by Meridith Levinson

Nascar and Information Technology: How Nascar Became Cool

Feb 01, 20063 mins
IT Leadership

It’s chic to be a redneck.

Our president, born with blood of purest American blue, pronounces nuclear “new-kew-lur” and wears blue jeans and what cowboys call “manly footwear”—that is, boots. And one of the most popular comedians in America today is Jeff Foxworthy, whose claim to fame is his “You know you’re a redneck if….” jokes.

Everyone thinks he can do it.

You don’t need to be 7 feet tall, have only 2 percent body fat (just look at 2005 Nextel Cup winner Tony Stewart for evidence of that) or possess a killer arm to put the pedal to the metal. Everyone can drive fast, so it’s easy to imagine yourself on the track. Where, of course, you would get killed.

Men love fast cars.

David Smithey, CEO of TradePortal, a startup company that develops software for the securities trading industry, decided that sponsoring a car, which costs roughly $300,000 a race, would be the best way to kick off his company’s marketing efforts. He notes that he’s met many of Wall Street’s most powerful elite at the races, and they’re all just dying to get behind the wheel of one of those hopped-up stock cars.

Women love fast men.

Men who drive fast cars are exciting, and Nascar drivers are also surprisingly good-looking. (Hello Dale Jr.! Are you reading this?!) Forty percent of Nascar’s 75 million fans are women. Had Sex & The City lasted another few seasons, Carrie and company doubtless would have been hanging out at Watkins Glen International Speedway.

The rules have changed.

It used to be that at the end of Nascar’s racing season, whoever had the most points was declared champion. But in 2004, Nascar changed the rules. The top 10 drivers, based on the number of points accumulated during the first 26 races, plus any others within 400 points of the leader, qualified to compete in 10 final races to determine the Nextel Cup champion. Going into those 10 races, drivers’ point totals are adjusted around the lead driver, who then begins the “Chase for the Nextel Cup” with 5,050 points. So if Tony Stewart were in the lead with 5,050 points, the driver in second place would automatically get 5,045 points, even if he were in fact 20 points behind Stewart leading up to the Chase. Incremental five point drops continue through the list of contenders. It may not be fair, and it may make many drivers and longtime fans irate, but the change makes the last races of the season far more compelling for television viewers. (Indeed, it’s been so successful, that the PGA tour is adopting a similar formula.)

The tracks changed.

To attract fans in new markets, Nascar closed down some historic tracks, like Darlington International Raceway (the sport’s first paved super-speedway) in South Carolina and built new tracks capable of seating hundreds of thousands of fans in Illinois, Phoenix and Texas.

It’s gone upscale.

Even though Nascar’s good ol’ boy unpretentiousness is what attracts a lot of nontraditional fans wishing to get in touch with their inner redneck, Nascar has been making a concerted effort to disassociate itself from that image. To that end, Nascar has raised the price of tickets, discouraging its old, hard-scrabble fan base from attending, and has introduced luxury boxes at tracks. It is also offering helicopter flights to tracks for the super rich who can afford it. (Cost of helicopter rental: $3,300 a day. Impression it makes on friends and clients: priceless.)