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Once the Province of Macho Males, NASCAR Attracting More Female Fans

June 28, 1996

CONCORD, N.C. (AP) _ First-time NASCAR race-goer Ruby Nelson is screaming at the top of her lungs, but she can’t be heard. Drowning out her cries is the explosive noise of 40 stock cars racing by at speeds approaching 180 mph.

``I love the speed,″ she screamed into a reporter’s ear above the din, struggling to keep her eye on the start of NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway near Concord, N.C. ``Anything can happen.″

In the world of NASCAR, what’s happening is a gender shift in the sport’s fan base. As NASCAR’s popularity grows to an annual race attendance of 5.5 million, more and more of its fans are female, up from 25 percent 15 years ago to 40 percent today, according to NASCAR spokesman Kevin Triplett.

And as the fan base grows, so, too, has the range of corporate sponsors.

Once the domain of beer, gun and tobacco companies, today NASCAR corporate sponsors include Tide, the Family Channel, SPAM and QVC, the home shopping cable television station.

QVC is jumping into NASCAR promotion for the first time this year to the tune of more than $3 million.

``The growth is unbelievable,″ said Linda DeBloix, motor sports marketing manager for QVC, a company with 3.2 million female customers of 4.5 million total. ``We’re hoping to capitalize on the fans’ brand loyalty.″

So what’s the draw for NASCAR’s female fans?

For Sherry Hedrick, a nurse trainee from Lexington, N.C. who met her husband at a race, it’s about ``the speed, the power and the strategy.″

``It’s a sophisticated sport,″ said Hedrick, who started attending races as a college student and now volunteers in the pit crew at a local amateur track to learn more about racing.

For 6-year-old Amanda Bacon of Mount Holly, N.C., perched atop her dad’s shoulders in a checkered-flag patterned outfit at the Charlotte Motor Speedway, it’s an early introduction to a sport her father loves.

``For us, races are family time,″ Randy Bacon said.

And for Diane Davies, a 31-year-old manicurist and salon owner from Hazleton, Pa., who has been watching racing since she was seven, it’s the star power of NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt.

``I’m totally infatuated with this,″ said Davies as she shows off what she calls her ``Dale nails,″ a painterly tribute to Dale Earnhardt adorning each of her long, curly fingernails.

``I can’t explain it.″

End advance for June 29-30

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