It’s early January, and occasional downpours drench thousands of fans as they file into Nashville’s Municipal Auditorium for Sound & Speed, an annual event featuring country stars and NASCAR drivers. Camo-clad devotees and their children, some dressed in miniature racing suits, line up for an autograph and a picture. The event is the perfect mix for those who consider autographs from Dierks Bentley and Dale Earnhardt Jr to be treasured booty.
NASCAR fans and country music fans are eager to rub elbows with drivers and artists alike, something both circuits are eager to take advantage of.
The 2009 race season kicks off Sunday (February 15) with the Daytona 500 the opening event of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series On hand for the festivities at the Daytona International Speedway will be Keith Urban who will perform before the race. Capitol Nashville labelmate Bentley performed a week earlier at the Budweiser Shootout which also takes place in Daytona.
Despite the hard economic climate, NASCAR officials and music industry executives believe the time is right to place more emphasis on collaborative marketing — not less.
“I haven’t heard anybody say, ‘We’re not doing a concert because we don’t have money,'” said Philip Metz, senior manager of entertainment marketing and talent relations for NASCAR and NASCAR Media Group. “The track promoters and NASCAR want to provide the most value for the ticket-buying fan, so concerts in certain markets provide that value.”
Artists who have the best chance of linking up with NASCAR are those who create a family-friendly atmosphere that fits with NASCAR’s image. “The best types of artists are those that can appeal to all ages,” Metz said, noting that classic rock, rock, pop and country acts tend to fare well with race fans.
Jay Williams a vice president at the William Morris Agency whose clients include Bentley, said that NASCAR’s fan base “has broadened drastically” during the past decade.
“There’s a ton of potential for artists to reach new fans now — and the same potential for NASCAR, by broadening their music sponsorship, to do the same,” Williams said.
The acts that have appeared at NASCAR races and events are diverse. The list ranges from Fantasia and Fergie to Jewel and Juanes to 3 Doors Down and Third Eye Blind not to mention Jermaine Dupri and Herbie Hancock.
“As long as everyone has a clear idea of what audience they are trying to reach, it can be successful,” Williams said.
Pop-rock singer Kelly Clarkson partnered with NASCAR for the 2007 season, when she was integrated into all aspects of the circuit. She performed in concert at the Daytona 500 and at NASCAR’s annual awards dinner and appeared in a TV spot for the NASCAR Foundation and one for the NASCAR Image Campaign.
Drivers can also benefit: Sheryl Crow cast Earnhardt to star in the video for her song ” Steve McQueen” while 3 Doors Down featured Tony Stewart and Earnhardt in its video for “The Road I’m On.”
CONNECTIONS AND CROSS-CONNECTIONS
“Both music and NASCAR are highly individual and personal experiences for fans,” Williams said. “They identify with a driver or two and really connect and feel part of a community of like-minded people. NASCAR drivers are very similar to country artists because they are extremely close to their fans and very hands-on when it comes to managing their fans.”
In 2003, General Motors rebranded the annual Chevrolet Monte Carlo 400 at the Richmond International Raceway as the Chevy Rock & Roll 400 The Richmond, Va., race has regularly featured pre-race musical performances by such acts as Nickelback Daughtry and Three Days Grace
“It was a way to cross-connect what we have traditionally done in the music and entertainment space with racing,” said Terry Dolan, manager of Chevy Racing. “There’s such a natural affiliation, whether it’s country music or rock ‘n’ roll music and racing fans. It was a fun way to show that Chevy is cool, hip and youthful-oriented not only in the products we build but also in the lifestyle affiliations we have.”
Not only do acts perform at the race, but they’re sometimes worked into the paint schemes of cars. In the 2006 Chevy 400, Kevin Harvick drove to victory in a No. 29 GM Goodwrench Chevy Monte Carlo SS emblazoned with images of Barenaked Ladies The band performed before the race and XM Satellite Radio now part of Sirius XM, simulcast the concert for its subscribers.
Music tie-ins can enhance the value of an event for race fans plunking down their hard-earned dollars, NASCAR’s Metz said.
“Music helps put people in good moods and really adds to our show,” he said. “It also helps further put us in mainstream pop culture by aligning us with artists (who) have their own followings.”