old NASCAR sponsors used to include companies such as Winston cigarettes, Skoal tobacco and CITGO fuel, today, more family-friendly companies such as Home Depot, Nextel, Target and General Mills have signed on. Its fans have embraced this change, buying NASCAR memorabilia and supporting the companies who sponsor their favorite drivers.

Active support

Advertisement

NASCAR research has shown that its fans are three times more likely to buy products associated with the race than products that aren't, says Andrew Giangola, director of business communications for NASCAR.

"Stock car racing is a very expensive sport," Giangola says. "It requires corporate funding. It requires sponsorship. So fans actively support NASCAR sponsors. That's part of the culture and sense of belonging fans have to NASCAR. Fans see it as a way of funding their driver."

And, as the race's fan base becomes more diverse - 40 percent are women and more than 15 percent are minorities - NASCAR is eager to please and profit from the loyal legion. Consider its efforts directed at women.

In February, Harlequin Enterprises in Toronto launched the first of several NASCAR-based romance novels. Two hundred thousand copies of Pamela Britton's In the Groove have been shipped to stores and the book is in its third printing.

Last year, Track Couture debuted its line of NASCAR shirts, skirts and hoodies for female fans. Next month, The Girls Guide to NASCAR hits bookstores and this summer, expect to see NASCAR swimsuits and a line of NASCAR boots, sling-backs and moccasins by Genius Fashions.

"Fans will see that little logo, gravitate toward it and buy it," says author Britton, whose next Harlequin racing book, On the Edge, is expected in September. "I've had women who said their husbands saw that little logo [and] bought them my book.

Advertisement

"I've been guilty of doing the same thing," says Britton, a longtime racing fan who lives near Redding, Calif. "I was in the produce section at Safeway and came across a stretchy bag with the logo on it. I said, 'Ooh, NASCAR apples!' and I bought them."

That four-color logo is a huge draw for many of its fans.

Driving loyalty

Even though 43-year-old Renee Martinez doesn't actually go to the races, the White Marsh grocery cashier religiously watches them on her 60-inch TV, and raises the volume on her surround sound system during the Crank It Up segments - when the announcers stop talking and only the sound of the race can be heard - so she can feel the roar of the car engines vibrating in her home.

She drops at least a grand or two on NASCAR merchandise every year. Recently, at the Driving Impressions shop at White Marsh Mall, Martinez picked up two new die-cast models at $65 apiece of the No. 8 Budweiser and Oreo cars that her favorite, Dale Earnhardt Jr., is driving this year.

"I love it," Martinez says. "It's taken a long time for NASCAR to get this popular so I do what I can to support it."

Advertisement

Race day draws many longtime patrons to the Angle Inn on O'Donnell Street in Southeast Baltimore, where every Sunday all the TVs are tuned to NASCAR. While many there are the stereotypical older, white male NASCAR fan, about a third on one particular Sunday are female fans, raptly watching as Tony Stewart shoots from 40th to fourth place in a race at the Texas Motor Speedway.

Die-hard fans at the Angle don't know much about any NASCAR romance books or fancy cologne - "What's it smell like? Burnt tires and gasoline?" cracks 42-year-old Dave Alex, better known as Backward Hat Dave for his signature cap-wearing style - but they all say they've spent a good deal of money on the sport.

Bartender Victoria McGrogan considers herself a captive audience of NASCAR on Sundays, but even she has forked over part of her paycheck on NASCAR - at least $800 to redecorate her 6-year-old son's bedroom in homage to his favorite driver, Elliott Sadler, of the No. 38 M&M; car.

Dundalk mechanic James Ray Rodgers shells out about $500 a year to buy Jeff Gordon merchandise and shave his number 24 into the back of his head. "NASCAR does a lot for the people," Rodgers says, explaining his undying devotion to the sport.

Carla Barrera, a high school physical education teacher from Dundalk, wears a "#20" engraved bracelet. The 39-year-old confessed to also owning Beanie Babies, die-cast cars, posters, salt and pepper shakers and a cardboard cutout of Tony Stewart, too.

"But it's nothing, really," she says. "My dad has a whole shrine to him."

Advertisement

The buying power of NASCAR fans is immense. According to GNEXTINC.com, a sports, entertainment and racing Web site, the average annual income of a NASCAR fan is about $43,000, with 36 percent earning more than $50,000 a year and one-in-five earning more than $75,000.

Bill Richards supposes he's contributed plenty to driver Kevin Harvick's retirement with the thousands of dollars he's spent over the years on shirts, die-cast model cars and hats. The 51-year-old retired electrician from Bowley's Quarters says he'll buy almost anything with No. 29 on it, but chuckles at how much the sport has changed.

"It's funny," Richards says, picking up his 10th Harvick baseball cap for $25.99 at Driving Impressions recently. "It used to be a good, old boys' sport. My driver is from California, not the stereotypical driver who rode moonshine through the south. Now that the sport has become more mainstream, it's gotten more exposure on TV. It's time to move on. That's good for fans."

'75 million fans'

It's good for companies looking to do business, too.

When Switzerland-based Tissot began looking for a savvy business partner to raise the 150-year-old watchmaker's profile in America, Olivier Cosandier says his company was quickly drawn to stock car racing since Tissot is the official timekeeper for the world championships in cycling, motorcycling, fencing and ice hockey. Besides, Cosandier says, "You cannot be blind to the facts. There are 75 million fans."

Advertisement

"I've gone to a NASCAR race, and I was really, really impressed," says Cosandier, brand manager for Tissot U.S., part of the Swatch Group, the world's biggest watch producer and distributor. "It's really a lifestyle.

"There's a mistaken assumption that NASCAR fans would be interested only in low-end products," Cosandier says. "We're interested in bringing luxury and prestige to NASCAR fans. We're really expecting to reach a wide audience."

The limited edition Valjoux, which represents the first in a family of Tissot-NASCAR watches going on sale this year, range from $295 to $1,150.

So while some of these partnerships might induce some initial head-scratching, NASCAR business partners say the numbers are hard to ignore. The promise of big sales lured beauty company Elizabeth Arden to introduce Daytona 500 cologne, available at Sears and JC Penney's later this month. Racing Furniture in North Carolina tells fans, "Don't just Watch ... Ride Along" in its NASCAR-themed sofas, recliners, ottomans and bar sets.

Add to that Missouri-based Rival Products, which sells a line of NASCAR slow-cookers featuring popular drivers like Bobby Labonte and Carl Edwards. Or even the Kentucky-based Castellini Group hawking a NASCAR Fresh lineup of produce.

Last September, Monogram Food Solutions in Memphis, Tenn., launched NASCAR meats to sell hotdogs, bacon, smoked sausages and lunch meats. Monogram won't release sales figures, but says its partnership with NASCAR has been fulfilling.

Advertisement

"NASCAR is one of the few sports where all of the teams are on the field every Sunday," says Wes Jackson, president of Monogram. "It's national in nature. We wanted a brand that has loyalty across all 50 states. This sport skews toward families. Those families are loyal to the brand.

"I can't tell you why fans do the things they do," Jackson says. "I can tell you all these licensing opportunities exist because the fans are there, not vice versa."

dan.thanh.dang@baltsun.com



Advertisement