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Although its cars burn rubber faster -- with speeds approaching 300 mph -- the National Hot Rod Association always seems to come in second in the racing world, drawing fewer spectators and sponsors. Now, its gunning for greater glory.

Seeking to reproduce the success story of Nascar, (see related story on Page 67), NHRA is revving up a marketing program that includes a multimillion-dollar ad campaign to showcase its biggest stars, negotiations to get its races on the air quicker and increases in the size of its stadiums. For the first time in its nearly 50-year history, NHRA has hired an advertising agency, Integer, Dallas, as well as a TV sports marketing specialist, SFX Sports, New York

The NHRA "wants to build their own brand," said Kathy Leonard, president of Integer. "We're going to build a fan base."

NHRA will spend about $3 million on a branding effort, expected next year, to promote the sport. It will be augmented with a market-by-market campaign promoting races in the 23 cities where NHRA has events.


"Certainly the fan base has grown for auto racing," said Ms. Leonard, and it has shift from a primarily male sport to one that counts women as 40% of its fans. "We have the most exciting form of car racing there is. But enough people don't know about it."

That's despite the fact that the organization claims some 45,000 licensed NHRA drivers, giving it the status of the world's largest auto racing sanctioning body, according to Tom Compton, NHRA exec VP-general manager.

"Part of our plan is to use the drivers in our advertising campaign," he said. In particular, NHRA intends to use John Force, a crowd favorite.

NHRA is also working with SFX Sports to coordinate TV coverage.

"We are going to be announcing a new package soon," said Mr. Compton. "It's going to be all same-day coverage, and the TV package will have more continuity."

The NHRA is also trying to lure new fans by building new stadiums that will hold 40,000 to 50,000 people, nearly double current capacity. There are a total of 142 member tracks around the country, hosting 5,000 races a year.

Corporate sponsorship for the NHRA has slowly diversified away from the sport's indigenous automotive business. New companies such as Century 21 Real Estate Corp., Circuit City Stores and the World Wrestling Federation are now sponsoring cars.

Still, NHRA claims it doesn't want to rely too heavily on corporate support.

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