From that meeting, the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing was born, and France, nor anyone else at that meeting could have envisioned what NASCAR has become today (History pp).
The first NASCAR-sanctioned race was held on Daytona's beach course on February 15, 1948, however, it was 1949, when what is now the NASCAR Winston Cup Series, the premier racing division in America, was born (History pp). There were eight events held in 1949, and less than a year later, the country's first asphalt super-speedway at Darlington Raceway in South Carolina opened its doors for the new division (History pp). Characters became heroes, and names like Lee Petty, Fireball Roberts, Buck Baker, Herb Thomas, the Flock brothers, and others became as well-known to race fans as Willie, Mickey and the Duke were to baseball fans (History pp).
In May 2004, after forty-five years of hosting two races in NASCAR's major circuit, it was announced that Darlington Raceway had lost one of its dates, when NASCAR took races from Darlington and the only date from North Carolina Speedway in Rockingham, North Carolina, and gave them to tracks in Texas and Arizona as part of a lawsuit settlement (Beard pp). The 2005 Nextel Cup schedule will no longer include North Carolina Speedway, known as "The Rock" and Darlington Raceway in South Carolina, stock car racing's original super-speedway, will have only one race (Beard pp). Although, The Rock had held two races in NASCAR's elite series every year from 1966-2003, NASCAR decided it needed to move3 out of saturated markets and into major markets (Beard pp). Battles over Cup dates became common as speedway construction boomed in the 1990's, when the sport set attendance records and began to change its image from a Southeaster sport, with new tracks near Los Angeles, Chicago, Kansas City, Las Vegas, Miami, and Dallas (Beard pp). NASCAR president Brian France said that the latest changes are "another example of us increasing our visibility in an area of the country that is truly a hotbed for NASCAR fans" (Beard pp).
Sterling Marlin said, "There just wasn't any TV coverage of the Southern tracks. At one time there were four Cup drivers from Alabama and now there aren't any. There aren't any from South Carolina, and just Bill Elliot from Georgia" (Minter pp). Moreover, without any strong short-track series, "I don't know where a Southern driver is going to come from," said Marlin (Minter pp). Ed Clark, Atlanta Motor Speedway president, said he wishes there were more drivers like Marlin, saying, "We need more guys from the South, and from Georgia, out of that same mold" Minter pp). Clark said that Marlin's fun-loving attitude is good for racing, "Sterling still like to have a good time, which is something some of these drivers today don't seem to want, and he's not ashamed of it" (Minter pp).
Once upon a time, Richard Petty lingered after stock-car races, signing autographs until every fan that wanted one was satisfied, because he knew he was more than a champion driver, he was NASCAR's ambassador (Long pp). Today, however, NASCAR's only living seven-time champion rushes through, signing as many autographs as he can, yet knowing he will never reach the end of the line (Long pp). In 1971, NASCAR did not enjoy its current widespread popularity, when Winston was its premier sponsor and Petty raced before small grandstands in North Wilkesboro, Nashville and Winston-Salem, and signed autographs for all who asked (Long pp). However, in 2004, Nextel's chirping cell phones replaced Winston cigarettes as the series sponsor, and drivers are now racing at speedways near Los Angeles, Chicago and Miami, evidence that NASCAR is ushering in a new era (Long pp).
In 1971, spectators were nearly all male, today, about forty percent of fans are female, and racing souvenirs, once limited to T-shirts and ball caps, now include mouse pads, candles and die-cast cars, and even Disney has partnered with NASCAR to sell apparel and novelties that feature Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck (Long pp). NASCAR ranks No. 2 in TV ratings behind the NFL, and its TV contract is worth about $2.4 billion (Long pp). In 2003, seventeen of the 20 largest single day sports crowds nationally were Cup races, and the series claims 75 million fans (Long pp).
As NASCAR races forward, many fans fear the sport has forgotten its roots amid the myriad of changes that includes a new approach by a new leader, a radical new points system, a new series sponsor and even a Japanese-based auto manufacturer competing in one on NASCAR's top series for the first time in 2004 (Long pp). However, change is the price of success, and wherein NASCAR was once a mere sport, it is now an entertainment industry with more marketing people than crew chiefs and more television crew members than many race teams employ, all intent to make the sport more appealing in order to entice more fans to watch and spend more money (Long pp).
Brian France says he is taking NASCAR in a new direction:
Nextel is the new series sponsor.
Sunoco is the new fuel supplier.
Toyota makes its debut in the Craftsman Truck series.
NASCAR is backing a driver diversity program.
The Cup series has a new points system.
Racing back to the caution is banned.
Energy-absorbing barriers are going up at more tracks.
New rules have been designed in an effort to create better racing.
Goodyear even has a new tire compound.
Dean Bonham, chairman and CEO of The Bonham Group, a Denver-based sports marketing firm, believes NASCAR has been slow to change, but is now "becoming creative, innovative and bold all at the same time" (Long pp). Says Dean, "I think the end result is going to be positive for them, but I think the jury is still out on this change in the points system" (Long pp).
The new points system, which determines the champion based on the season's final 10 races, is a concern for many fans and competitors who liked the old setup in which all 36 races factored into the championship, even though the title was clinched before the final race in five of the last six years (Long pp). Many believe that the lack of drama will not help NASCAR draw more fans nor keep the ones that it has, thus, the new points system is merely a gimmicky plan that determines its champion in a way no other major form of racing has ever done (Long pp). Jeff Gordon, four-time series champion, says, "It's an entertainment-based system ... I think there's a balance between competition and entertainment. To me this flip-flopped it a little bit toward the entertainment side" (Long pp).
Brett Yormark, NASCAR vice president of corporate marketing, says, "When you think about Toyota, you think about Nextel, you think about realignment, those are all ways in which we've instituted in hopes of growing the fan base" (Long pp). Yormark claims NASCAR is very happy to be No.2 in TV ratings, and have their sights on No.1 (Long pp). Speculation is that NASCAR will continue to realign the schedule, especially in the final 10 races of the season (Long pp). International Speedway Corporation officials say there are plans to build a track in the Pacific Northwest, either in the Seattle or Portland area, and the New York area also remains a coveted site for a track (Long pp).
Nextel's president and CEO, Tim Donahue, vows, "We're going to heighten the awareness of the fans" (Long pp). Donahue, whose company purchased sponsorship rights for about $750 million over 10 years, estimates that 5% of NASCAR fans have Nextel phones (Long pp). While Nextel attempts to reach consumers, making NASCAR stronger can only help, by enticing more companies to become involved (Long pp). Donahue says that Nextel intends to use the NASCAR venues as a place where they can take their business customers and introduce them to the sport, and believes that they are going to become instant fans (Long pp).
After forty years of racing, Petty offers advice and a warning to fans and NASCAR, saying,
"If we hadn't changed our traditions, if we hadn't done anything to go forward, moving tracks, moving races and stuff, we'd still be running over at the Charlotte Fairgrounds. Tradition is great to build a base, but you never want to get too far away from tradition that you can't go back. ... You're still kin to it"
Roger Penske, car owner for Rusty Wallace and Ryan Newman, says, "NASCAR has brought us to where we are today, and I think we need to follow them" (Long pp).
If anyone doubts that NASCAR is moving away from its roots, it has been reported that France is looking to expand NASCAR's…