Welcome to an election year, NASCAR style. NASCAR and politics have been interesting bedfellows for some time. Jimmy Carter, a former governor of Georgia, was probably the first president to actually be interested in NASCAR. Ronald Reagan was the first president to actively woo NASCAR voters in large numbers. As fate and fortune would have it, NASCAR's most famous Republican, Richard Petty, won his 200th race on July 4, 1984, at Daytona with President Reagan in attendance. It couldn't have been planned better. They even had a clambake in the garage area after the race, and the following day, NASCAR and President Reagan were on the front page of nearly every major newspaper in the country.
Every president since Reagan, including the current president, George W. Bush, has mined NASCAR for votes, money, and support. Like most major corporations, NASCAR and its participants contribute time and money to supporting friendly candidates. As Americans, it's their right.
This year, however, the stakes are much higher as not only the organization and its hierarchy are a valued target, but "NASCAR dads" have become part of a cherished voter demographic. That's right, everyone-from the corporate types in the suites to Bubba throwing chicken bones and beer cans at Talladega-is a potential vote, and the candidates want every last one of them.
While NASCAR has showcased various politicians and presidents at its events, other major professional sports have preferred to publicly downplay their political affiliations. Aside from the president throwing out the ceremonial first pitch at a Major League Baseball game, most politicians are seen viewing sporting events from a private box, conducting business in private. Few are ever on display for the media as President Bush was at Daytona earlier this year.
The election media, quick to adapt any buzzword, have NASCAR dads at full throttle this year. They have also put NASCAR's politics-mostly Republican and conservative-on full view. Depending upon who wins the election, which is projected to be close, they could have an impact on NASCAR's growth and public perception.
In this presidential year, the politicians are selling to the same people NASCAR does. Given there are 100,000-plus fans (votes) to be influenced at the track and millions at home in front of the television each week, this NASCAR dads euphoria is a pretty big deal. It's also an issue, like several others, that NASCAR will be dealing with as it moves toward 2005 and beyond.