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Market-savvy NASCAR races to winner's circle

Tuesday, April 20, 1999

By Johnna A. Pro, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

When Bill France Sr. called a meeting of stock car enthusiasts in December 1947, he was trying to form an organization that would bring a measure of control and respect to a sport whose reputation conjured images of Southern good ol' boys.

Nearly 52 years later, France's dream is a $2 billion industry, so lucrative that NASCAR racing was the cover story in Fortune magazine earlier this month.

NASCAR is now popular enough and mainstream enough that Mattel sold a million NASCAR Barbie collectible dolls, generating $50 million.

NASCAR -- an acronym for National Association of Stock Car Auto Racing -- is now the second-highest rated sport on TV, behind football.

Attendance at NASCAR events is up 63 percent since 1990, according to Fortune. The National Basketball Association, second in growth over that time, gained 12 percent.

New tracks are being built around the country.

"I don't call it a sport anymore. I call it a marketing machine," Home Depot's Dick Sullivan told Fortune. The hardware giant became an official NASCAR sponsor this season.

This year, 36 races will be held around the country as part of the 1999 Winston Cup Series, NASCAR's premier division, according the organization's media guide.

The races will be held at 21 tracks, including the Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Monroe County.

Two races scheduled there are the Pocono 500 June 20 and the Pennsylvania 500 July 25.

NASCAR's showcase event is the Daytona 500, which had its 41st running in February. Other big races are the Las Vegas 400, held in March; Coca-Cola 600, at Charlotte, N.C., in May; the Pepsi Southern 500, at Darlington, S.C., in September; and the Winston 500 at Talladega, Ala., in October.

NASCAR has numerous other racing divisions besides the Winston Cup Series, including the Busch Series and the Craftsman Truck Series.

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