NASCAR Expands Its Fanbase: Not Just For Rednecks Anymore

kristi mooreContributor IJune 25, 2008

The sun is burning into my skin on a hot April day in 2006.  The smell and pieces of tire rubber are aimlessly floating through the air.  I have been sitting on this metal bench for 334 laps, and I am beginning to get antsy.

My eyes have been glued to the No. 9 car since lap one.  The scanner is set to his frequency.  “WOO, good job boys!” comes over the scanner from Kasey Kahne. 

My driver just won the Samsung 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, and my love for NASCAR and the No. 9 grew even more that day.

“NASCAR is the fastest growing sport in America.”  I have heard this statement on TV, in the newspaper, and in magazines, but I’ve never understood why—other than the fast speed, the wrecks, and the competition (not to mention the tail gate parties before and after the race).  What could possibly attract so many fans to such a redneck sport?

NASCAR can credit its fast growing popularity to its contracts with Fox, TNT, Speed, ESPN, and ESPN 2.  Due to gas prices, more fans stay home to watch the races, and “television ratings are edged higher this year” (Peltz, Jim).

Watching the race at home is nothing compared to actually being at the track, but advances in television and technology work towards giving you the feeling and experience of being at the track.  “Internationally, NASCAR races are broadcast in over 150 countries”  (Wikipedia).

The coveted redneck sport has expanded into the white collar world.  Significantly contributing to NASCAR’s fame are the business relationships between the race teams and their sponsors.  There is a lot of hard work that goes into putting a team together and it “easily requires $20 million or more” (Jenkins, Chris).

In the article "Sponsors make NASCAR’s wheels go ‘round," printed in USA Today, Chris Jenkins quoted “an old saying in racing: Speed costs money.  How fast do you want to go?”

The blocked off road that circles around the track is filled with people before and after the race.  To show their loyalty, people dash to their drivers' souvenir trailers to buy merchandise they can’t live without.  They will find themselves spending “$25 for a t-shirt, $30 for a hat and even $300 for a jacket”  (Jenkins, Chris).

Fans also thrive on the free stuff that companies pass out, especially the ones that sponsor a favorite driver.  The race track is a great place for the vendors to entice their customers and gain revenue.

Imagine a redneck carnival packed full of “more than a million people”, with the smell of fried corn dogs lingering in the air, and all the money that is coming in from admission, food, and tickets (Shields, Clint).

The main growth in NASCAR is its quickly spreading fan base of “75 million” people (Wikipedia).  “Why would anyone want to go and sit for hours watching cars go round and round,” was my first thought about NASCAR, but it is more than just watching cars drive in circles.

It is the anticipation from “gentlemen start your engines” to the crossing of the finish line.  It is the teamwork during a pit stop, and of course the wrecks and the competition.

Year after year, NASCAR fans turn non-believers into believers by convincing them to watch a car reach top speeds “from 90 miles per hour (140 km/h) at Martinsville to over 200 miles per hour (320 km/h) at Talladega” (Wikipedia).

In return for their support and loyalty and especially right now while the economy is in a slump, NASCAR finds ways to reach out to fans.  “Some speedways rolled out promotions” in midst of wanting to help their fans (Peltz, Jim).  Promotions range from special tickets prices to paying for a person’s mortgage/rent for the rest of the year to $10 and $500 gas cards (Peltz, Jim).

NASCAR is put down because it is understood to be a “redneck” sport.  Loyal, hardcore NASCAR fans are not afraid to admit they are, to some extent, redneck.  Believe it or not everyone from the corporate executive to the blue collar man has a little bit of redneck in him.  Even the companies that decide to jump on the bandwagon and sponsor a team have a bit of redneck in them.

You always know the people with a little redneck in them because they try to argue that “you are not a redneck just because you watch NASCAR.”

But it just doesn't matter.  In the end it all boils down to NASCAR—the fastest growing sport in America.