By: Deb Broadwater
The support I received from fans of every description and the NASCAR industry at large while fielding responses for this article has simply been overwhelming. What started as a single article idea has led to the second part of this “series.” I felt by making this a multi-part series, the readers could see how other females fans felt, and the reaction by the NASCAR industry and community. I spoke with many people and appreciate them agreeing to talk with me, make comments, and connecting me with others who contributed to making this happen. You are sure to see names you know, and some you might not but will soon want to know. Drivers, owners, sponsors and reporters responded and answered some tough questions regarding female fans in our sport.
For the first comment, we don’t have to go far, only to the last NASCAR Truck Series race at Kansas with the EPT 200. I’ve been in contact with Ben Blessing, Executive Vice President of Marketing for NFI Consumer Products (e.p.t). Over the course of the week we discussed my article and Ben had this to say about female fans in NASCAR.
“I have been a NASCAR fan my entire life. I grew up listening to it with my Dad when he was a truck driver. It was considered normal in my house growing up that the women loved racing as much as the men. Fast forward to my current life: married with three kids, two of which are girls. Given the excitement as well as the time commitment of what I do, my children are very involved in my job. I had a heartbreaking event a few months ago when my oldest daughter asked, “Dad, is there a league where girls race?”. Naturally, I was shocked at her question but ultimately, it was my fault for not making it more clear that women do race with men and that women will one day win a NASCAR race.
Racing knows no gender.
So from that point on, I looked for an opportunity to put our brand EPT into NASCAR to show the world that NASCAR wasn’t just for me, but for women. Data points tell us that X % of NASCAR fans are women but in my own household, there was misinformation. We hope that EPT sponsoring a NASCAR race was the first of many female focused brands involving and aligning themselves with a sport that no matter the data points, focuses on the female consumer and fan. Here is a data point for brands, females in the household make up 90% of their household purchasing decisions.”
Sponsors are an integral part of NASCAR. And because of this, you may find yourself at the store reaching for a certain product based on what you saw on track over the weekend. I know that I do this all the time. I’ll gladly spend my money on a NASCAR sponsor, knowing that my support helps the company continue to invest in the sport I love.
Our second comment takes me close to my home tracks with Rich Mar Florist. Jonathan Morrissey of Rich Mar Florist contacted me and was curious about my article. Rich Mar Florist is a floral company that started in 1955. They are in the top FTD 100 florists in the country and sponsor Spencer Boyd, Garrett Smithley, Stefan Parsons, and Josh Bilicki in the NASCAR circuit. They also provide all the floral designs for Pocono Raceway and Dover International Speedway. Jonathan, part of the husband/wife duo that run Rich Mar Florist, spoke with me about my article and plans. He admitted to being curious about my writing plans and once I explained to him some of mine and other females experiences, he was surprised. From a sponsor standpoint, he did not know at what level females were being invalidated by their love of the sport. He has been attending races for ten years and sponsoring the sport for four. He said in the garage area, women seem well respected and mentioned some of the PR women who are very successful in their NASCAR career and have a lot of influence behind the scenes. When his wife and daughter attend a race with him, they are treated with nothing but respect. I agree with Jonathan. When I’ve been lucky enough to be in the garage area, everyone I’ve had the pleasure of interacting with is kind, helpful, and eager to speak with me about the sport. He also doesn’t look at the people employed by NASCAR, whether it’s officials, team members, or anyone involved from a male/female perspective. To him, they’re all hard working individuals doing what they can to make the sport great. Jonathan said:
“From a sponsor standpoint, we want everyone in the stands. We want to educate. We love the sport we’re involved in and want everyone to love the sport and feel comfortable supporting the sport and coming to the track. I have a great group of positive drivers and a great fan base with those drivers. We want women at the track and off the track to feel comfortable and enjoy the sport.”
If you would like to support Jonathan and Rich Mar Florist, check out their website: www.richmarflorist.com
“Racing knows no gender”Ben Blessing, NFI Consumer Products
The statistics support what Jonathan and Ben both touch on. Businesses rely on hard facts when making decisions such as sponsorship. From numbers supplied directly to TehBen.com from NASCAR, statistics show that nearly 40% of the fan base is female according to the latest Nielsen Scarborough research (2019). NASCAR attracts 1.2 million female TV viewers per NASCAR Cup Series event; second-largest audience per event behind the NFL. (Source: The Nelson Company, 2019) NASCAR.com is the #1 site for female concentration of visitors among all major sports leagues at 36%. (Source: ComScore Media Matrix).
There are a multitude of females employed in NASCAR. From at the track to the teams and behind the scenes, women have a large presence in the sport. NASCAR’s Executive Vice Chair (Lesa France Kennedy), Chief Marketing Officer (Jill Gregory), Chief Human Resources Officer (Paula Miller) and general counsel (Tracey Lesetar-Smith) are positions all held by women; Kennedy and Gregory both have been named to Adweek’s Most Powerful Women in Sports list. These are just a few of the many women work tirelessly to keep our sport running.
Female members of the media, who I personally look up to, also gave comment. Claire B. Lang, who I consider one of the greatest NASCAR radio hosts of all time offered this:
“When I began my radio career in local radio way over two decades ago – women were not really encouraged to call in to sports talk radio. Now, I’m a sports talk radio anchor hosting my own show (“DialedIn”) on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio and I have many women calling in to the show lending their respected take on the sport that they follow. Shout out to all the great female NASCAR fans!”
Cassie Fambro of WRBC Fox 6 offered the following comment when asked about what it might take for long time fans going forward:
“I believe that most would be surprised to see how integrated and valuable that females are to the sport of NASCAR.”Brittney Zamora
Following the money and opportunity from sponsors and the governing body itself, car owners have the next scope of influence to engage and promote the female fan. When asked his opinion on female fans, Bob Leavine, owner of the #95 with Leavine Family Racing in the NASCAR Cup Series offers the following:
“Over the 10 years we have been involved with NASCAR, Sharon and I have noticed that the female fan base is equally as supportive of drivers and racing in general as the male fan base. In fact I have found that at the track and in our shop the female fans are more engaging and opinionated than our male fans.”
I’ve personally met and spoke with Bob multiple times in the past and appreciate him taking the time to discuss this with me. There have been moments where he’s been busy, but always made sure to make me feel welcome and happy to speak with me, treating me with the utmost respect, (even when our opinions have differed).
One of the under appreciated roles that have female participation in the world of racing is with the crews. Behind the scenes in the shop or on pit road during the race, you can make the case that this is racing’s one true meritocracy. Charlie Langenstein, Mechanical Director/Shop Foreman of StarCom Racing in the NASCAR Cup Series, reached out to me to see what he could do to help me out with part two. Those who may not know Charlie, he is a legend in the NASCAR garage. He has been the mechanical director for multiple NASCAR Cup Series championships, a member of the Dirt Motorsports Hall of Fame, and a recipient of the Papa Joe Hendrick Award of Excellence. Charlie is well known on Twitter for showing behind the scenes photos and discussing everything Motorsports related with his followers. He shares:
“So many female fans of the sport [from social media] have turned into friends and I enjoy being able to talk about the sport with them.”
When Charlie began his career in NASCAR, women weren’t allowed in the pits until women like Louise Smith and Janet Guthrie came into the sport and broke down those barriers. He remembers Janet Guthrie being well-respected by her peers and her ability to represent the sport so well. He met his wife through a race team, and has a daughter who also works in motorsports.
“If I saw someone disrespecting a woman online or at the track, it wouldn’t fly with me.”, Charlie mentioned. “Everyone should treat each other with respect and stick up for female fans if they see something occur that isn’t respectful. I’m grateful for female fans and all fans, and I feel lucky to be involved in the sport for as long as I have.”
I enjoyed speaking with Charlie and look forward to talking more about his experiences in NASCAR. To learn more about Charlie, find him at @wrenchtwister00 on Twitter.
Brittney Zamora, driver of the number 52 Super Late Model and the number 42 in NASCAR ARCA West for Brittney Zamora Racing gave us a glimpse into stock car racing as a female driver.
“As one of the few up-and-coming female drivers in NASCAR, my perspective of how females are involved within the sport may be a bit different than the average fan. I see women throughout many roles in NASCAR including drivers, fans, media personnel, broadcasters, PR, team managers etc. and all of these are highly valuable positions. I think in today’s world that we as females are accepted more than ever in the sport and we will only continue to go up from here. It can be an easy perception to think women are “unwelcome” when looking at the male-domination side of it, however when it is really looked into, I believe that most would be surprised to see how integrated and valuable that females are to the sport of NASCAR. I am thankful for my role and hope to continue making a positive impact within the sport.”
One of the first people to contact me was Joe Graf Jr., driver of the number 08 SS Green Light Racing Camaro in the NASCAR Xfinity series…while still finding time as a college student at NYU. Joe started following me and many fans earlier this year when many states were locked down due to COVID-19. I enjoy seeing drivers taking the time to interact with fans and appreciate what Joe wrote me:
“The female fan base is very important to our sport in so many ways. Whether it’s in the stands or watching at home, their support and interaction has helped mold the centerpiece to allow the NASCAR demographics to explode on so many positive levels, including with sponsors.
Females are going to play a huge role in the sport – whether it’s in stands, on the track or in the garage for decades to come.”
I’ve yet to meet Joe, but I appreciate his willingness to talk to me, his comments regarding my article, and look forward to talking more with him in the future. Follow him on Twitter @Joegrafjr.
Last but certainly not least, Tommy Joe Martins, driver of the Martins Motorsports #44 in the xFinity series also gave comment, saying: “Without a doubt, female fans have been some of my most loyal supporters throughout my career. At times when I haven’t given fans much to cheer for, usually it’s the ladies that are the first to tweet/message/respond to our efforts. Thoughtful & overwhelmingly supportive.”
The general consensus from the community, as well as my overall point to this series is that female fans are embraced, supported, and needed in NASCAR. My hope is that I can go to a race one day soon and see more women enjoying the sport, repping their brands, getting excited when their driver does well…and just having a good time being involved in the post. I hope after reading my series, women joining us as fans feel welcome and comfortable in their fandom. Knowing some of the great women from part 1, and after meeting the wonderful people in the NASCAR industry, we are all here to support and welcome you.
Follow Deb on Twitter for all things NASCAR!