Image: Robby Gordon
Alan Marler  /  AP
NASCAR driver Robby Gordon watches as his team prepares his car for practice at the Coca-Cola 600 on May 28. CNBC's Dylan Ratigan talks with Gordon and other people from the NASCAR world in a special report airing July 11.
CNBC
updated 7/11/2005 4:15:53 PM ET 2005-07-11T20:15:53

NASCAR started its engines on the sands of Daytona nearly 50 years ago and is now a multi-billion-dollar enterprise that attracts more money from more Fortune 500 companies than any other sports or entertainment property in America.

The estimated 75 million NASCAR fans in America are well-known to the sport's corporate sponsors. Their extreme loyalty helps buy billions of dollars worth of NASCAR-licensed gear every year. And just the announcement of a NASCAR deal can push up the stock price of the sponsor more than any other kind of sports sponsorship.

Also unlike any other sport, NASCAR is privately-owned by the France family, a secretive bunch whose three generations have run the empire with an iron grip.

How do they do it all and protect themselves from being accused of monopoly business practices?

"I think you keep it on the merits. You ask everybody as an industry, are we doing a lot better this year than we did last year and five years ago? And the answer is — for everyone, not just the France family — you better believe it. And that validates that we're on the right track," says CEO Brian France, grandson of founder Bill France.

"Now with somebody who would like to make the claim they could win a little bit more if things were different — sure, but we feel very very good that we're taking this sport in the right direction. And our partners are winning," France adds.

And by diversifying beyond its roots in the South by starting races in places like Chicago, Phoenix, Los Angeles and Dallas, the France family has made NASCAR the nation’s fastest-growing sport.

Opposition
But NASCAR is hardly without controversy. When CEO Brian France changed the rules of the game last year, essentially creating a series of "playoff" races, he angered many drivers. But his gamble has so far paid off: TV ratings soared as fans tuned in to watch the excitement.

Video: NASCAR nation Corporate America poured even more money into NASCAR, which recently inked the largest single corporate sponsorship in sports history, nearly $1 billion from Nextel.

"The reality is, NASCAR offers a company incredible equity. What if you could call a team the McDonald’s Yankees? Or the Gillette Patriots? You're putting your brand on the team. It's your team, it's your driver," says George Pyne, NASCAR's operating chief.

In a CNBC special report "NASCAR Gold," host Dylan Ratigan takes an in-depth, behind-the-scenes look at this empire and talks with one of the sport’s most legendary team owners, Rick Hendrick — the man whose success served as the foundation for the Tom Cruise classic, “Days of Thunder."

And Ratigan is no stranger to racing. After participating in the Baja 1000 as a co-driver last November, where one engine blew up, the car jumped a cliff and he was forced to push the truck by hand for the last mile — Ratigan met in the desert with NASCAR driver Robby Gordon, who invited him to work on the Gordon team in the Daytona pits.

"Gladiators. They're out there risking life and limb, inches apart from one another, they stay that way for 3 to 4 hours and the fans, there's 150,000, 200,000 people in the grandstands just eating it up," says John Story, Robby Gordon’s business manager.

"CNBC on Assignment: NASCAR Gold" hosted by Dylan Ratigan airs Monday, July 11 at 8 p.m. ET and 11 p.m. ET. Check local listings for your CNBC cable channel.

© 2012 CNBC, Inc. All Rights Reserved

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