As if Red Lobster, Toys "R" Us, and the freakin' Lion King weren't crowding Times Square enough, New York now faces the very real prospect of stock-car racing. Jeff Gordon! Rusty Wallace! Burning rubber and nonstop screaming thrills! Yes, NASCAR is coming to town. At least, it wants to.
The National Association of Stock Car Auto Racing is going urban. It made its name—and built a base of 75 million fans—in dusty, small towns. But in the past three years, it has begun staging races in Chicago, Los Angeles, and Kansas City, Missouri. Now it's eyeing the Big Apple—in partnership, possibly, with none other than Donald Trump.
The Donald has traveled this asphalt before. Four years ago, he teamed up with Bill France Jr., then NASCAR's CEO, in an attempt to purchase a site for a track on Long Island. That deal petered out amid environmental concerns and, frankly, some very pronounced redneck-phobia.
But Brian France, who took NASCAR's reins from his father, Bill Jr., in September, says bringing racing to New York is now one of his top priorities. And by all accounts, Trump and others are again hunting for a New York-area location.
Financially, a move into Gotham would seem to make perfect sense. NASCAR's growing presence in urban markets has sparked not just millions more in direct ticket sales but also more lucrative sponsorship and television-rights deals. The racing circuit is in the third year of a six-year, $2.4 billion TV contract with Fox, FX, NBC, and TNT, where it reaches an average of 5.26 million households per race, second only to NFL football among sports broadcasts. It wouldn't hurt to put auto racing smack in Madison Avenue's backyard.
The demographics may work, too. NASCAR fans aren't just hard-core Bubbas in Darlington, South Carolina. "I think the demographics are much different than what people intuitively think they are," says Edward Williams, an analyst who covers Dover Motorsports Inc., a publicly traded track operator, for Harris Nesbitt Gerard. "It's less of the Southeast, the rednecks, and more like a snapshot of Middle America."
France recognizes the need to keep existing fans happy while he pushes into new markets. "That's why there's an NFL team in Green Bay, Wisconsin, and none right now in Los Angeles. There has to be a balance," he says.
Which is one reason there's no firm timeline for bringing a race to New York. A NASCAR spokesman said it could take three to five years. "We have to have the right situation come along," France says. "We have to find the right land, the right race dates." The cost of a track, he adds, would be enormous.
But imagine the payoff. We can already smell the fumes. We can hear the engines roaring down Broadway. And we can see Donald Trump grinning ear to ear.
A version of this article appeared in the December 2003 issue of Fast Company magazine.