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NASCAR Brand Growing in the Offseason

Source: Jefferson George, Charlotte Observer  

January 16, 2008

Even in its offseason, NASCAR never rests in spreading its brand around the Charlotte region.

Friday morning, The NASCAR Shop will open at the Charlotte airport, offering millions of travelers the chance to buy official NASCAR merchandise before, after or between flights.

Saturday night, the Charlotte Bobcats will host NASCAR Night, with players wearing racing-themed jerseys and fans getting a chance to win collectible Bobcats diecast race cars.

Those are just two ways in which the nation's most popular racing association has tried to keep interest high -- and fans buying merchandise -- in the weeks leading up to the start of the 2008 season next month in Daytona Beach, Fla.

"It's really a year-long venture," said Tom Sullivan, NASCAR's manager of business communications.

More than $2 billion in NASCAR merchandise is sold each year -- less than the NFL's more than $3 billion but still a significant amount of spending by race fans.

Although the ribbon cutting is Friday, the seed for the airport store was planted years ago.

Charlotte/Douglas International Airport regularly works with HMSHost, a Maryland-based concessions company, on ways to include local themes in airport concessions, said Haley Gentry, an airport spokeswoman. The airport gets a percentage of vendor sales.

After Charlotte was named as the site of the NASCAR Hall of Fame, she said, the idea of a NASCAR store gained steam. There's also a historical connection: The first NASCAR race was held in 1949 off Little Rock Road -- "practically on airport property," Gentry said.

"This was a natural fit," she said.

The 723-square-foot store is in the former Travelers Treasures in the airport atrium, near the food court. "We expect to see a lot of traffic through that area," Sullivan said. "This is kind of a perfect connection for (travelers) when they land."

At the Charlotte Bobcats Arena, the NBA team will hold its second NASCAR Night during Saturday's game against the Memphis Grizzlies. Along with the jerseys and diecast cars, fans will get a look at the 2007 Nextel Cup trophy, full-size race cars, a handful of drivers -- including Denny Hamlin -- and Chad Knaus, the crew chief for Jimmie Johnson.

Last year's event drew almost 13,000 people but didn't include a trophy presentation, said Cindy Carrasquilla, a spokeswoman for Bobcats Sports and Entertainment.

Another change this year, she said, is that the team's racing-themed jerseys will be sold during a silent auction, with money going to the Bobcats Youth Foundation.

Basketball and racing may not seem a natural fit, but Sullivan said NASCAR Night allows the organizations to share fans.

By doing that, he said, the Bobcats and NASCAR each could win new fans from the other's core group, although Sullivan didn't know of any measurement to see if that happened last year.

While the 2007 event was in March -- after the racing season started -- Saturday's NASCAR Night will be a prelude to this year's Daytona 500, which kicks off the Sprint Cup season Feb. 17.

"This kind of event," Sullivan said, "says that in a couple of more weeks, we'll be back in action."