Behind The Lines

Inundated with NASCAR
Jim Allen
June 8, 2000
Chances are you haven't heard of Wayne Grubb or his brother, Kevin Grubb. But chances are, within a couple of years, you will, if NASCAR and the Virginia Lottery have their way.

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Other's by Jim

The Grubbs are just two of the nine drivers featured on the Virginia Lottery's latest scratch-and-lose game, called "Virginia Drivers." The others are the brothers Burton - Ward and Jeff - the Sadlers - Hermie and Elliot - Elton Sawyer, Rick Mast and Wendell Scott. 

The Virginia Lottery is just the latest in an ever-expanding marketing effort on the part of NASCAR and its partners. Living in Virginia, it is hard for anyone, particularly race fans, not to know the names of most of the drivers in Winston Cup or aspiring to be there. Aside from the multiple airings of NASCAR-related programs, the day is rare that you don't see a truck with a "3" on the rear window, or a Dale Jarrett rear-window sticker, or the caricature of a child urinating on a "24." My personal favorite was the same caricature relating to Chevrolet pasted on the back window of a Toyota pick up. 

This is, after all, the home state of two races each in Bristol, Martinsville and Richmond. Technically, Bristol in on the Tennessee side of the border, but it is close enough to provide economic benefits on this side, as well.

NASCAR's presence is even harder to miss when you go shopping. Country stores - treasured icons of a lifestyle featured on The Walton's and promoted in coffee-table picture books - are some of the biggest targets for the marketing campaign. It was at one such establishment that I recently saw the ads for the new Virginia Lottery game. And it wasn't just in one 12"x18" four-color placard at the check-out counter; there were two other smaller placards surrounding the cash machine. The store also sports an inflated mock-up of Dale Earnhardt, Jr.'s Budweiser racer; three five-foot tall Winston Cup schedules to ensure we know when each race is run splayed across the length of the back wall, above the beer coolers, sponsored by Busch, Coors and Budweiser. It took the county a year to approve an upgrade of the store's exterior because of fears of losing the cultural appeal, while the NASCAR revolution races on unabated. 

Nowhere is NASCAR's marketing machine more evident than in Food Lion, the self-proclaimed NASCAR Raceteam headquarters and sponsor of the Food Lion Raceteam Challenge. During one recent late-night excursion, I found the place overrun with stock car racing-related exhibits. The beverage isles - alcoholic and non- - dangled NASCAR promotions from Pepsi, Coca-Cola, Coor's and Coor's Light, Miller Light, Busch and Budweiser. There was the Wise Snacks' Snack Pit Stop. Dale Jarrett was hawking - actually it was a cardboard cutout -- Nabisco, the official cookie and cracker of NASCAR. The series sponsor was also represented in Winston Racing Nation ads. About the only thing not sponsored by the France family juggernaut was dog food. 

NASCAR's marketing efforts stand in stark contrast to those of CART and it makes an open-wheel fan like myself marvel. It's hard to recall the advertisements that have featured CART drivers. Of course, the most memorable were those of Alex Zanardi, but then again, Target Stores has always done a good job promoting their drivers and owner. Cristiano da Matta stars in current ads for Toyota. Gil de Ferran was featured in some Honda ads that appeared on first glance to be Fed Ex spots. A few years ago, Michael Andretti was in some Texaco ads. Ultimately, the ads are related to specific sponsors and are seen occasionally. 

The NASCAR Marketing Steamroller

Unlike NASCAR, which takes seemingly every opportunity to promote the series and the participants, CART's promotional efforts are not visible to the general public. Consider that Budweiser is the official beer of CART - fast cars and beer? - but outside of select markets, do either company promote the connection? Fed Ex, the series sponsor doesn't use the connection, either. 

Even the Indy Racing Northern Lights Series has tried to promote the series as an entertainment option. Last year, for instance, the series ran spots that featured select drivers in an effort to introduce its product and racers to a wider audience. Of course, none of the drivers were recognizable and the spots didn't bother to name them either. To make matters worse, the spots put them in situations that made them look silly and used the tag line, "You had to be there." In some of the spots, they used the old Archies - can you say bubblegum music? -- song, "Dizzy," as background music. 

Still, you have to give it to them for trying. CART hasn't even gone that far. 
It's not like they have nothing to work with. PacWest's drivers, Mark Blundell and Mauricio Gugelmin, are as personable as anyone in NASCAR, as are Adrian Fernandez, de Ferran, da Matta, Tony Kanaan and Jimmy Vassar. About the only ones that appear stiff in commercials are Juan Montoya and Michael Andretti. But by virtue of their accomplishments on the track, they are able to overcome their acting deficiencies by having the strength to speak their minds when others cannot. 
CART also has plenty of financial resources to work with. According to the company's March 31 SEC filings, there was $15.4 million in cash on hand and another $102.6 million in short-term investments. That kind of money could buy a few spots here and their during the 11 p.m. SportsCenter or even during a NASCAR race - though that could get a bit pricey now that NBC and Fox will have to try to recoup the $2.8 billion they are spending to air Winston Cup next season.

CART should use it before they lose it. In this case, if they don't use that cash, the market price for CART shares will dip to a point that the company will become a takeover target. That's because investors believe they can do a better job of investing in short-term bonds that the management of a racing series can. And cash is valued, well, just like cash, meaning there is no multiple. 

There is plenty to be hopeful, largely as a result of the hiring of Pat Leahy. The question is whether he will get the kind of budget he needs to do things right. He has shown his abilities elsewhere and should get the chance to do the same under the CART flag. 

Consider the possibilities. We could see the drivers from the fastest racing series on earth involved in CART week on Jeopardy. I can see it now: Dario Franchitti asking, "I'll take Road Courses for $1,000, Alex."

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