As the Confederate flag swirls above them controversially, NASCAR officials look up and see sunny skies. And a touch of green.
Business is good.
Read the news: Fifth Third Bank signed on as the official bank of Daytona International Speedway on Tuesday, a multiyear deal exclusive of its established partnership with Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Fifth Third, which is ranked 416th in the latest Fortune 500 listing, reflects a nice uptick for NASCAR when it comes to recruiting companies that defy the beef jerky and beer stereotypes.
A new analysis that will be released by NASCAR shows that more than 1 in 4 Fortune 500 companies use NASCAR as part of their marketing package. The number of Fortune 500 companies invested in NASCAR increased 7 percent over the course of a year as well. Fortune 500 companies are considered the gold standard of success for publicly traded companies in the United States.
"We're just expanding our investment into the motor sports industry," Brian Lamb, president and CEO of Fifth Third Bank in North Florida, said Tuesday. "It's a $6 billion industry and we feel we're a natural fit for that. It's an exciting time — and a historic time — for Daytona."
Far gone from the days when STP was king and had a prominent spot on Richard Petty's car, the NASCAR brands now rope in technology companies like Microsoft and Oracle. No, this is not your granddaddy's NASCAR any more.
"NASCAR is using more and more technology and it's starting to reflect on the brand," said Steve Phelps, NASCAR's executive vice president and chief marketing officer. "These companies that understand about marketing can come in and create technology that helps make the sport better."
In 2014, for example, a collaborative effort with Microsoft streamlined NASCAR's technical inspection process with the development of a mobile inspection application, eliminating a paper trail and trimming nearly in half the time officials spent examining cars and recording pertinent data.
"We've had a rush in technology and innovation the last few years," Phelps said. "We see that companies coming into NASCAR are ultimately becoming good for NASCAR by bringing fans closer in some way."
Crunching numbers to reflect that interest, the number of tech Fortune 500 companies invested in NASCAR has increased by 66 percent since 2013. The study, commissioned by NASCAR and conducted by Toluna in 2014, also shows that "more than 60 percent of all avid NASCAR fans talk positively about brands that are sponsors in NASCAR, and purchase their products/services because of their involvement in the sport."
The challenge now becomes using those numbers to engage a major player on a different level: sponsorship of the Cup Series. Sprint is bailing once its contract expires in a year and a half, although that time frame could be shorter if NASCAR finds a series sponsor sooner.
"It's great to have this type of narrative when we have these increases," Phelps said. "The large Fortune 500 bump we've had in a year bodes well as we're out in the market to replace Sprint. ... We're very bullish on getting a partner."