Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The power of love and hate

In an attempt to reignite the fire that grew the sport to unprecedented popularity in the 90s and 2000s,  NASCAR has hired Ogilvy NY and launched a new ad campaign.

As someone who spent a lot of time at Daytona as creative director for Chevrolet motor sports back in the late 80s, I applaud the effort. The drivers and their personalities are the sport. As nice as the campaign is, I don't, however, expect it to have a whole lot of short-term impact on either race attendance or viewership.

That having been said, I expect this weekend's Daytona 500 to do incredible numbers for one reason: Danica.

She's the lightning rod. The driver who is both beloved and hated at the same time. For the detractors, her fame far outstrips her talent and the opportunities she's been given. For her fans, she's battled the old boy network every step of the way and achieved success in spite of the obstacles. After a few lackluster finishes running a partial schedule last year, she was in danger of becoming irrelevant.

All that changed in 45.817 seconds.

Danica winning the pole at Daytona is not just news, it's the story NASCAR needed to get back on the radar. It gives those who love her a reason to crow and those who hate her a reason to get their bile up a little more. It also gives a lot of other people who don't particularly care about racing a reason to watch.

NASCAR thrives on love/hate relationships. It succeeds when its stars clash. It's better when the young guns antagonize the old guard. It's a sport that's powered by stories, not gasoline.

For their sake, I hope they put on a good show this weekend because thanks to Danica, the world will be watching.

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