By Rick Horrow and Karla Swatek
May 25, 2012
If Daytona International Speedway represents NASCAR’s heart, it’s likely that the sanctioning body’s cranium lies 473 miles to the north in Charlotte, NC.
Motorsports, according to a study by the Charlotte Regional Partnership, is a $6 billion dollar industry in North Carolina, one that’s generated close to 20,000 jobs. The majority of all NASCAR teams call the dozen counties comprising the Partnership home, not to mention NASCAR’s research and development lab, its Hall of Fame, vendors including fabricators, event planners, and graphics design shops, and Charlotte Motor Speedway (CMS), which boasts, among other amenities, the largest HDTV in the world.
While it’s not beamed up on CMS’ mesmerizing 200-foot-wide, 80-foot tall HD screen, the region’s motorsports business acumen is never as on display as it is during the Speedweeks leading up to Saturday’s Coca-Cola 600. This event, bundled with last weekend’s Sprint All-Star race, serves as NASCAR’s de facto annual industry conference.
It’s also a Memorial Day Mecca for the hundreds of thousands of motorsports fans who are spending their discretionary dollars in North Carolina instead of Indiana, attending the Indy 500. (Like those fans, former IndyCar stars such as Danica Patrick and Juan Pablo Montoya have bolted to Charlotte and a full-time NASCAR commitment as well.)
“Charlotte’s like a convention for the sport, with business executives on site to develop the foundation to get business deals done. This is our ‘All-Star game,’” says Steve Phelps, NASCAR chief marketing officer. About 90% of all the companies invested in NASCAR through teams, tracks, or NASCAR itself will have one of their top three executives present during the week leading up to the Coke 600. Additionally, many other VIP guests are in Charlotte on behalf of NASCAR teams, because the teams can easily engage them with fan days, show off their cutting-edge shops, and entertain at one of NASCAR’s most hospitality-savvy venues.
CMS this year unveiled a series of six elevated, open-air pit road VIP suites that hold 15 guests, go for $45,000 annually and are sold out for Speedweeks events (the first buyer of a Pit Road VIP Box reportedly was Jr. Motorsports, owned by Dale Earnhardt, Jr., who claimed it for the sole purpose of client/sponsor entertainment at Charlotte). In the infield, the track boasts the upscale new Champions Pavilion, 12,000 s.f. of indoor/rooftop entertainment space holding up to 300 guests. The new hospitality digs are part of the surge in corporate spending for Speedweeks: according to NASCAR, corporate display revenue for onsite activation is up 21%, and ad/signage sales are up 28% over last year.
“With Memorial Day kicking off the summer season for so many brands, the Coca-Cola 600 is a natural national sporting event to launch new campaigns,” says Marcus Smith, CMS president and general manager. “The speedway has an unmatched variety of entertainment, hospitality, and display options that appeal to a variety of companies. From trackside motor home hospitality to pit road VIP suites and luxury seating in our new Champion’s Pavilion, we’ve got unique opportunities that marketers from across the country are taking advantage of.”
"The race schedule presented by NASCAR and the Charlotte Motor Speedway with the Sprint All-Star and Coca-Cola 600 races on consecutive weekends was instrumental in providing a unique opportunity to Toyota’s decision to conduct the media reveal of its 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Camry at its TRD, USA (Toyota Racing Development) facility located in close proximity to the speedway,” adds Les Unger, Toyota national motorsports manager. Toyota also took advantage of the opportunity to announce that three NASCAR teams – Joe Gibbs Racing, JTG Daugherty Racing, and Michael Waltrip Racing -- will remain Toyota organizations, with new contracts extending at least through 2014.
The business buzz around CMS gives an economic boost to the region as well. Past studies by the North Carolina Motorsports Association estimate the economic impact of NASCAR’s Sprint All-Star Race and Coca-Cola 600 Speedweeks at $230 million. The Cabarrus (County) Regional Chamber of Commerce, moreover, reports that each one of CMS’ three annual Sprint Cup races puts $100 million into the local economy. During the Coke 600 week alone, for example, an estimated 20,000 campers gather on the CMS grounds.
The Coke 600 is also a perfect time for NASCAR to promote new philanthropic initiatives. Billed as the world’s largest Memorial Day Weekend celebration, the Coca-Cola 600 kicks off the first at-track activation of “NASCAR Unites – An American Salute,” a six-week patriotic initiative uniting the NASCAR industry and fans this summer to celebrate America and support U.S. military families. The weekend’s festivities include a patriotic pre-race military salute and special USO race invitations. (Ironic, indeed, as Congress is set to vote on a bill that could strike such expenditures as the U.S. Army’s sponsorship of Ryan Newman’s Stewart-Haas Racing car from the U.S. military budget.)
NASCAR also just announced that it will become the first motorsports organization to align with Beyond Sport, a global organization that promotes using sport to create positive social change.
Through Beyond Sport, NASCAR joins a movement led by a network of leagues including the NFL, MLS, NBA, WNBA, NHL, and MLB that allows it to exchange best practices on community involvement, and to promote the numerous efforts of drivers, race teams, track operators, and others within the industry to improve people’s lives. It also provides NASCAR the opportunity to highlight the initiatives of the NASCAR Foundation, NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity, and NASCAR Green while networking with leagues and their partners around the world.