The 2003 racing season is upon us. The Daytona 500, stock car racing's so-called "Super Bowl," kicks off another grueling, 38-event NASCAR Winston Cup season.

The Daytona 500 is the ultimate event for racers who have spent a lifetime trying to make it to the pinnacle of motorsports. There are many forms of racing that feed off of and in turn help support the Cup series, such as the Busch Grand National division, the Craftsman Truck Series, and every other type of weekly racing event held across the country during the spring and summer. The events are run under sanction from ARCA, ASA, NASCAR, USAR, World of Outlaws, and a variety of other banners. These series are in essence the foundation of Winston Cup racing.

Motorsports is big business in this country, no matter if it's the Winston Cup series, quarter midget competition, or the Street Stock division at your local short track. Auto racing attracts fans and fans attract sponsors. And sponsors, of course, pay the bills.

The bills are what have motorsports industry officials and business leaders across the country hard at work and anxious to put on a strong showing in 2003. This statement may be obvious, but it is one that bears in-depth analysis to understand where the most popular forms of circle track racing have been, and more importantly, where they are headed.

Investors are still jittery about where motorsports financials are headed in a slow economy. Since 2000 the sport has experienced a slowdown that many financial analysts say has yet to fully bottom out. Construction of new tracks was essentially nonexistent in 2002, and capital improvements at the nation's largest tracks slowed down as well. Motorsports insiders hope that investment capital will grow in the next two years to allow for needed infrastructure enhancements at aging tracks.

It's fitting that one of the first and most important races in North America each year is in Daytona Beach, the center of decision making for NASCAR and its parent company, International Speedway Corporation (ISC; Nasdaq; ISCA).

Daytona International Speedway, ISC's crown jewel, is a hefty contributor to Florida's economy, with over $1.8 billion a year in economic impact, according to Speedway officials.

The Charlotte, North Carolina, metropolitan region has become an economic force on the motorsports scene during the past 15 years. Studies indicate that auto racing contributes about 5,000 jobs and over $400 million annually to the region, with Cup, Busch, Truck Series, ARCA, Legends, go-carts, Late Model stocks, Mini-Stocks, and motorcycle teams among over 300 race teams housed within a 100-mile radius of Charlotte. North Carolina officials say racing contributes over $1 billion worth of economic activity to the Tar Heel state every year.

Open wheel racing's Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) contributes over $800 million annually to Indiana's economy, according to IMS president Tony George. The Indianapolis 500 generates nearly $350 million a year in economic impact, NASCAR's Brickyard 400 comes in at about $225 million, and Formula 1's U.S. Grand Prix generates over $170 million in economic impact.

During the '90s, business and political leaders in Indianapolis sought to attract Indy-related race teams, and about 300 racing-related businesses now call Indianapolis home, while the industry employs nearly 5,000 people.

All of this economic activity wouldn't be possible without the fans who buy the tickets. Many blue-collar ticket buyers, however, have suffered from the effects of rising ticket prices and a recession. Those folks are the backbone of NASCAR's rise to the top of the American sporting scene. Television greatly accelerated the rise, but it was race fans who filled the seats in the booming '80s. Their loyalty provided the catalyst for the enormous growth of the Cup series in the '90s, which also spilled over to increased Busch attendance and gave rise to the Truck Series.

Then there's the local racer. He's the guy who comes home from work each night and turns wrenches on his Late Model stocker for a Friday night or a Saturday night feature at one of hundreds of local tracks around the country. From these ranks have risen the current crop of motorsports stars. Without racing's grassroots-including everyone from the weekend racer to the ticket buyer-auto racing in this country would not enjoy its current prominence.

American auto racing has become a huge player on the world motorsports stage over the past 20 years. Winston Cup has been a large part of that overall growth during the past two decades. The market is out there, and the public is in love with auto racing like never before. But the braintrust for the largest motorsports companies must realize that the backbone of racing must not be taken for granted. Racing's new economy depends on it.