The High-Tech Texan Blog

Monday, February 21, 2005

NASCAR. A Lesson in Sponsored Technology

Anybody catch the Daytona 500? I fall into the "semi-auto racing fan" category having been to an Indy 500 about a decade ago. Nothing like standing five feet from the track when cars zip by at 200+ mph. The closest I get to that feeling now is when I head towards the Galleria on the Southwest Freeway, sometimes hitting half of that speed when my radar detector is spotting for me.

But I felt the need - the need for speed - again while watching The Great American Race last Sunday. And it's all about the high-def. FOX did a nice job catching the bumps, yellow flags and pit stops with its 720p broadcast, Cable Cam and slick, colorful graphics. In fact, programs produced like this may one day hurt live attendance. After all why would I want to sit on bleachers in the hot Florida sun watching blurs go by every three minutes when I could be sprawled out on my couch teaching my kids the finer points of restrictor plate racing.

Or sitting in front of my computer. That is actually where I "watched" some of the Daytona race; logged on to the NASCAR Web site. The words NASCAR and Web site go together like duck hunting and champagne but I have got to hand it to Brian France and his boys. The organization's CEO has not only embraced technology but he went and dern near slingshotted his older brethren with the more established initials. Namely the NFL and MLB. (NHL is now a very distant cousin, once removed).

It's kind of my job to sit at the computer and review Web sites and gadgets. But I was almost giddy while monitoring the TrackPass features on Got a favorite driver? I don't. But I now know more about Kurt Busch than than my own sons. The technology they place in the cars let Web visitors follow cars around the track with GPS telemetry. In HTT terms that means you can check out each car's speed, RPM, throttle and brake data.

It was almost like watching a video game. There was the "trioval" of Daytona International Speedway and there go the little colored, numbered dots. Mouse over a dot and you'd get instant information on the car's vital data. The only fact I couldn't find was the driver's blood pressure.

I still got a kick out of watching the TV broadcast (I can do that thanks to my P-O-P. That's my picture-out-of-picture technology with a TV sitting next to my PC). The FOX play-by-play guys (or is that lap-by-lap) were too busy blowing sunshine up Little E's tailpipe near the end of the race to realize that the sport's top face, Jeff "Alimony" Gordon, took the lead with two laps to go. I don't know the difference between a Dale and an Ernie but I know when a rainbow-painted car passes a Bud-logo'd car.

And speaking of sponsors, I LOVE the loyalty of those drivers. I'm serious. I understand the business I am in is indeed a business and you have got to give love to your sponsors. Without sponsors there would be no race on FOX or no technological advances on the Web. This fact was summed up quite clearly when Michael Waltrip (the #15 NAPA Auto Parts Chevy car driver) was asked how he felt when his engine blew out with less than 40 laps to go. Before he could explain something about a piston or a rod, the first words out of his mouth were his thanks to the "NAPA Auto Parts, Domino's Pizza, Best Western, Oreo car." It made me hungry.

(And did anyone notice that every single commercial starred Dale Earnhardt, Jr.? I mean EVERY single commercial. They could have strung together his spots and counter-programmed half a season of The Simpsons).

I doubt I will watch much more of the NASCAR season this year. Baseball is just around the corner and (moment of silence, please) football is just six months away. And oh yeah, I do have a wife and three kids to spend my Sundays with. But thanks to sponsorship deals NASCAR has with Nextel and other providers I can always sneak a look on my cell phone during race day to see how Kevin LePage is holding out (the #37 Patron Tequila Dodge car). Come to think of it I'm a bit thirsty...

FOOTNOTE: NASCAR signed a deal with Sirius Satellite Radio on Tuesday. All races will be heard on 100% digital radio for the next five years. NASCAR will receive $107.5 million. This should sell a lot more satellite receivers down in Bubba-land. Possible dilemma: will the broadcasts be COMMERCIAL free?