NASCAR is on fire, and Will Ferrell’s new comedy movie "Talladega Nights" is turning up the heat. Already claiming 70 million fans and TV ratings second only to the National Football League, NASCAR is making a push to reach an even bigger, broader audience.
“We pretty much go by the motto of: ‘If you come around and check it out, you're gonna fall right in love with it,’” said champion NASCAR driver, Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
Hollywood is at the heart of that campaign: NASCAR is the only major sport with an office in Los Angeles devoted solely to pursuing entertainment opportunities.
“Unlike other sports, our expansion has been from the small to the large; other sports started in the large cities and expanded to the small,” said Dick Glover,NASCAR's vice president of broadcasting and new media. “One of the ways to maintain that growth and expansion is to get involved on projects that appeal to a widespread audience that really link in NASCAR with pop culture and all the huge number of people that enjoy it.”
The sport is already a hit with corporate America, with auto racing sponsorships expected to reach $2.9 billion this year. Like the sport it parodies, “Talladega Nights” is a movie crammed with well placed sponsorships. Those sponsors are willing to pay big money because NASCAR fans are among the most loyal in sports.
And that NASCAR loyalty is known to ring cash registers; fans are snapping up “Talladega Nights” merchandise weeks before the movie’s release. More than a dozen items are available on NASCAR’s Web site. Merchandise sporting the name of the movie’s fictional star, “Ricky Bobby” is reportedly selling faster than many real life drivers.
“It's pretty funny to walk out and see right next to (NASCAR driver) Rusty Wallace's trailer - there's a Ricky Bobby trailer that looks - if you aren't paying attention - it looks just like the real drivers have,” said Ferrel. “And then there's my face making some stupid grimace.”
NASCAR isn't limiting itself to the big screen. Drivers frequently appear on television - including a recent cameo by driver Casey Mears on "Days of Our Lives"
NASCAR’s 40 million female fans can also find plenty of drama in the recently developed line of NASCAR-branded Harlequin Romance novels - described by some as a mix of "lust and lug nuts."
When rocker Sheryl Crow used driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the video for her song "Steve McQueen" - it was music to NASCAR's ears. Crow later returned the favor by showing up in a NASCAR-sponsored commercial plugging her fandom.
All told, it amounts to an entertainment blitz never before undertaken by a major sport.
Now, with Ferrell's three most recent films taking in a combined $300 million. NASCAR appears to ready to ride the actors box office clout to the checkered flag.