Jeff Gordon in the winner's circle at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma last summer.
Sacramento Bee/Carl Costas
What beverage is in that Nextel Cup, anyway? Beer? Iced tea? Dr Pepper? Wine generally doesn't come to mind among the possibilities.
But on the eve of Sunday's Daytona 500, the inaugural of NASCAR's season, figures have been released to indicate that racing's fans increasingly are taking to wine.
Last year, the "average NASCAR fan household" spent $81.40 on wine, up from $66.80 the previous year, reports Nielsen FANLinks, a branch of ACNielsen that tracks purchasing among sports fans. That 22 percent increase is a bigger jump than for most sports. Wine purchases by baseball fans, for example, increased just six percent last year, says Dan O’Toole, director of new products for The Nielsen Company.
No group spends more on wine than fans of the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) - $124.90 last year. Tennis fans came in second with expenditures totaling $111.90, followed by fans of the Professional Golf Association (PGA) a close third at $109.40. O'Toole attributes the substantial expenditures for wine among golf and tennis fans to their general affluence.
NBA fans are down with NASCAR fans, spending $86.20 on wine last year. Fans of women's professional basketball spent considerably more - $99.10. Baseball fans spent $89, professional-football fans $94.30, and soccer fans $103.10, the latter a 27 percent increase the past year.
While sales of imported wines are increasing among NASCAR fans, domestic wines represent about 70 percent of their purchases. The growing interest in wine among NASCAR fans could be fueled in part by the entry into the wine business by team owners and drivers like Richard Childress and Jeff Gordon, indicate Nielsen officials.
O'Toole sees in the NASCAR numbers an opportunity for wineries to more aggressively market wines to the sport's fans. "So few winery brands reach out to them, but there's a real opportunity for growth there."