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Speed Reads: The 200-MPH Billboard – The Inside Story of How Big $$ Changed NASCAR

Becca’s Book Review: “The 200-MPH Billboard – The Inside Story of How Big Money Changed NASCAR”

Author: Mark Yost with a foreword by Brian Williams, anchor of the NBC Nightly News

Whenever a book purports to provide an “inside story” of an organization – especially one like NASCAR that can circle the wagons pretty tightly when it needs to – the obvious first question is who the book’s author is and how he got his inside access.

Author Mark Yost is a journalist who has covered the business of sports for more than 20 years for publications such as the Wall Street Journal and the Dow Jones Newswire. While he is not a NASCAR “insider” such as a team owner or sponsor, he is a real-life NASCAR fan, though he admits having lost some of his zeal for the sport after the 2001 death of Dale Earnhardt. Nevertheless, Yost’s well-researched book receives high praise on the back cover by pillars of the sport such as Rick Hendrick, Humpy Wheeler and Bob Keegan, CEO of Goodyear.

Though the book was originally published in 2007, I was sufficiently intrigued by the title to choose it to review. The foreword by Brian Williams, another self-professed diehard NASCAR fan, really does not discuss specifics of the book, but provides an overview of the growing pains that the sport of stock-car racing and the NASCAR sanctioning body have faced in recent times.

“At its top levels, NASCAR is a huge, corporate-driven sport. As a family-owned and controlled enterprise, it has no real comparison in American business,” Williams writes.

It is that dichotomy which forms the basis of many of the struggles NASCAR faced – and Yost documents – as it grew from a Southeast regional racing circuit to the second-largest spectator sport in the country. Though the term “big money” can carry a negative connotation, the book really does not reveal anything untoward about NASCAR’s transition from local sport to big business.

In the first chapter, Yost provides what might be the most succinct passage in the book to illustrate the way that corporate dollars have become the very lifeblood for teams and the sport itself:

“The state of the sport was summed up in a 1979 victory lane quote by NASCAR champion Darrell Waltrip. A week before the live flag-to-flag coverage of the 1979 Daytona 500 on CBS, Waltrip won the season-opening race at Riverside, Calif. When he was interviewed in victory lane, he said, ‘I’ve got to thank God, Gatorade and Goodyear for the way we ran today.’”

Each chapter of the book examines a different, though no less interesting piece of the NASCAR business puzzle. There are sections on NASCAR corporate hospitality (cleverly titled, “The Suite Life”); big tobacco’s influence; the television revolution; the expansion to tracks in the Midwest, West, and even other countries; NASCAR’s B2B (Business-to-Business) Council; the influx of military sponsors; Toyota’s entry into the sport and even more.

In the book’s epilogue, “What’s Next for NASCAR,” Yost outlines some of the current issues facing the sport, which he sums up as, “The biggest question for the sport is whether it’s peaked, a legitimate question.” He answers his own query at the end of the chapter, writing:

“Pundits have long speculated that NASCAR was sowing the seeds of its own demise. Only time will tell.”

But, referring to the “hiccups” the sport has experienced in recent years, he adds, “…my guess is that they are just growing pains for a sport and a business that continues to confound its critics and please its acolytes.”

I’m sure all NASCAR fans hope that this positive prediction, from someone who’s done his due diligence, comes true.

Becca Gladden wrote for Frontstretch from 2006 through 2008, and is a weekly columnist for Insider Racing News. She also runs a PR business called Limelight Writing; check it out! Contact Becca through Twitter or her email address at NscrWriter@aol.com.

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