Recently, on a Sunday afternoon, I was watching the political squabbles on TV when the channel changer leaped from my hand, fell on the table and switched the channel to NASCAR on Fox. It has been many years since I have seen this unique phenomenon, and there have been quiet yet dramatic changes. Racing has gotten amazingly popular and enlarged its fan base, bringing in new types of devotees. The bevy of Confederate flags and Daisy Dukes are giving way to Abercrombie fashions. Newer tracks like the one in Fontana, California, are equipped with Wolfgang Puck restaurants, and none other than the New York Times featured a picture of Nextel driver Scott Riggs and a major article about the drivers changing their diets from trans fats to mowing down pasta just before a race.
When things get popular, it becomes more difficult to hold on to their original roots. The 10-year-old pint-sized Shania Twain screeching out the National Anthem is all but a thing of the past. There is one last anachronism, however, that needs to be upscaled: the NASCAR sponsors.
The most obvious place to start is with local boy Ricky Craven’s old ride, the #32 Tide car. There is nothing more outdated or disgusting than a picture of a box of Tide whirling around a track at 199 miles per hour. New sponsor Smashed Grapes, a California Cabernet Sauvignon, 2003, $9, is colorful, updated, and when the car obliterates itself on turn four, the side panel logo will look great flying into the stands. The wine fans sitting in the Wolfgang Puck restaurant will be thrilled as they duck the debris.
Next to change is the #38 car, the M&M’s ride of Elliott Sadler. Imagine doing 500 laps then standing on the podium wearing an ad for a candy that has arms and legs ... and gloves. My NASCAR friends tell me that he has been lacking confidence lately. With the M&M’s boys following you around, you would too.
The only suitable wine sponsor is, of course, “His Royal Majesty Rex Goliath, the Giant 47-pound Rooster.” It is a miracle that all this chatter fits on a label, complete with a picture of Rex and his awards. The California Pinot Noir, $9 is terrific with duck. More terrific would be the hood of the #38 car adorned with a label of Rex, the absolute biggest and best of wine label logos on your ride.
One of the problems you face when reaching out to the wider world is that you might actually attract a bevy of blue-state liberal types. While Greg Biffle whirls about in the #16 National Guard ride it might just dawn on one of those blue-state types that a label of Chateau Musar, from Lebanon’s Bekka Valley, would be appropriate to remind the fans about the Middle East, where the grapes are harvested while ducking tank fire.
Some drivers like the #20 ride of Tony Stewart are comfortable and relaxed in their sponsorship. The ambulance orange of the Home Depot matches perfectly with his in-your-face demeanor. But he could do much better. A fabulous Spanish wine is perfect: Mad Dogs and Englishmen (shiraz 30%, Cab 20%, Monastrell 50%), not to mention the picture of a bulldog on the label, all for $10. The Home Depot on his ride and outfit look great, but when you can really look the part of the Mad Dog, ya gotta go for it.