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Fans run wide open for NASCAR // NASCAR

To fully grasp the depths of NASCAR's bulging popularity, you have to understand the guy who wrote to Texas Motor Speedway recently. Track officials won't give out his name, but he contacted the track about race tickets. He lives in Korea.

He is, in fact, one of more than 30,000 people who have contacted the track about race tickets.

The thing is, Texas Motor Speedway isn't even built yet and there aren't any races scheduled.

"We just collect their names and addresses from the letters and telephone calls to develop a mailing list when a schedule is determined," track general manager Eddie Gossage said.

Racing fans can't seem to get enough NASCAR these days. Speedways like the one in Texas are springing up everywhere, NASCAR race attendance is spiraling upward and NASCAR merchandise licensing is becoming a multi-million-dollar business.

"NASCAR is successful for two reasons _ the drivers are accessible and friendly; you don't see them going on strike, and because of the cars; fans can relate to the Chevy that Jeff Gordon or Dale Earnhardt is out there racing," said Charlotte Motor Speedway official Jerry Gappens. "The media coverage it's getting has helped a lot, too. It's on all the major cable stations and the big networks now."

Texas is just one area that's trying to meet NASCAR's growing demand. At present, there are five tracks that have either recently opened or are under construction. Two of them _ Homestead Motorsports Complex near Miami and Roger Penske's track in Ontario, Calif., _ have been virtually guaranteed NASCAR events. The others _ Walt Disney World Speedway near Orlando, Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth _ are hoping to get a NASCAR event, preferably a Winston Cup race.

And these aren't little speedways, either. The Texas track, scheduled to be completed by this fall, is a $125-million complex that will seat 150,000 spectators. The Las Vegas track will seat 107,000 and the Homestead facility, which cost $60-million and opened late last year, will eventually be able to handle road races in addition to oval events.

The tracks are springing up because of the demand. Since 1990, attendance at Winston Cup events has tripled.

Last year, attendance at the series' 31 races totaled 5,326,721, according to an industry survey. Another indication of the sport's popularity: 17 of the 18 tracks where Winston Cup events are held added seats last year.

At Darlington Raceway in South Carolina, track officials added 12,000 seats in 1994, 3,000 last year and plan on putting in 4,000 more after their spring race, according to track official Russell Branham.

TV ratings also are on the rise. Last year, ratings jumped 30

percent for all televised NASCAR events, according to one study, which estimated NASCAR viewership last year at 91

million.

"I think those are all signs of more things to come," Branham said.

Perhaps the most eye-opening aspect of NASCAR's growth is in merchandise licensing. In effect, NASCAR is trying to get in on the boom other major sports are experiencing in sales of officially licensed hats, shirts, jackets and other apparel.

NASCAR actually is taking it a step further. In the future, there will even be NASCAR brand auto parts. Some industry experts have said NASCAR will do $600_million in sales of licensed products this year.

To help sell it all, NASCAR has teamed up with Gaylord Entertainment of Nashville to open a chain of retail stores in the Southeast. The stores, which will be called NASCAR Thunder and feature multi-screen video walls and interactive stations, will be similar to the ones that Disney and Warner Bros. operate to sell their licensed merchandise.

"In the next three to five years," said NASCAR licensing manager Liz Schlosser, "there's going to be a tremendous explosion in NASCAR licensed products."

NASCAR is already exploding into other areas _ namely entertainment. This summer, NASCAR is launching what it calls interactive cafes. The restaurants will be decorated with NASCAR memorabilia and will feature racing sounds in surround audio and racing video games.

NASCAR plans to open 10 cafes initially, the first slated for Myrtle Beach, S.C., and then expand to other locations in the Southeast, Southwest and the West Coast.

As the same time, NASCAR is working on building a group of NASCAR theme parks. The attractions, which are being called NASCAR SpeedParks, will have areas where visitors can race each other in miniature Winston Cup cars and SuperTrucks. The first one is supposed to open this summer in Irvine, Calif., with others to follow in 1997, including one in Orlando.

Said Branham: "This is just the beginning. I don't think NASCAR is even nearing its peak."

STANDINGS

Final 1995 points:

1. Jeff Gordon, 4,614.

2. Dale Earnhardt, 4,580.

3. Sterling Marlin, 4,361.

4. Mark Martin, 4,320.

5. Rusty Wallace, 4,240.

6. Terry Labonte, 4,146.

7. Ted Musgrave, 3,949.

8. Bill Elliott, 3,746.

9. Ricky Rudd, 3,734.

10. Bobby Labonte, 3,718.

11. Morgan Shepherd, 3,618.

12. Michael Waltrip, 3,601.

13. Dale Jarrett, 3,584.

14. Bobby Hamilton, 3,576.

15. Derrike Cope, 3,384.

16. Geoff Bodine, 3,357.

17. Ken Schrader, 3,221.

18. John Andretti, 3,140.

19. Darrell Waltrip, 3,078.

20. Brett Bodine, 2,988.

21. Rick Mast, 2,984.

22. Ward Burton, 2,926.

23. Lake Speed, 2,921.

24. Ricky Craven, 2,883.

25. Dick Trickle, 2,875.

26. Jimmy Spencer, 2,809.

27. Steve Grissom, 2,757.

28. Joe Nemechek, 2,742.

29. Robert Pressley, 2,663.

30. Kyle Petty, 2,638.

31. Jeremy Mayfield, 2,637.

32. Jeff Burton, 2,556.

33. Todd Bodine, 2,372.

34. Mike Wallace, 2,178.

35. Dave Marcis, 2,126.

36. Hut Stricklin, 2,082.

37. Bobby Hillin Jr., 1,686.

38. Elton Sawyer, 1,499.

39. Greg Sacks, 1,349.

40. Randy LaJoie, 1,133.

41. Loy Allen, 890.

42. Kenny Wallace, 878.

43. Chuck Bown, 618.

44. Jimmy Hensley, 558.

45. Rich Bickle, 538.

46. Davy Jones, 520.

47. Jeff Purvis, 391.

48. Ernie Irvan, 354.

49. Steve Kinser, 287.

50. Wally Dallenbach Jr., 221.

51. Billy Standridge, 209.

52. Gary Bradberry, 208.

53. Chad Little, 146.

54. Butch Leitzinger, 127.

55. Doug George, 110.

56. Joe Ruttman, 106.

57. Ed Berrier, 103.

58. Ron Hornaday Jr., 82.

59. Ben Hess, 79.

60. Phil Parsons, 77.

61. Jimmy Horton, 61.

Michael Ritch (tie), 61.

63. Pancho Carter, 58.

Ron Fellows (tie), 58.

65. Andy Hillenburg, 55.

Shane Hall (tie), 55.

67. Terry Fisher, 49.

68. Ken Pederson, 40.

69. Butch Gilliland, 37.

70. Dan Obrist, 34.

71. Ernie Cope, 31.

WINSTON CUP LINEUP

The 1996 lineup of drivers for the NASCAR Winston Cup stock-car series:

Driver No. Owner Crew Chief Make

Delma Cowart 0 H.L. Waters Phil Branch Ford

Rick Mast 1 Richard Jackson Kevin Hamlin Pontiac

Rusty Wallace 2 Roger Penske Robin Pemberton Ford

Dale Earnhardt 3 Richard Childress David Smith Chevy

Sterling Marlin 4 Larry McClure Tony Glover Chevy

Terry Labonte 5 Rick Hendrick Gary DeHart Chevy

Mark Martin 6 Jack Roush Steve Hmiel Ford

Geoff Bodine 7 Geoff Bodine Paul Andrews Ford

Hut Stricklin 8 William Stavola Phillipe Lopez Ford

Lake Speed 9 Harry Melling Jim Long Ford

Ricky Rudd 10 Ricky Rudd Richard Brooms Ford

Brett Bodine 11 Brett Bodine Donnie Richeson Ford

Derrike Cope 12 Bobby Allison Jimmy Fenning Ford

Wally Dallenbach 15 Bud Moore Jimmy Means Ford

Ted Musgrave 16 Jack Roush Howard Comstock Ford

Darrell Waltrip 17 Darrell Waltrip Pete Peterson Chevy

Bobby Labonte 18 Joe Gibbs Jimmy Makar Chevy

Loy Allen 19 Mark Smith Jeff Hammond Ford

Michael Waltrip 21 Glen Wood Eddie Wood Ford

Ward Burton 22 Bill Davis Chris Hussey Pontiac

Jimmy Spencer 23 Travis Carter Donnie Wingo Ford

Jeff Gordon 24 Rick Hendrick Ray Evernham Chevy

Ken Schrader 25 Rick Hendrick Phil Hammer Chevy

Elton Sawyer 27 David Blair Mike Hill Ford

Ernie Irvan 28 Robert Yates Larry McReynolds Ford

Steve Grissom 29 Gary Bechtel Billy Ingle Chevy

Johnny Benson 30 Chuck Rider Doug Hewitt Pontiac

Robert Pressley 33 Leo Jackson Andy Petree Chevy

John Andretti 37 Kranefuss-Haas Tim Brewer Ford

Ricky Craven 41 Larry Hedrick Scott Maxim Chevy

Kyle Petty 42 Felix Sabates Billy Woodruff Pontiac

Bobby Hamilton 43 Richard Petty Robbie Loomis Pontiac

Jeff Purvis 44 James Finch Mark Reno Ford

Jim Bown 57 Doug Stringer Jimmy Wilson Chevy

Dick Trickle 63 Brittan Schnell Rodney Floyd Ford

Steve Seligman 65 Georgia Seligman Gill Izzo Ford

Dave Marcis 71 Helen Marcis Terry Shirley Chevy

Phil Barkdoll 73 Linda Barkdoll Steve Barkdoll Chevy

Morgan Shepherd 75 Butch Mock Troy Selberg Ford

Bobby Hillin 77 Doug Bawel Paul Wise Ford

Joe Ruttman 80 Stan Hover Stan Hover Ford

Kenny Wallace 81 Filbert Martocci Gil Martin Ford

Joe Nemechek 87 Joe Nemechek Jeff Buice Chevy

Dale Jarrett 88 Robert Yates Todd Parrott Ford

Mike Wallace 90 Junie Donlavey Bob Johnson Ford

Bill Elliott 94 Charles Hardy Mike Beam Ford

Chuck Bown 95 Earl Sadler Dennis Adcock Ford

Chad Little 97 Greg Pollex Gary Cogswell Pontiac

Jeremy Mayfield 98 Cale Yarborough Tony Furr Ford

Jeff Burton 99 Jack Roush Buddy Parrott Ford

Listings current through tuesday

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