NASCAR Hopes to Appease Traditional Fans With Takeover of Bowman Gray Stadium

Aerial view of Bowman Gray Stadium, North Carolina.

Getty Images Aerial view of Bowman Gray Stadium, North Carolina.

Many longtime fans are growing uneasy with NASCAR‘s embrace of the new over the traditional. NASCAR’s announcement today that it will take over racing operations of the historic Bowman Gray Stadium is a clear olive branch to the traditionalists.

In fact, NASCAR is already heavily pushing the traditionalist angle with this acquisition. Just hours after the Bowman Gray short-track announcement, NASCAR talked up its “racing roots.”


New NASCAR Now on a Grassroots Track

Few tracks can match the grassroots appeal of Bowman Gray Stadium. As NASCAR notes, the quarter-mile track has hosted regional racing events since 1949. It’s the longest-running NASCAR-sanctioned track, operating as Winston-Salem Speedway Inc. It’s been managed by the Alvin Hawkins family for generations — as old school as it gets. Now, NASCAR corporate will manage the track’s racing operations.

In its news release, NASCAR focused predominantly on the old school grassroots angle. NASCAR founder “Bill France Jr. met his future wife — then Betty Jane Zachary, a Winston-Salem native — at the track in 1957,” the announcement stated. If that wasn’t clear enough, they added, “the biggest takeaway from this is it shows (NASCAR’s) support for grassroots racing.”

NASCAR’s Ben Kennedy, senior vice president of racing development and strategy, echoed the “racing roots” theme. “This one certainly comes with a lot of history and memories,” he said.

Playing up the racing roots angle is nice, but don’t expect a NASCAR Cup Series race there anytime soon, and don’t expect the Clash to be moved to Bowman Gray, either. When asked by about the possibility, Kennedy dodged the question.

“Potentially. I certainly wouldn’t rule anything out, and I’d be lying to say if we haven’t talked about it before,” he said, quickly adding, “We’ve talked about hundreds of tracks.”

NASCAR Not Giving Up on Expansion Hopes

Make no mistake. NASCAR’s takeover of Bowman Gray is not a signal the racing organization intends to halt its ongoing efforts to move beyond its roots. NASCAR does not intend to give back gains it’s made by moving away from old school tracks and into urban areas, including Los Angeles and Chicago. Nor does NASCAR plan to abandon its new media relationships with Netflix and Amazon. Heavy Sports wrote, “On the two metrics crucial for the success of any sport, fans and financials, today’s NASCAR is dominating,” adding, “All that’s left for NASCAR is to grow the sport internationally.”

The plans to grow beyond its traditional base — and grow internationally — are not stopping. NASCAR has made this clear, Heavy Sports recently wrote. “NASCAR has gone international. For most of its life, the sport that started out as Strictly Stock was strictly American. All of the drivers were American, and all of the races were in the United States.” Those are NASCAR’s own words.

NASCAR is using TikTok and YouTube, among others, to target underserved, non-traditional markets. NASCAR is also embracing new platforms to help it both grow revenues even bigger and to reach non-traditional NASCAR fans. In particular, through gambling. “NASCAR has gone all in on sports gambling, as it looks to increase revenue and expand viewership beyond its traditional audience.”

NASCAR appears to be using its history as a means to bump draft into new markets. It’s a risky strategy.

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