Bill France Jr. and his entire organization must be commended for their foresight and their ability in the growth of NASCAR racing into the twenty-first century. The influx of a diverse group of sponsors and investors have enabled NASCAR to grow into the leading spectator sport in the United States. The stereotype of NASCAR had always been beer drinking, tobbacco spitting, North Carolina redneck slamming doors on the track and winning the race against his "cousins." However, that stereotype is quickly shattered when one considers that the winningest driver on the circuit since 1992 is Rusty Wallace from St. Louis, Missouri. NASCAR's brightest young drivers are Jeff Gordon from Pittsboro, Indiana and Ricky Craven from Newburgh, Maine. The North Carolina short track of North Wilkesboro is no more; deleted from the NASCAR schedule in favor of races in California, Texas, and New Hampshire. Many developers have built tracks hoping to get a race date in the future. Promoters in Homestead, Florida and Las Vegas, Nevada are constantly lobbying NASCAR for a future race at their new state of the art facilities. The growth of NASCAR into the next century looks bright. However, there are many concerns that must be addressed by NASCAR Inc. to insure the continued growth and prosperity of stock car racing.
One of the first issues is the alcohol and tobacco debate in the sport. Recently, a bill was proposed that would ban all cigarette and alcohol advertising in atheltic events in this country. The bill also contains pieces of legislation that would ban alcohol and tobacco advertising near schools and would ban cigarette vending machines where children generally have easy access. My view is concise; take Winston out of Winston Cup.
The computer gaming market has recently exploded. The popularity of home computers in white, suburban homes created windfall profits for companies like Microsoft and Netscape. NASCAR saw an opportunity for growth and licenced the Papyrus Design Group to create a NASCAR simulation for the computer. It was widely successful and the sequel, NASCAR2, was recently released with updated statistics for the 1996 season. The game designers knew that the game would be appealing primarily to individuals under the age of eighteen. As a result, the series is called the "NASCAR Racing Series" and cars sponsored by alcohol and tobacco products have been altered so that the brand names are not included on the car. Though at first glance it is hardly noticeable that "Miller" has been replaced by the words "Rusty" on the Penske Racing car. In addition, "Camel Powered" was replaced by the term "Carter Powered" in reference to the owner of the 23 car, Travis Carter. Should the real sponsors have been included in the game? No. Papyrus and Sierra made the decision to forgo putting alcohol and tobacco advertising in the racing simulation game. They knew their audience; perhaps it is time for NASCAR to follow suit and bring itself into the 21st century with a better image. For no matter how hard NASCAR tries to shake its stereotype of tobacco and alcohol, as long as there is a 'Winston' Cup, the image of the sport might continue to be the 'beer drinking, tobacco chewing fan.'
The sport was born in North Carolina. Sure the first race was on the beach in Daytona, Florida but the roots of the sport can be traced to the mountains of North Carolina where tobacco is king. When the sport was in need of funding and sponsorship, tobacco giant R.J. Reynolds was there to support it. This issue is not about R.J Reynolds. It is about the brand names used to sponsor events and teams in racing. The proposed legislation would not ban R.J. Reynolds from sponsoring racing whatsoever. It would only prohibit them from using specific brand names in that sponsorship.
Does racing need tobacco and alcohol sponsorship to continue to thrive? Absolutely not. Sponsors are fighting to get into the sport and sponsor races. Television contracts have never been larger or more lucrative than they are now. Can we break with tradition and abolish the "Winston" Cup? Well, NASCAR never seemed to care too much for tradition. It seems that their official web site refuses to acknowledge NASCAR's history before 1990. The North Wilkeboro, North Carolina short track had been on the NASCAR schedule since the beginning. The track held it's final race in 1996. Short track racing seems to be dying out. Will the trend continue? Most likely it will in the name of progress
Perhaps racing needs to evolve further in the minds of many in this country. In an interview with driver Ricky Rudd last year, New York sports commentator Bob Page asked Rudd to "describe this activity in which you participate." Page refused to acknowledge the athletic prowess involved in racing preferring to call it an activity as one would call walking down the street an activity. Maybe NASCAR hasn't come as far as it thinks it has. NASCAR's recent success is outstanding. It has cultivated a loyal and economically stable fan base throughout many areas of this country. However, it will be interesting to see if NASCAR will attempt to gain exposure in metropolitan areas like New York City and Boston, or stay on 'the outskirts of town' where most of the tracks are located. Whatever direction NASCAR Inc. takes the sport, one thing is certain; the future of NASCAR will definitely be one to keep an eye on.
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