When the Daytona 500 takes off today at 1:30 EST, Danica Patrick will be under pressure not just as a racer, but as the top draw for new NASCAR fans. Even before she made history as the first woman to win the pole, she was already recognized for drawing new, younger, and more diverse fans to the sport, according to a Forbes report by Darren Heitner.
A late 2012 market study showed that new female fans are especially worth attracting to the sport. According to the survey performed by Taylor Strategy, 82% of women fans recommend NASCAR to family and friends.
“Danica has immense ‘star power,'” Jon Flack of Just Marketing International, a motorsports marketing firm, told Forbes. Her over 720,000 followers on Twitter would certainly agree.
Other NASCAR racers also recognize her role as the sport’s top draw, at least to younger women. Last week, three top male drivers — Jeff Gordon, Carl Edwards, and Jimmie Johnson — even brought their daughters to meet Patrick, Jenna Fryer reported in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
“That’s three pretty big drivers who have little girls that wanted to meet me,” Patrick said.
Even before she won the historic pole position for the Daytona 500 race, the Taylor report stated that there’s growing money and attention in NASCAR. 71% of the younger fans in the 18-34 age group said they would be more likely to buy a sponsor’s product — and they’re willing to splash out. The sponsors they’d like to see included Nike, Google, and Apple.
Has her role as NASCAR’s ambassador rattled her nerves? She may have blundered in yesterday’s Nationwide race, when she pulled out early. She thought her engine was dead, but her pit crew fired it up. Some reports had the embarrassed star in tears when she realized her mistake.
If Patrick wins today, it could mean unprecedented new support for NASCAR. That won’t stop other drivers from trying to beat her, though. Tony Stewart, the winner of yesterday’s ill-starred Nationwide race, told USA Today that he feels “mule-kicked” every time he loses the Daytona 500. He sounds like a man determined to offer Patrick a challenge.