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Thrills, chills, profits at 180 mph
Stock-car racing is the nation’s No. 2 spectator sport. And it offers some interesting opportunities for investors. Here’s what you need to know.
Michael Brush
MSN Money

Even for a "damn Yankee" like me, it’s not too hard to get caught up in the energy of a NASCAR race.

First, there’s the sheer pull of hopped-up stock cars flying around a track at 180 mph.

Next, you have to respect the athleticism that goes into shaving a second off a pit stop. That single second can make all the difference in a race -- because at NASCAR speeds, that’s about all it takes for a car to travel the length of a football field.

And for those of a mechanical bent, it can be fascinating to track the use of a half dozen or more different cars per team -- a different car for each type of track.

Whatever sparks the passions of a NASCAR fan, as a group they’ve made it the nation’s second most popular sport -- and one that’s spreading across the country even as the nation’s mainstream sports media continue to virtually ignore it. Consider:

In TV sports ratings, NASCAR races consistently rank well ahead of baseball, basketball and every other sport, at least until the start of the football season when the NFL takes over, according to Nielsen Media Research. On any given weekend, a NASCAR race will most likely be the most-watched sports event.Point. Click. Pay.
Bills don't get any easier
than with MSN Bill Pay.

The Daytona 500, NASCAR’s premier race, rates higher than “American Idol” and ties with the top-rated detective drama “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.”

A recent NASCAR film by IMAX -- they’re the ones who show 3-D movies on giant screens -- hit the $10 million revenue milestone faster than any other IMAX documentary release.

Courageous drivers with movie-star looks -- like Jeff Gordon -- are wooing the public with charming appearances on the late night talk show circuit.
Even the notion that “damn Yankees” aren’t supposed to get this sport is quickly fading away. As various media have chronicled over the past decade, NASCAR has steadily moved beyond its Southern heritage to attract loyal fans from Los Angeles to New York City. You can chalk that up to champion drivers who came from outside the sport’s traditional Southern ranks -- like Gordon, a smooth Californian who helped bring in a whole new fan base.

“It was once a Bubba-type sport,” says Ray Evernham, who managed Gordon’s pit crew to three championship victories. “But Jeff changed the face of the sport.” Evernham has since founded Evernham Motorsports, which owns three race teams and employs 190 people.

It didn’t hurt that during the past decade, new tracks popped up near Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Chicago and Kansas City, expanding the boundaries for the sport. Today, NASCAR gets 39% of its fans in the Northeast and West, says Evernham, a smidgen over the 38% who reside in the South.

Indeed, NASCAR track operators have enough confidence in the potency of the fan base in these new strongholds that they’re hoping to break ground on expensive racetracks near New York City and Seattle -- and maybe even Mexico City -- within the next few years.

The NASCAR plays
Clearly, there is a strong sports trend here with plenty of momentum. But what’s the investing angle? After all, NASCAR, which means National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing, is a private business controlled by the family of William France Sr., who founded NASCAR in 1948. But there are a few public-company plays on this dynamic entertainment business, and they're well worth considering.

Full Story Here

 

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And now reality....

And while Jeffie Gordon may have changed the face of the sport, he didn't change the unprofessional style of driving in NASCAR. Along with Jimmy Spencer, Jeff Gordon adopted a rather juvenile method of disposing of drivers that was once the craft of the late Dale Earnhardt. Countless times Jeffie has sent a competitor spinning so that he could pad his win column and to get his championships. Unfortunately Jeffie isn't a pure driver. He is all finese. Give him a car that isn't spot on and he cannot win with it. He couldn't muscle a car around the track (well, look at him and he could barely muscle a plate of spaghetti).

But the most disturbing facet of NASCAR (this coming from a fan of the sport since the late 1960's) is the obtuse, boneheadedness of the management. Ever late to be worried about safety (they paid lipservice to it until Earnhardt was donated to the profit center of NASCAR), this sport is governed with a half wit application of rules that apply more equally to some of the drivers than to others. Yellow lines that are painted at some tracks and not others, different applications of red flags, different intrepretations of other rules are what has become of NASCAR.

When Bubbas ruled, the sport had real excitement not the circus of pack racing at 190 mph where half the field is always donated on any given Daytona or Talladega Sunday. This is a sport that owns its own tracks competing with other owners for dates--moving dates away from the hardcore fans to the demolition derby fans of the West Coast and North.

The sport has gone from one of inventiveness and true drivers to one of monetary gluttony where independents are merely event fillers instead of the rule. Multicar teams don't bring better competition, just more of the same tired monotony that NASCAR has become.

At last year's NASCAR Driver's Banquet, supposedly the Oscars on Four Wheels, the event was produced with such amateur style that you thought a middle school team of students had done all the video production and direction. Then the drivers got up and offered the audience the two or three minute commercials of their sponsors and a surprising amount of arrogance and boneheadedness that is all but whitewashed before races.

NASCAR may be popular, but it ceased being a sport that can be taken seriously. As long as Mike Helton and his team are in the leadership, this sport will persist as an oval annoyance only mitigated by a road course of mea culpas and red flag excuses.
 
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