NASCAR’s TV ratings may not be near its peak in the 2000s, but its guest list – and investor roster – is chock-full of stars.
Over the past year, the following pop culture icons have dipped their foot into the sport:
- Music icon Pitbull helped start a new NASCAR team called Trackhouse Racing with driver Daniel Suarez. In 2022, he bought Chip Ganassi Racing and added Ross Chastain to his lineup of drivers. Pitbull also co-wrote a song with country music artists Trace Adkins and Luke Bryan called “Where the Country Girls At,” in which Pitbull has a line on NASCAR and the Daytona 500.
- Chicago Bulls legend Michael Jordan has created a new team with Denny Hamlin, hiring Bubba Wallace to lead.
- NFL Hall of Fame running back Emmitt Smith announced this week that he will create an Xfinity Series team in 2022. Jesse Iwuji, a black pilot and reserve officer in the US Navy, will be his pilot.
- Current New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara became a NASCAR employee this summer as a “Growth and Engagement Advisor.”
- Rapper Post Malone directed a music video for his song “Motley Crew” on a NASCAR track, with Wallace and Hamlin making cameos in the video.
People across NASCAR welcome the new crop. The opportunity spills over to the smaller levels of the sport, such as Grass Lake driver Morgen Baird – who finished seventh in Friday’s ARCA race at Michigan International Speedway but needs sponsorship if he wants to race full time. .
Being able to mention names like Jordan and Pitbull in meetings with companies could be very helpful, Baird said.
“I think it gives potential sponsors a chance to take a look at it and say, ‘Okay, if these guys are investing in it, there has to be some kind of value,’ Baird said.
The stars don’t just help from a distance either. Pitbull and Jordan have both attended a handful of races this season.
Pitbull, also known as “Mr. Worldwide,” can’t attend Sunday’s race at MIS because he has a concert in Chicago on Sunday night – even though he was at the Woodward Dream Cruise on Saturday. He had a concert at the DTE Energy Music Theater in the Detroit subway on Friday. His driver, Suarez, saw Pitbull in concert for the first time that evening.
Having these big names on the track gives the sport more validity, said Rochester Hills driver Brad Keselowski.
“They bring a certain global presence, which I think is very healthy for our sport,” Keselowski said. “We’re really, I think, in the middle of a major recovery. I think this is the case with the interest shown by some new sole proprietorships.
Some of the biggest names in NASCAR have retired in recent years, such as Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Danica Patrick. NASCAR is hoping to introduce casual fans to a new group of racing stars if the Jordans and Pitbulls can catch some new eyes.
“Then it’s up to us to make it a great experience when they go out so they want to keep coming,” said MIS President Rick Brenner.
Why are these stars interested in it?
The new popularity of NASCAR’s pop culture is largely the result of two factors: social justice efforts and a new, more attractive business model.
After the murder of George Floyd last summer, many American sportsmen took a stand and made statements. NASCAR was one of the most notable, banning the Confederate flag on race tracks. He ruffled a few feathers among the base of the sport, which is largely white and southeast.
While some Confederate Flag memorabilia made their way to MIS this weekend, unlike in previous years, Confederate flags fluttered proudly above a handful of RVs and RVs.
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Wallace, the only black driver in the Cup Series, also had a “Black Lives Matter” paint scheme during a 2020 race.
Athletes like Kamara took note, saying they had never felt welcomed by NASCAR before due to the open acceptance of the flag. Kamara attended a race a few weeks later and fell in love with the sport.
It was the start of NASCAR shedding its perceived racist past. A few months later, Jordan pledged to take a part in the sport. And the momentum continued.
“Michael Jordan was someone I admired and I always apply his mindset not only when I play ball, but in life,” said Pitbull. “So being able to be in a sequel next to Michael Jordan … I’m excited.”
The other big change is the Next Gen car, which will replace the current car in 2022. Instead of teams building every part of their race car from scratch, suppliers will manufacture the parts for all and teams will assemble the vehicles. .
The goal is to save money and even the playing field between the best teams and the new teams.
“The Michael Jordans and the Pitbulls and people like that are, in part, drawn to the change the Next Gen car makes to the overall racing business model,” said John Probst, senior vice president of racing innovation at NASCAR.
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The new car offers a restart for everyone and makes it easier to form new teams. Investors are taking note – with a handful of teams that have sprung up in the past 12 months.
NASCAR likes big names to show interest. And so far, the big names are enjoying the NASCAR experience.
“As for what’s been great about it, let me tell you – the fans,” Pitbull said. “See the passion, see the loyalty, see the willingness to go through a wall for the team they love.”
While at the Daytona 500, Pitbull went to PF Chang. A fan approached him jokingly, saying he didn’t dress like a NASCAR owner.
“And I said yes, you’re right,” Pitbull said. “I bought him a few shots and we started drinking and I said ‘Yeah, but I drink like a NASCAR owner.'”
They drank together and the fan covered Pitbull’s bill before he left – an unusual move that left a lasting impression on the music icon.
“Not many people do this stuff,” Pitbull said. “Especially these days when it’s all about instant gratification – take your photo, take your video, do this for me, do that for me.”
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