U.S. stock car racing, known as NASCAR, begins its season this Sunday with the Daytona 500, the circuit's most prestigious event. There will be a new look in 2005, as NASCAR has decided to allow makers of hard liquor to advertise on the racecars.
It seems to be the ultimate paradox, liquor ads on the side of speeding cars watched by thousands of people. But NASCAR already allows beer companies to advertise. Driver Dave Blaney, who will be sponsored by Jack Daniels, says the move to place liquor ads on racecars is no different.
"Alcohol is alcohol. I have a hard time differentiating beer from liquor. So personally I am good with it. My family is good with it," said Mr. Blaney.
Beginning with the season-opening Daytona 500 mile race on Sunday, companies that sell distilled spirits will be allowed to sponsor teams. The policy decision is being hailed as a victory by race-team owners who bankroll their operations with money from corporate sponsors. NASCAR driving great Jeff Gordon agrees.
"We are a sport that advertises,” he said. “And if they are allowed to advertise on TV, then I think they should be allowed to advertise in our sport."
As the U.S. economy has cooled in recent years, many owners have struggled to find sponsors willing to shell out around $15 million to put their names and logos on the hoods of stock cars.
NASCAR president Mike Helton said any liquor company wishing to advertise will have to have marketing campaigns "strongly grounded in responsibility."
One of NASCAR's most revered families, the Pettys, have never accepted any alcohol sponsorship on their cars. Kyle Petty says the racing company's policy stems from his grandmother's aversion to alcohol consumption of any kind. He says alcohol ads, like tobacco ads, should not be in places where young people are likely to see them.
The combination of hard liquor advertisements and fast cars has raised concerns, considering NASCAR's unquestioned influence on younger fans. Tobacco ads have nearly disappeared from NASCAR in recent years. Winston removed itself as title sponsor of the series in 2003 in the wake of a lawsuit settlement that included allegations of tobacco companies marketing cigarettes to children.