By Rick Horrow and Karla Swatek
Racing Ahead: NASCAR at the 2014 Green Flag
On Monday, with the Daytona 500 in the books, International Speedway Corp. (ISC) and Daytona International Speedway can take down the banners, close up the garages, and resume a transcendent $400 million renovation of the racetrack. The project, dubbed Daytona Rising, includes expanding the track’s grandstand, widening the concourses, and adding concession stands, all in an effort to enhance the fan experience at races.
The upgrades also are expected to boost parent company ISC’s annual revenue at the track by $20 million.
Outside of the fabled Daytona grounds, NASCAR’s biggest boost to the fan experience is undoubtedly the latest set of sweeping changes to its points system and season-ending Chase for the Sprint Cup format. The new scheme introduced this season expand the Chase field from 12 drivers to 16, eliminates drivers in three-race increments, and provides a nice leg up for winning a race – “Win, and you’re In.”
Admittedly, NASCAR has been criticized for tweaking its cars and its format almost every season – drivers and fans alike have to work really hard just to keep up. But NASCAR CEO Brian France is confident that the latest slate of changes will finally provide the racing circuit with the true playoff scenario it was after when it added the fall Chase a decade ago.
“Auto racing always has to have a heavy dose of consistency because, after all, there can only be one winner and 43 teams are out there,” France told the Charlotte Observer. “But we got out of balance with that. We watched over and over again drivers get out of their car and say, ‘Well, our eighth-place finish was great for me and all that stuff. And they were not taking risks. They were not going for it at times when they arguably should have because there was no incentive to do that.
“This is going to change that dramatically.”
Trackside excitement is good for fans, NASCAR’s media partners, and track and race team sponsors alike – and judging from all the new deals signed in the off-season, NASCAR’s business partners aren’t shying away from the sanctioning body and its new race format in the slightest.
On the eve of the Daytona 500, Toyota signed a deal to become the first of four founding sponsors of the renovated track. With significant progress being made on Daytona International Speedway’s renovation, Toyota wanted to be the first founding partner in order to have a say in the entryway’s design.
According to SportsBusiness Daily, Daytona and ISC officials first pitched Toyota on the 11-year, $6-7 million annual per sponsorship deal in November 2012. Per the agreement, Toyota receives video signage on the track’s exterior entrance and Toyota branding and cars throughout the facility.
Earlier this week, NASCAR and snack company Mondelez announced a three-year extension of their sponsorship deal. The extension will designate Mondelez brands Oreo, Nilla Wafers and Nutter Butter as the sanctioning body’s official cookies, and Ritz and Wheat Thins as its official crackers. Mondelez, which comprises brand from the former Kraft Foods, will continue to create NASCAR-themed Oreo and Ritz packaging for a Nabisco “Snack & Go” consumer sweepstakes in which fans can enter to win a VIP race experience.
Lending institutions have helped many a consumer and/or business out of a tight spot, and this week, you can add “race team” to that list. On Wednesday, Lending Tree announced that it would become the primary sponsor for Swan Racing’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series No. 30 Toyota for Sunday’s Daytona 500 – one day after rookie Swan Racing driver Parker Kligerman’s vehicle was totaled during a practice run in which he flipped the car, went airborne, and took out a section of the grandstand fence.
Thankfully, neither Kligerman nor any spectators were injured – shored up trackside fences being one of the many items on Daytona Rising construction punch lists.
Guaranteeing its fans and business partners a safe, smooth ride remains a top priority for NASCAR and ISC, and is one of the many reasons behind the “Sports Business Insider Series” slate of events that ISC is conducting with local governments, media, tourism boards, and peer pro sports leagues in eight select regions around the country. (Rick serves as the Moderator for the Series as well.)
As Daytona International Speedway and the NASCAR universe gear up for the stock car racing season opener, down in South Florida, Homestead-Miami Speedway president Matthew Becherer, along with four of his fellow South Florida sports and entertainment leaders, will participate in the next Series event, “Promoting Big Time Sporting Events in an Entertainment Mecca,” on Thursday, February 27.
“This is going to be a fantastic opportunity to receive insight from an impressive group of panelists,” said Becherer, whose NASCAR season-ending event bookends Daytona and will now essentially be Winner Take All thanks to the new Chase format.
“I look forward to a hearty discussion regarding South Florida sports.”