|A small city in North Carolina has been transformed from an old lumber mill and textile manufacturing center into the home for automobile racing teams that compete in America's fastest growing spectator sport known as NASCAR. VOA's Chris Simkins takes a look at the growing phenomenon of NASCAR, and why the sport is attracting thousands of auto racing fans each year.|
This is NASCAR, the popular American sport of stock car racing. Every weekend for 10 months of the year tens of thousands of racing fans gather to watch 43 drivers maneuver their colorful, high-powered cars around mostly oval shaped tracks.
The racing can be intense as the American-made Ford, Chevrolet and Dodge cars reach speeds of more than 300 kilometers per hour. The sport, which began 57 years ago in North Carolina, has seen tremendous growth nationwide. There are now an estimated 75 million NASCAR racing fans, making it the second most popular spectator sport in the United States.
Don Miller, president of the Penske Racing Team says, "I believe that NASCAR is so popular and so successful because it is really a good show. The most important part is that we actually race each other. We get in there and we move some sheet metal around from time to time. There is always action on the track if it is not between the leaders it is halfway back trying to get to the leaders. And people that go to cheer their favorite driver or their favorite manufacturer on."
Mr. Miller is also the founder of the North Carolina Automobile Racing Hall of Fame in Mooresville, North Carolina. Mooresville is known as Race City USA because most of NASCAR's racing teams, its drivers, and the people who support stock car racing live in this community.
He says NASCAR has been great for the area. "Out of 64 teams, 45 are located here in Mooresville and then there is all the support industries that have come along with those race teams because the race teams really cannot operate without those support industries. It has been a huge economic boom for this community and the surrounding communities."
The popularity of NASCAR attracts tens of thousands of racing fans to Mooresville. In 1994, Mr. Miller and one of his friends opened the museum dedicated to NASCAR and auto racing. The Racing Hall of Fame has everything from the old 1954 stock cars, to modern day versions, to a formula one racer, to cars that have broken speed records.
"I drove this car in 1990, '92 and again in 1995. We set a world record for early Ford roadsters. It is powered by a 1948 Mercury engine with a super charger on it," says Mr. Miller.
Much of the racing museum is devoted to NASCAR and its history. In the early days race drivers were involved in the illegal transportation of alcohol. The drivers would modify their cars making them faster and more maneuverable to outrun the police. When they weren't transporting liquor the drivers would race their cars on dirt tracks. The drivers eventually formed a auto racing league and NASCAR was born.
Nearly six decades later NASCAR is becoming popular in other countries. Earlier this year 95,000 people turned out in Mexico City to watch NASCAR's first race outside the United States. Don Miller says the sport and the corporations who spend more than a billion dollars a year on sponsorship are looking to reach beyond NASCAR's traditional loyal fan base.
"In Mexico they packed the fans in the house in the first visit. I think Canada is going to be a huge market for NASCAR. I believe in the next three to five years that we should look at going to places like Germany, and Great Britain."
For now NASCAR is just adding more races to its schedule. Some in the sport say the only down side is that NASCAR is running out of weekends to run races.