THE PUBLICIST: NASCAR's wide-reaching PR efforts achieve divine results

Lingerie. Cell phones. Candy...products heretofore not affiliated with "good 'ol boy" stock-car racing. But this is not your dad's NASCAR. Once the dominion of cigarette and beer companies, stock-car racing is widening its appeal to previously untapped markets.

Lingerie. Cell phones. Candy...products heretofore not affiliated with "good 'ol boy" stock-car racing. But this is not your dad's NASCAR. Once the dominion of cigarette and beer companies, stock-car racing is widening its appeal to previously untapped markets.

"Forty percent of stock-car fans are women," says NASCAR corporate PR director Andrew Giangola. "For the first time, we're reaching out to them through previously overlooked media outlets such as women's magazines and programs like Oprah." Brand loyalty is why male race fans are sports marketing's most coveted audience, and NASCAR hopes to engender that same devotion among female enthusiasts. The organization is also reaching out to minorities through its newly formed diversity council, which sponsors urban youth racing schools and grants scholarships to ethnic universities. Though I saw few black faces in the crowd at the recent Daytona 500, I did see one African-American driver, Bill Lester, in the wild Friday night truck race. NASCAR is determined to add drivers and fans of color to a sport which has exploded in popularity over the past three years, thanks to TV exposure and PR. This rising star power (not to mention Ben Affleck's presence) lured entertainment outlets like Access Hollywood, People, and Us Weekly to this year's Daytona races, along with film director Simon Wincer, whose new Imax feature about stock-car racing premieres March 12. Another Hollywood connection to this year's race was Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, which sponsored one of the cars. Paul Lauer, the production company's marketing director, told me the partnership came about after the film's Dallas screening several months ago captured the eye of CEO Norm Miller, veteran racecar sponsor and Christian film backer. "The spectators here are an appropriate target audience, but this is a film with a universal message that offers a very powerful, emotional movie-going experience, regardless of religious affiliation," says Lauer. The film's star, Jim Caviezel, posed for photos with the aforementioned Affleck at a pre-race press conference, prompting one sportswriter to quip, "The guy who played Jesus and the guy who thinks he's God." Perhaps in another nod to divinity, the race was won by Dale Earnhardt Jr., whose revered father was killed competing at Daytona three years ago.
  • Lawrence Mitchell Garrison is an LA-based freelance publicist and writer

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