The NASCAR Brand Takes Over America

On a trip back to my childhood home in rural Virginia not too long ago, I pulled over at a truck stop in the Shenandoah Valley and saw a piece of black velvet art called "The Holy Trinity." It was a painting of Jesus, Elvis and Dale Earnhardt Sr., and not necessarily in that order.

That's funny, but it's also shocking, because that campy cult image, also available on mouse pads as "The Three Kings," until recently included no less a Southern deity than Gen. Robert E. Lee in the Dale Senior slot. Perhaps that's a sign of progress down South, depending on whether you call the Civil War the "Civil War" or the "War of Northern Aggression." Considering I saw this just a few miles from a theme park where giant fiberglass dinosaurs are depicted eating "Yankees" and "bluecoats," I'm not holding my breath.

For me it was the precise moment when I realized that NASCAR had finally and officially managed to brand everything. If you don't believe it, think of a product and then Google it along with the word "NASCAR" and see what you get. Let's start with "fruit." I'll wait here. Done? You proved my point. Not because of the NASCAR-approved mangoes you found—which really do exist—but because you also found a three-pack of NASCAR briefs by Fruit of the Loom. NASCAR cologne?

Surely that can't be … check. Flip-flops? Check. Wine Opener? Yes. Maybe a better test would be to find a product that NASCAR doesn't endorse.

This sort of merchandise branding works because NASCAR's many millions of fans are passionate and extremely loyal to their favorite drivers. Example: a great photo that made the e-mail rounds a while back showed a big guy at a race with Dale Earnhardt Sr.'s iconic number 3 shaved into his hair … his back hair.

Fans tattoo cars on their arms, slap bumper stickers on their rides like "My Driver's in Heaven," and decorate home and office with all manner of "NASCAR décor." Blogs this week were speculating about how many "thousands" of fans will now have to go out and get their Dale Earnhardt Jr. tattoos doctored, now that Junior's moving from car number 8 to 88. Luckily that's a fix even a rookie tattoo artist can handle.

The passion and the products extend into just about every part of the rabid fan's life. If you can't make it out to the track or there's no race on TV, you can curl up at home on a bright blue NASCAR Jimmie Johnson Classic Sofa—number 48, pillows not included—and read a few NASCAR romance novels from the Harlequin series. As the light from your "Tiffany-style" NASCAR lamp shines down, with the number of your favorite driver in stained glass, you can choose from such titillating titles as "Total Control," "Full Throttle," "Speed Dating" and my personal favorite, "Hearts Under Caution." Harlequin promises you'll be on the edge of your seat "as you read about the thrilling twists and turns both on the racetrack and on the track to love." That may well be true, but if you Google some of these titles your first hit might not be a romance novel. (Note to my editor: I was looking at those Web sites for this story only.)

You'll have plenty of time to read, because your car-shaped NASCAR "robotic vacuum" will be scooting around underfoot sucking up dust bunnies. For only $279.99 you get a large-capacity bin and automatic cleaning, not to mention the remote-controlled vacuum can be converted to a racer after its work is done. Can an Oreck do that? I think not.

Now that the house is clean, how to make that upcoming baby shower a big success? Zip over to eBay and bid on a NASCAR-inspired diaper cake, where "between 30 and 40 diapers are artfully arranged to resemble a three-tier wedding cake" and topped with die-cast NASCAR toys. (Is it just me, or do the words diaper and cake really not belong together?)

Indeed, NASCAR-inspired products can follow you from the cradle to the grave, from baby clothes to Tony Stewart pacifiers (Get it? Heh-heh) and onward to the great beyond. If your grandpa just died and he was a big fan of Jeff Gordon, how would you best honor him in the eternal afterlife? (After forgiving him for liking Jeff Gordon, I mean.) Yes, he'll soon meet Elvis and Dale Sr., but you want more. Why not lay out Paw-Paw in the "Race Is Over" coffin available at Artcaskets.com. As the site suggests, "the checkered flag, the trophy, and the roar of the crowd all insure that every auto racing fan will enjoy the high-performance look of the Art Casket." The top is painted with blue skies, a checkered flag, and NASCAR-type cars, though it's not actually a NASCAR product. I'm sure Grandpa won't mind.

So this weekend, as you're watching the boys make the 500-mile left turn, sit on your NASCAR couch in your NASCAR tighty-whiteys, eat some NASCAR mangoes, raise a NASCAR-endorsed beer to Grandpa, glance over at your wife reading her NASCAR novel, gaze at your precious baby boy, Dale, in his NASCAR onesie, sucking on his NASCAR pacifier, and give thanks that you live in the greatest country on earth: the United States of NASCAR.