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Thursday, August 14, 2014

NASCAR for Girls

Last week, NASCAR fans learned that there would be a new face coming to the Nationwide garage.  A very pretty new face.  RAB Racing announced that Milka Duno will be driving in select races to finish out the 2014 Nationwide Series season.  This announcement was not greeted kindly on Twitter, especially amongst female fans.  The situation got me thinking that it might be time for a NASCAR team to find a female driver who is targeted towards female fans.

Danica in her Indy days
The fact that a woman will be driving a stock car in one of NASCAR's top series is not news.  It's also not news that Duno is yet another female driver known as much for her looks as for her skills on the race track.  The most famous woman to drive a stock car is Danica Patrick.  Patrick showed some talents in the Indy Car circuit before making the switch to NASCAR, but Danica was far better known for the talents she showed during a racy series of Go Daddy ads.  Milka Duno is less famous but similarly marketed.

According to industry business insiders, women make up 35% of NASCAR's fan base, and those fans skew towards the older side.  Thirty-five to fifty-five is the predominant female demographic.  In other words 35% of NASCAR's fans are women who are raising the sport's next generation of fans.  The images crafted by Danica and Milka make it hard for these maternal fans to enthusiastically endorse devotion to these drivers.  I think there is an empty space in the market for a female driver that is targeted towards female fans.

Milka Duno
Women are complicated creatures.  Perhaps even contradictory.  And, little girls are just smaller versions of women.  Female fans want to root for girls to succeed on the race track, but they do not want that girl to give the men in their lives lustful thoughts during commercial breaks.  Women like pretty girls but they do not want to be threatened by in-your-face sexuality.   This is why women are fans of Disney princesses and Jennifer Lawrence but look askance at Jessica Alba and Penelope Cruz.

Putting a fresh-faced girl in a stock car sponsored by a product purchased by women seems like a creative way to corner the market on 35% of fans.  NASCAR is a sport.  Most of the time, talent counts for more than image, but unlike other sports, sponsorship dollars and merchandise sales are extremely important aspects to being a successful racing team.  Top line teams like Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske do not need a gimmick to garner attention.  However, if you are a team like Tommy Baldwin Racing, why not take a chance on a female driver who appeals to female fans?  Why not replace slow-running Michael Annett with Michelle Annett and put Dove or Juicy Juice or something women buy on the hood?  If you are going to finish 35th every week, why not at least be a unique 35th?

I am not a NASCAR talent scout, and I do not have a name of a qualified female to fill that role.  But, it seems to me that giving female fans a female driver that is easy to root for is a potentially a creative and fun route to success.

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