NASCAR on major drive

February 26, 2002 8:22 AM
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Dumb and Dumber, aka the powers in baseball, had better take note of NASCAR’s rising popularity before considering another strike.

The Daytona 500 on NBC was the highest-rated and most-viewed broadcast in the history of the sport. The telecast drew a 10.9 rating/26 share, which in layman’s terms translates to 35 million viewers.

If the baseball players are not able to negotiate a new contract with the owners, guess what 35 million potential customers are going to watch.

The baseball hierarchy has been out of touch with sports  marketing and demographics for years. Football, particularly the NFL, long exceeded baseball as the No. 1 sport in the U.S., both in popularity and in the casinos.

Every race and sports book manager in Las Vegas that has talked with GamingToday says the NFL is “the industry’s bread and butter.” So another baseball strike could be lethal.

NASCAR, with its growing national fan base, and even the PGA Tour with Tigermania, can fill the void during the weeks or months during the spring and summer that baseball is idle.

Races such as Daytona and this Sunday’s 400-miler at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, always are sellouts. And, having a dose of Tiger Woods most weeks on the golf circuit will more than satisfy a bettor’s thirst for action, especially in the majors.

Cynics can poke fun at this former Southern Fried portion of motorsports, but the aggressive, imaginative marketing has  made NASCAR a model for success in athletics.

I never thought a stock car race could ever approach baseball in terms of popularity. But, while the major leagues continue to look like bumbling fools, the powers in NASCAR raise the sport each year far beyond what was just a good ole boy  fan base.

We like NASCAR, but it would be sad if the No. 3 were associated more with the late Dale Earnhardt than Babe Ruth. We’re on the way toward seeing the 24 of Willie Mays replaced by the one on Jeff Gordon’s car.

Wake up Selig, and smell the Bud. The networks sure are, and the books could follow.