Nascar safety is the issue

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It took decades of marketing to facilitate Nascar's rise to the forefront of the sports world, but last week's tragedy at Daytona can irrevocably damage its hard-won image as a mainstream family sport. The remedy: Nascar and the sponsors that spend millions promoting it must pledge to support and enforce greater safety measures.

Nascar is big business. The broadcast TV rights sold for more than $2 billion; Paul Kagan Associates forecasts Nascar revenue to hit $3.4 billion by 2006, ranking it fourth behind the National Football League, Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association. And it's powerful in terms of drawing advertisers. A 1999 survey of sports sponsors by Street & Smith's Sports Business Journal ranked Nascar No. 1 in licensing, promotional opportunities, retail tie-ins, client endorsements and media coverage-ahead of the NFL, NBA and Professional Golf Association.

But as the financial stakes went up, the marketing machine appeared to shift into maximum overdrive, and it's giving Nascar a grittier edge. In promos for the Daytona 500, Fox Sports hyped the rough and tumble aspect of racing. And, according to published reports, changes in race rules increased the element of danger.

Auto racing is risky business, and that's part of its appeal. Whether the failure to mandate "soft" walls or safer helmets contributed to the death of Dale Earnhardt--said to be an avowed opponent of the latter--will likely never be known. But Nascar's newer sponsors, from candy makers to detergent marketers, aren't part of the old racing fraternity that might have seen sudden death at the track as just part of the racing landscape. Nascar should consider its sought-after family viewers recoiling after witnessing the death of one of the sport's highest profile drivers. And sponsors need to consider what message they are sending when their logos end up encased in the carnage of twisted metal. That should make it incumbent on the sport and its advertisers to champion safety measures.

Making Nascar racing safer isn't simply a responsible move. It's also a sound business one.

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