It was a Sign of the Times. An apropos beginning to what will surely be a benchmark year in the sport's history. Both guys are only 26. Both have racing dynasties behind them and have the talent to warrant it. Both are hot as hell.
And they're not the only ones.
In the past three years, NASCAR's stock car series -- Winston and Busch -- have been inundated with hot young things like Tony Stewart, Steve Park, Matt Kenseth, Hank Parker, Jr., Shane Hmeil, and, of course, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. And there seems to be a new one every time you turn around. Granted, I spend more time at indie-rock venues than football stadiums, so I'm not an expert on athletes. However, I've been to some NASCAR races and I know sexy and I can tell you that I haven't seen so many hotties at a sporting event since the Portuguese soccer team came to Athens, GA for the 1996 Olympics.
No wonder more young women are watching NASCAR these days -- a 70 percent increase in the past year alone. Women now make up 40 percent of the sport's audience overall. And the exciting young drivers are bringing in more young guys, too. Girls want them. Guys want to be them. When Dale Earnhardt Jr. became the spokesman for Drakkar Noir cologne, it shot from #15 in US sales to #2 in a matter of weeks.
It's a dream come true for sponsors. They already had the old guard fans and now they're raking in fresh new dinero from the so-called MTV demographic that marketing firms always salivate over. In the past year, the 18-to-34-year-old audience has increased almost 40 percent for NASCAR. And when we came to the races or turned on the TV, we brought money. Last year, race fans spent $1.34 billion on NASCAR products -- a 100 percent increase since 1995.
Keep in mind that NASCAR fans don't just like what they like - they like it a lot. Stock car racing fans take devotion to a level unseen in other sports. Go to a race and look around. Everyone is wearing something with a number on it. Even old people and little kids. Most of the cars in the parking lot have numbers on them. The biggest news is that female fans are outspending the males in some areas. Surveyed chicks admitted that they are 75 percent more likely to buy products if they're related to NASCAR over non-related products. Who says shopping isn't a substitute for... uh... you know.
According to Angie Taylor, coordinator of Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s fan club, women outnumber men among their 10,000+ members. "I'd guess that about 55 to 65 percent of the members are female," she said. "And they all send letters letting him know that they're single." Junior recently did a chat on NASCAR.com, eliciting more than 1,500 posted questions. Most were from females. Many read like personal ads and directly asked him to email them.
Although Junior is perhaps the most sought after sex symbol of NASCAR, he's by no means the only one. According to Tony Stewart's fan club, about 40 percent of their 10,000+ members are female. And now that Jeff Gordon is getting divorced, his souvenir sales are sure to skyrocket.
At one point during a recent Winston Cup race, I looked around our section and noticed that most of the binoculars trained on pit road were being wielded by chicks, many of whom had clearly swiped them from their dates. Take a close look at pit road and you'll know why. It's not just the drivers -- there are lots of hotties on the crews, too. A couple sitting behind us had quite the altercation because of it.
He said, "But they're mine."
She said, "But I'm looking for Junior."
He said, "But they're mine."
She glared and set her jaw, "But I'm looking for Junior!"
He stomped off to get a beer to wash down his feelings of inadequacy. She soon located her prey, gasped, and then sighed. Audibly sighed.
It's the je ne sais quoi. . .