The National Association of Stock Car Auto Racing, affectionately known as NASCAR, has over 75 million fans and growing.
But there is no bigger growth than the number of females cheering for their favorite drivers barreling around race tracks throughout the country.
NASCAR estimates that 40 percent of their current fan base is of the female persuasion. One in every two new race fans are also women.
Why are so many women now into a sport that traditionally has been known for its stereotypical beer bellied, toothless, redneck males cheering in the stands?
The rationale for this new race fan base is not simple. In fact, female racing fandom is as complicated as the female psyche itself...and as unique as each individual woman who follows the sport.
Many would attribute the increase in female fans in race stands to one easy answer— the cute drivers.
With the advent of eye-candy drivers like Jeff Gordon and Kasey Kahne, female fans have surely begun to take notice, especially when the drivers are in their tight-fitting fire suits.
But to say that women are interested in NASCAR because the drivers are attractive is way too simplistic. NASCAR drivers are more than just handsome, they are also charismatic, likable, and the kind of clean-cut young men that you could actually take home to meet your mother.
The major attraction, however, is that drivers are so approachable to their fans. Women can get up close and personal with their favorite driver, encouraging an intimacy that female fans do not get to enjoy in any other sport.
NASCAR racing is also very much a family sport, another key element in its attractiveness to female fans. Women can attend the races with their spouses or boyfriends, as well as having their children tag along.
Women enjoy the social nature of the sport. NASCAR does not just happen for a few hours on race day; it is a weekend-long, sometimes even a week-long, phenomenon.
Women can enjoy the race weekend while camping or cramming into an RV with their family and friends. They can gather in the infield around the campfire, trading stories about their favorite driver encounters.
In other words, women love NASCAR because it truly is one of the most social sporting events. The race weekend is a party, with fabulous food, no doubt a few adult beverages, and wonderful camaraderie.
There is also an element of NASCAR racing that is all about the most famous female competitive sport—shopping. There is incredible gear available for women now, from gorgeous jackets to fabulous racing heels.
During every race weekend there are seas of souvenir haulers, with every kind of NASCAR merchandise available. All of these products now have feminine appeal, from home gear to apparel and jewelry.
While many female fans are in it for the shopping, the vast majority of women interested in the sport are there simply for the love of racing. They feel that need for speed and thrill to the danger of the sport.
Women also greatly admire the skill of the race car driver, as well as the talent of the race team. They adore the strategy of the sport, looking at each pit stop as a well-choreographed ballet.
But ultimately, it is that most basic, primal reaction that only racing engenders that truly attracts female fans to the sport. Although crass, this sensation is epitomized in a scene from the movie Talladega Nights.
In the movie, the wife of the owner of Ricky Bobby's race team sits in the corporate box high above the race track, with the cars thundering underneath her around the track.
She tells her husband that the only reason she is there is to feel those race cars thundering beneath her, rocking her entire body with the sensation of speed.
That may be a little vulgar, to say the least. After all, it is a Will Farrell movie.
But for every fan, female or otherwise, there is that basic, gut reaction that comes with the rush of the cars careening around the track—the pounding eardrums from the roar of the engines,and the feeling of the wind blowing through your hair as the cars scream by.
There is something primal about NASCAR racing that touches the heart of every female fan. It is a rush and, dare we say, even pretty sexy.
NASCAR knows this and capitalizes on it well. They bank on the fact that every woman cruising the aisles of the local Wal-mart wants to be that "fast" woman at the race track, living life large at full throttle.
Yet, the only frontier left currently untouched for NASCAR to conquer in relation to the female fan is the development and elevation of a female race car driver.
When young girls can aspire to be Sprint Cup drivers, NASCAR's conquest of the female fan base will be complete.
Until then, while gentlemen may be starting their engines, it is the female fans that will be fueling the race. And eventually, with the cry of "let's go racing, girls" echoing throughout the speedway, NASCAR will indeed become that mother of all motor sporting events.