If you're going to be called America's fastest-growing sport, you'd better have speed. Fortunately, NASCAR has plenty of it. Drivers race around the track at over 200 mph in front of swelling grandstands while the business world tries to keep up. Companies like The Home Depot and FedEx have snapped their harnesses tight in preparation for the ride.
Where's the opportunity if you're not a billion-dollar giant looking to sponsor a race team? All over, according to Scott Warfield, PR manager for the Charlotte, North Carolina, division of NASCAR. First, he points to the growing legion of women who follow NASCAR. In fact, 42 percent of its fans are female, according to an ESPN poll.
In 2004, Lisa Heros was attending her first NASCAR race with some female friends in Las Vegas when she noticed a market opportunity. "We couldn't find anything to wear [to] the race," says Heros, 28. "So I made shirts for us to wear, and people kept coming up to us [wanting] to buy them."
After the race, Heros went home to Memphis, Tennessee, and told her friend Kathleen Smith that they should start a business making shirts and other apparel for female NASCAR fans. Smith, now 27, had studied fashion design, and the two friends had previously mulled over creating a high-fashion clothing line. They consulted with Smith's father, Fred, who was somewhat of an entrepreneur himself as the founder of FedEx. He agreed that it was a good idea. In February 2006, TrackCouture was born. Says Smith, "We were trying to fill a demand that wasn't being filled."
In 2006, TrackCouture received orders from retailers in 38 states and Canada; this year's sales are expected to double. Today, the company sells its line on Nascar.com and in team stores and hopes to expand into specialty boutiques. Its website (www.trackcouture.com) has seen monthly visitors jump from 4,000 to 12,000 over the past year. For businesses just getting started, Heros recommends applying for an official NASCAR license first.
Warfield, whose office handles all the NASCAR product licensing in the U.S., notes that the female demographic isn't the only one growing. Remember Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, starring Will Ferrell? So do a lot of kids and teenagers. This makes for other licensing opportunities.
Warfield also highlights the growing international appeal of NASCAR and expects a big spike of interest to come from the arrival of Juan Pablo Montoya, a Columbian-born Formula One driver and winner of the Indianapolis 500. Warfield says Montoya has a huge international following, and NASCAR is hoping to take advantage of his popularity with their international licenses.
Most people try to avoid going in circles. But for NASCAR entrepreneurs, it's their lifeblood, and many say there's never been a better time to get in the race.