Welcome to our blog. We are professors of management (and NASCAR fans) who teach a course on the business of NASCAR at Virginia Commonwealth University. We will post regularly on the business issues of NASCAR during the season and will include posts from our students. We invite comments. Dr. Jon Ackley and Dr. Michael Pitts
There is a negative stereotype that circles the world of NASCAR. It is sometimes hard to get people to break their stubbornness and watch a NASCAR race. I feel that there are still many people who do not have the desire to experience what NASCAR has to offer to the sports world. I recently had a conversation with one of my co-workers. I was discussing with her my enrollment in the Business of NASCAR class and she was stunned but also somewhat bothered by the fact that there is a class offered on NASCAR. The questions she presented were “What is so great about NASCAR that they would go as far as to have a class about it? What is the point? It is a boring thing to watch and is not a sport at all.” To the defense of the sport, I generously shared with her the information obtained from class.
What she learned from our discussion made her think that just maybe there is more to NASCAR then 43 cars driving fast in circles. There is an actual business behind the sport. She seemed to become curious about other aspects of NASCAR, which leads me to the reason of the need for NASCAR education for people that have no knowledge of the sport. I think that not only would that be a great way to grow the interest in the sport, but also the viewership, sponsorships and the overall excitement of the sport itself. I talked to one person and answered her questions and left a positive impression on her; imagine what could happen if everyone had that same opportunity that she had to learn about NASCAR. RP
Elaborating on a discussion of the concession stands at NASCAR, it’s no surprise in this financially driven society that the number of merchandise options, both physical and virtual, are available to the multitude of NASCAR enthusiasts that represent likely the most diverse fan base in all of professional sports.
Possibly my favorite aspect of the NASCAR.com store was the custom shop page, a truly genius idea in my eyes. In this part of the website a fan, regardless of affiliation or level of NASCAR intensity, can select from many different types of clothing and outerwear as well as use numerous combinations of designs specific to NASCAR or its drivers. A wrinkle in the options that really benefits NASCAR is an extensive version of something I have seen in other similar sites, be they Greek school organizations or sports teams or anything similar. Each piece of merchandise, especially basic clothing, has not only the two basic sides (front and back) available for screen printing, but five possible positions: front, back, both sleeves, and an extra area at the top of the back for an optional driver’s signature or nameplate to make the shirt or sweat shirt that much more authentic. This personalizing comes with an extra $5 charge, a perfectly reasonable cost for “genuineness”. While most major sports’ websites do have the side sleeve option, the personal aspect of NASCAR’s edition – autographs, actual driver pictures – enables NASCAR to cater to that many more fans. Speaking specifically fiscally, the occurrence of more numerous merchandise options translates directly to a higher profit margin. The age old equation applies: More people, more money; more money, more fun.
It all comes back to business appeal and profitability, and while the NASCAR.com site cannot provide the atmosphere of a real NASCAR race, it does a great job of providing as extensive a selection of any particular brand of merchandise I’ve seen. The ability to cater to all types, shapes, and sizes really gives NASCAR a great deal of flexibility in the sales department. What other store offers grill covers, binoculars, cooler cushions, and satellite dish covers all with your favorite drivers’ name and number on it, and even some with the ability to be personalized further? The every-man nature of NASCAR’s business plan is really one to latch on to, and something I believe will continue to remain successful – as long as the gas doesn’t run out. DO
Diversity is one of the biggest issues facing NASCAR today. The sport is seen as a predominately white American sport, but I believe it is starting to change for the better. There are many different diversity programs in many areas that people rarely hear about. Some teams like Joe Gibbs Racing even have their own diversity programs. NASCAR itself has a diversity internship program that provides twelve internships for minorities and women in everything from business to engineering to technical positions. NASCAR’s primary diversity program is the Drive for Diversity. Drive for Diversity is the industry’s leading development program for minority and female drivers and crew members. The Drive for Diversity program currently supports drivers in two of NASCAR’s developmental series. Drive for Diversity also supports crew member candidates through a year-long pit crew training program. NASCAR more recently aired a show on BET, Changing Lanes. I tuned in and watched a couple episodes and was entirely impressed. It really tells a great story about these young drivers and what they really have to go through to compete at the highest levels of stock-car racing. Through the efforts of the sanctioning body and select teams, diversity is a word that is finally getting the attention it deserves in NASCAR. RI
If Jimmie Johnson and Danica Patrick were walking down the street, who would be more recognized? Personally, I have the slightest idea what Jimmie Johnson looks like but I know I could easily point out Danica Patrick in a sea of people. Although her racing accolades pale in comparison to Jimmie Johnson’s, her face is known by millions of non-NASCAR fans worldwide primarily due to her appearances in several television commercials and print advertisements. Why is Patrick so popular? Is it because she is a woman? Is it because she is an attractive woman? Or is it because she has the potential to be one of the most successful drivers in the NASCAR Universe? No matter what the true answer is, executives in the business world have recognized her ability to sell tickets and increase TV viewership and are trying to cash in.
Recently, Danica announced that she will be participating in the 2011 Nationwide series; however, she is only contracted for half of the races. Is this a sign that her team, JR Motorsports, is merely testing the waters or just teasing their male fans? It is unclear how helpful Danica Patrick will be to the sport of NASCAR. Some experts say that she is purely a showboat designed to bring in money and others claim that she is the real deal who is ready to win races and break records. It will be interesting to see how the world reacts to the addition of Danica to the Nationwide races. We can assume she will make money for the sport in the short run; however, NASCAR should be looking ahead to the future and hoping that Patrick will be the gal who wins races and breaks records. While her physical appearance will initially bring in viewers, once her luster wears off only her talent will be able to save her in the end. TD
As I sat in a corporate suite at Richmond International Raceway during a memorable weekend, I was thankful for another opportunity to experience “The Suite Life.” My mother’s employer has been a sponsor of NASCAR for years, as a way to network with their employees and clients.
The suite is located on the third floor of a glass building that sits just behind the start/finish line at RIR. It features TV’s with live race coverage, a bar area with plenty of food and beverages and comfortable seating for about 65 guests. A satellite radio allowed me to tune into a specific driver of my choice throughout the race. The front wall of the suite is smoked glass, affording a great view of the track. Pit passes are also available. The pits are less than a hundred feet away. Many of the pits are within easy viewing. Directly in front of the suite is victory lane. Although my favorite driver didn’t participate in that Friday’s race, Carl Edwards, #33 won the race. Once you experience NASCAR life in a suite, you won’t want to experience it no other way! AS
Have officials in NASCAR become too tough on drivers and car specifications? If you were to ask Clint Bowyer, I’m sure he would say absolutely. After his win in New Hampshire, Clint Bowyer thought he was one step closer to his first Sprint Cup championship, but during a post race inspection at the NASCAR Research and Development Center, officials found that the backend of the car did not meet regulations. Instead of being second in points after the win, Bowyer was docked 150 points and wound up in twelfth. Bowyer and owner Richard Childress had been warned about issues with the rear of the car after the Richmond race, but no further action was taken until his win at New Hampshire. Bowyer was certain that the car was legal before the race and thinks it must have been damaged when the car was pushed into the winner’s circle or during the cool down lap after the race, according to ESPN.
It seems that the officials should consider the damage that happens to the cars during a race. With bump drafting rules being lightened, cars are receiving more damage than the past few years. I think that if NASCAR wants to add more excitement by allowing more bumping and banging around, it should adjust the rules and templates to match. I think that if NASCAR is worried about car tolerances and specifications, it should do more pre-race inspections. While this may not be feasible, it would add more to the fairness of the current rules. It would also alleviate the issue of cars not meeting specifications after receiving damage during or after a race. TL
Through the first part of the semester we have come to realize that sponsorship is integral to the efficient operation of any major NASCAR team. The movement of sponsors and drivers from team to team is called “silly season” within the sport and liken to free agency in others sports; when sponsors and drivers change teams it becomes big news. We’ve seen this all season with the announcements of many heavy hitting corporate sponsors leaving teams that they have been associated with for years. When DuPont, the long time sponsor of Jeff Gordon, announced that it would no longer sponsor the number 24 in Sprint Cup, questions were raised about whether Gordon would return to the sport or call it a career. When these sponsors decide to take their money elsewhere or leave the sport altogether, it leaves teams searching for anyone who will pick up the tab for the next season and beyond. NASCAR is a multi-million dollar sport, both in earnings and expense, so when a company such as Budweiser leaves Richard Petty Motorsports, it leaves some teams thinking if they will be able to field their team the next season.
So much of this sport is linked to corporate money and the ability to sell your image to highest possible bidder. As it was stated on the first day of class, NASCAR is one day of racing and six days of business. If you are unable to attract the big bucks during the week, you have a hard time keeping up on the track on Sunday. MP
First some background, young Shane Hmiel began his NASCAR career in what was then known as the Goody’s Dash Series, where he won rookie of the year honors in 2001. In 2002 he joined what is now known as the Nationwide Series, there he impressed many of his fellow competitors and showed great promise in his future and for the sport. However in 2003 Shane hit the first of his many future road blocks. In September of 2003 he was suspended from NASCAR following a drug test in which he tested positive for marijuana use. After following NASCAR’s demands he was reinstated in January of 2004. The 2005 season showed a lot of promise for Shane, he had rides in all three of NASCAR’s top touring series (Nextel, Busch, and Craftsman Truck). His efforts were mainly concentrated in the Busch Series where Shane was driving for Braun Racing’s #32. Shane was known for his aggressive driving style which seemed to be out in force in a now infamously documented (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zXH_dSO-Hn0) incident between himself and Winston Cup champion Dale Jarrett during a Busch series race at Bristol in which Hmeil wrecked Jarrett. The end result of this incident was Shane being fined $10,000 and being docked 25 drivers points for his gesture towards Jarrett (which as seen in the link was caught on television). It wasn’t long after this incident in 2005 that Shane had once again tested positively for marijuana and cocaine and as a result was suspended indefinitely in May of 2005. He was offered an opportunity to be reinstated but failed another drug test during this process and was banned for life from NASCAR.
After that, everyone pretty much thought it was the end of Shane Hmiel and his racing career. However, Shane never gave up; in fact today he races in the United States Auto Club (USAC) in all three of its national divisions (Silver Crown, Sprint Car, and Midget Series). He has been on a personal mission to redeem himself, and was well on his way to a successful open wheel career. In a July 2010 television appearance on “Wind Tunnel”, hosted by well-known auto racing journalist Dave Despain, Hmiel stated that his ban was “the best thing that’s happened” for him. Sadly Shane’s road to redemption has hit yet another major roadblock. On October 9, 2010 Shane was involved in a serious accident while qualifying a USAC Sprint Car; the roll cage of his vehicle collapsed on top of him after he hit the wall. It was last reported that he suffered two compression fractures in his neck and two in his back and as of this blog post is still in a medically induced coma but in stable condition and expected to survive. His mother has created a Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Shane-Hmiel-Road-to-Recovery/156856564346848) in order for fans and well wishers to keep track of his progress. I along with many others hope that this accident is only a minor setback for Shane; he’s been through a lot (granted most of his own doing) but he has since proven that he has changed for the better. I’m sure once he fully recovers it won’t be long before we see Shane competing in the IZOD Indy Car Series. GA
In a time when NASCAR is diligently fighting against the image of stock car racing as a “redneck” sport, the airing of South Park episode “Poor and Stupid” may set it back. The episode portrays a young boy (Eric Cartman) as wanting to race in NASCAR but he feels that he is not poor or stupid enough to compete. South Park has been making parodies for many years about popular events, sports, and people, but at a time when NASCAR is struggling to keep viewership and fan levels high, is this parody going to have a negative effect on the sport?
In the episode Cartman and his pit boss, Butters, portray themselves as stereotypical “rednecks”, using racist language, anti-gay phrases, and anti-Obama remarks. This is the image that NASCAR has been trying to escape as it continues to push for diversity in the sport. I believe that most people who have an understanding of NASCAR as a sport will not be fooled by the negative persona South Park gives to the fans and drivers, but others may not view the episode as being too far removed from the truth. This could create a problem for NASCAR as it reachs out to different venues for new fans who already perceive the sport in a stereotypical way.
Beyond what is being said in the episode, the actual images of the fans are also stereotypical; the infield is littered with confederate flags and a fan wears a shirt that says, “Big Doggy.”
A few drivers have commented on the episode, and do not feel that it will have a negative impact on the sport. In fact, there is a consensus that any publicity is good publicity for NASCAR. Let’s hope that these drivers are right and the episode will not further hinder NASCAR viewership, because as we all know the sport is far from “Poor and Stupid” as the second most watched sport in America. TQ
NASCAR doesn’t seem like it would be a very popular sport to many people, but it is. The NFL and MLB have not been lacking in viewership and attendance but recently NASCAR has seen a drop in viewership and attendance. Why is this? What is the cause for people not wanting to see the second most popular sport in America? Is NASCAR really losing fans or are the fans just not caring as much?
I think NASCAR TV viewership has decreased for two main reasons. The first reason is due to the fact that more popular drivers are not racing as well as they did in the past. Dale Earnhardt Jr., Tony Stewart, Mark Martin, and Jeff Gordon are some of the drivers I grew up watching and who always seemed to win. Although these drivers are still winning, they are not exactly at the top of the list as they were in the past. Drivers such as Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson, and Kevin Harvick are beginning to climb the ladder. This change has actually caused me to stop watching the races. The second reason, which I believe is the more important, is due to the economy. The economy is down, people are losing jobs, people are trying to find jobs, and no one wants to spend a lot of money. One would think people would sit down and watch TV since they are not working, but it seems like they are doing the opposite. Even though people may not have a heavy budget, they seem to spend time doing things they didn’t have the time to do when they were working. Instead of watching TV, like a NASCAR race, people are out cleaning up the yard or straightening out the garage. They still may be huge fans, but the significance of watching the race has been overturned by something of greater importance. BW