NASCAR: Checkered Flags Are Not All That Are Being Waved

By Lee, Jason W.; Bernthal, Matthew J. et al. | Sport Marketing Quarterly, September 2010 | Go to article overview

NASCAR: Checkered Flags Are Not All That Are Being Waved


Lee, Jason W., Bernthal, Matthew J., Whisenant, Warren A., Mullane, Susan, Sport Marketing Quarterly


Introduction

The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) is a powerful force in the world of sport. Each year, fans flock to race tracks across the country to witness the thunderous sounds and incredible sight of cars racing at speeds often in excess of 180 miles per hour. It is a sport that has experienced phenomenal growth since its inception in 1947. While NASCAR was born in the Southeastern United States and has a uniquely Southern history, it now has tracks all across the country. However, it is a sport that for a number of reasons retains a stereotype as a "redneck," "good ol' boy," Southern sport, a stereotype that could hamper its ability to attract new, more demographically diverse fans, as well as some sponsors.

At a typical NASCAR race, Confederate flags are a familiar sight. The flag can be seen hanging from flagpoles on campers in the infield, flying at fan tailgates in the parking lots, adorned on spectator clothing, and even displayed on private property as one drives to the track. The flag is present not only at Southern tracks, but at tracks across the country. The purpose of this case is to assess how NASCAR's brand image is affected by its perceived connection to this powerful symbol. The presence of the Confederate flag at NASCAR races leads to a number of important questions. In what specific ways does the presence of the flag affect NASCAR's brand image? How, if at all, can the presence of the flag limit NASCAR's business potential? What are the ethical considerations surrounding the presence of the flag? It is to these questions that this case is addressed.

NASCAR's Success

Under the control and guidance of Bill France Sr., NASCAR was established as the sanctioning body for stock-car racing in December of 1947, and the first sanctioned race took place along the beach in Daytona, Florida the next year ("History of NASCAR," 2010). Since its inception, NASCAR has experienced substantial expansion with regard to fan attendance, media coverage, and sponsorship. A testament to this is that by the 1990s, on-site attendance grew by 80%, increasing to approximately 9.3 million attendees from 1993 to 1998 ("History of NASCAR," 2010). NASCAR now has three national racing series (The Sprint Cup, The Nationwide Series, and the Camping World Truck Series), along with a number of regional series and even one series in Mexico. Races in these series are watched by millions of fans.

Throughout most of its existence, NASCAR has been largely a Southern sport. Though NASCAR has had and still maintains a strong presence in this region, NASCAR is by no means exclusively a Southern sport. It has migrated and thrived outside of the South. While in the 1960s and 1970s, 75% of NASCAR tracks were located in the South (Hurt, 2005), by 2008, only 42% of NASCAR tracks were located in Southern states ("Tracks," 2008). NASCAR races are held on tracks in states such as Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Delaware, California, Indiana, Nevada, Michigan, New Hampshire, Arizona, and Pennsylvania. Racetrack locations are not the only things that seem to have migrated away from the South as NASCAR has embarked on its expansion from a regional to national sport. Hurt (2005) noted that the geographic diversity of driver hometowns has also increased. No longer are 70% of the top drivers from North and South Carolina, as they were in the 1964 season (Mueller, 2008). This can be seen in the presence of immensely popular drivers such as Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, and a host of others who were born and raised outside of the South.

Marketers are clearly latching on to NASCAR's popularity for financial benefit (Amato, Peters, & Shao, 2005; Giangola & O'Connell, 2007). As Wetzel (2006) notes, "NASCAR remains highly popular. It still gets sizable television numbers that all but the NFL would kill for. The circuit is still awash in sponsorship and endorsement money and continues to attract the best drivers from other racing leagues" (para. …

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