RALEIGH, N.C. — They say race fans are the most loyal of any sports supporters, and North Carolina is making a big play to promote motor sports and the money it brings in statewide.
When the racetrack announcer says, “Gentlemen, start your engines” and fans hear the roar of motors, economic boosters in state government hear coins clinking and cash crinkling.
Promoting and supporting motor sports is taking the checkered flag in the Tar Heel state, and you don’t have to go to the track to see it. It’s right in downtown Raleigh.
At the state tourism office, they make no secret about it. Word of NASCAR is every where. Brochures cover the wall, advertising everything from The Dale Trail to The Richard Petty Museum.
Helping to make all that bigger and better — and more profitable — is Derek Chen's job. He is the state’s director of motor sports development, recently added to the staff at the state Department of Commerce.
“There are 27,000 people that are employed by the motor sports industry in North Carolina, direct and indirect, and the average salary is about $60,000,” Chen said.
His job, Chen said, is to “basically help grow and support this $6 billion industry.” The state is also working on special tax incentives for motor-sports-related companies.
The state just landed the NASCAR museum, under construction near Charlotte. Fans jam the stands at Lowe's Motor Speedway in Concord. New businesses that pay taxes and pay workers are popping up statewide.
North Carolina's ramp up in motor sports promotion goes all the way to the top. Gov. Mike Easley talked it up in a recent interview.
“Motor sports and NASCAR, that's something we do very well here in North Carolina, and we ought to be investing in it and expanding on it — and I think the sky is the limit. We could double what we're doing now,” Easley said.