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Homeward Bound

by Christina Ritchie Rogers

June 4,2005

Charlotte’s heart races at a speed of 190 miles per hour. In the race for the future NASCAR Hall of Fame, the Charlotte car is holding its own. With only a few laps left, and with Atlanta, Richmond, Kansas City and Daytona trading paint, many are anticipating a trip to victory lane. Excited fans find themselves anticipating a win. Charlotte will win, because NASCAR needs it to win.

The Hall of Fame is a big investment with big potential for its city. Hundreds of thousands of NASCAR fans will make pilgrimages to the motorsports Mecca each year. Local businesses stand to reap great benefits. Opportunities for economic expansion abound. Many number-crunching reasons exist for cities like Charlotte, Atlanta, Richmond, Kansas City and Daytona to adopt the Hall of Fame. But put the calculator aside for a second. A city is a network of businesses that need money to function, yes. But a city is also home to people. People. Not numbers. Charlotte’s campaign “NASCAR was built here, NASCAR belongs here” is much more than a grammatically balanced adage. NASCAR will select Charlotte because the city is home, where the heart is.

Logistically, Atlanta and Kansas City, our two major competitors, are in good geographic locations, have accessible airports, and an active fan base as well. Atlanta is located between Charlotte and Daytona, is the largest city in the Southeast, and with NASCAR grounded in the region, it is also in a good spot ideologically. Atlanta has deep pockets, lots of visitors and productive sponsors. It is perhaps our toughest competitor, followed closely by Kansas City. Kansas City’s position as the “crossroads of America” may aid in NASCAR’s maturation and expansion to an “all-American” sport status, and, because Kansas’ Speedway is close to the center of a desired circle of influence, it is a tantalizing choice.

Richmond could still sneak by us (but won’t). Richmond has excellent marketing strategy at the track, runs a fun race, and consistently packs the stands with over seventy-five thousand fans. Richmond’s primary interest in the Hall of Fame is an economic one. Like Charlotte, Richmond is a growing city that would greatly benefit from increased tourism. But, unlike Charlotte, Richmond simply does not offer the biggest potential for support and expansion of the sport.

Emotionally, the only real competition for the Hall of Fame is Daytona. Daytona boasts the birthplace of NASCAR and is home to the sanctioning body and the Superbowl of the sport, the Daytona 500. The words “Daytona” and “racing” are frequently married, even in the minds of people who do not follow motor sports. But while drivers and their teams head to Daytona for a race, they head home to their families and friends in Charlotte. Calculator junkies, think about it: while the sanctioning body is in Daytona, there are forty three Nextel Cup teams, thirty five Bush series teams, and thirty truck teams, each with twenty five or thirty people to a team. Almost all of them, and their families, live and work in Charlotte.

Spencer Andrews is the public relations representative for NAPA racing and Michael Waltrip. He asserts that “to have it anywhere else [other than Charlotte] would be a major let-down to the people who put in so many man-hours of work, and whose families make sacrifices for and embrace the sport.”

Of the five major cities competing for the Hall of Fame, Mr. Andrews believes that Atlanta, Kansas City and Richmond are “completely out of the question.” He claims “the sanctioning body in Daytona has done a great job in terms of marketing and promoting growth of the sport. But, everybody who competes in it is here.”

Fans make or break a sport. According to Mr. Andrews, “NASCAR is constantly pushing the envelope in terms of losing their original fan base.” With the larg¬est amount of NASCAR-related, NASCAR-involved, and NASCAR-employed people, a significant motor sports museum in Charlotte secures the sport for years to come. By placing the Hall of Fame in Charlotte, NASCAR places it at the center of its most active, loyal and enthusiastic fan base. The sport will thrive, the fans will thrive, and yes, so will the economy.

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