More Women Cheer For NASCAR

NASCAR fans, Phoenix International Raceway
Subway Fresh Fit 500 AVONDALE, AZ - APRIL 21: Fans cheer during the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series Subway Fresh Fit 500 at Phoenix International Raceway on April 21, 2007 in Avondale, Arizona. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Getty Images/Harry How
NASCAR is truly the great American spectacle. Forty weeks a year, NASCAR — the National Association of Stock Car Auto Racing — brings its unique brand of traveling circus to a speedway near you.

"It's loud cars goin' too fast with hundreds of thousands of half-clad humans in the stand and hundreds of thousands of gallons of beer," author of a book on NASCAR, Jeff MacGregor told Sunday Morning correspondent Tracy Smith. "What would America like about that?"

But for all the beer and baseball caps, a NASCAR race is a surprisingly female-friendly affair. NASCAR says that in the past three years, the male-dominated circuit has seen a big surge in female fans.

Better than 40 percent are women and their numbers are growing fast. Politicians court NASCAR dads, but out at the track, NASCAR moms are now out in force and to the racing community, that's a good thing.

"The future is bright any time there's females," Ruth Crowley, who runs Motorsports Authentics, said. "I think that, number one, the fan base for females is growing in NASCAR. And the amount of females at track is growing at NASCAR. And so, we want to just make sure that we accommodate all of those fans."

Crowley's business sells race-related merchandise, including a new line launched this year made specifically for women who feel the need for speed.

"I think women like the sport of racing because it's fast," she said. "There's this element of danger. There's an element of skill. And it's just something that they can enjoy. You know, women understand the sport of racing. And I think that there's pieces of this sport that really appeal to them.

"And it doesn't hurt that the drivers are all cute as well, and they look great in their fire suits."

She's not being flip: The drivers are crucial to the sport's appeal.

"The drivers themselves are a key factor in our success with our female fan base," Steve Phelps, NASCAR's marketing chief, said. "Our drivers are seen as courageous, heroic, down-to-Earth, they're regular guys and our female fan base certainly identifies with that."

One reason they're so appealing: NASCAR drivers make themselves available to their fans as few professional athletes do.

NASCAR fans typically choose a favorite driver. They wear their colors and before every race they stand in line to meet their driver in person.

Angie Skinner got hooked on NASCAR racing when she met her husband, champion driver Mike Skinner. She's also the author of a book on what some NASCAR families eat at the track — race day grub. Forget turkey legs and fried baloney; her NASCAR team eats shrimp cocktail.

"That's one of the concepts I'm trying to do away with when it comes to NASCAR racing," she said. "I think everybody thinks that we eat hamburgers and hot dogs every weekend.

But female race fans are drawn to the sport by more than good looking drivers and upscale food. It's the sound, many say, that hooks them.

That sound is the full-throttle roar of a V-8 engine — a skull-rattling din that shakes your soul, regardless of your age or gender. Mike Skinner says women are here for the cars.

"I think they'd be shocked about how much women know about the sport," he said. "I have women come up to me all the time and start talking about gears and tires and sway bars and springs. I'm like, 'How the heck do you know about that stuff?' But they pay attention."

Skinner says that NASCAR hasn't tried to become more female-friendly, but more aligned with corporate America. Is NASCAR changing their image so it's more female friendly?

"It's not just the good 'ole tobacco chewing, whiskey running farmers that's racing these cars anymore," he said.