SBJ/August 31 - September 6, 1998/No Topic Name

L.A.'s NASCAR lite may lead to bigger race

NASCAR is coming to Los Angeles with a minor league race, major league stars and a million-dollar marketing blitz.

Organizer Bill Burke, president of LA Events Inc., said he expects to lose money on the Featherlite Southwest Series race to be held on the streets of Los Angeles' inner city on Labor Day weekend.

But if things go well, Burke, who is also president of the Los Angeles Marathon, hopes NASCAR will sanction a "higher-on-the-food-chain race" for the city, which never before has held a NASCAR event.

In terms of prestige and prize money, the Featherlite Series is below the Craftsman Truck, Busch Grand National and the premier Winston Cup series.

"I am years and years away from a Winston Cup race, but I would love to have that," Burke said. Last year Burke held a vintage car race, which attracted more than 100,000 fans but lost $1.5 million.

"I was stunned that NASCAR would sanction any kind of race," Burke said, adding that the LA Street Race will cost about $3.5 million to produce.

Sponsors of the race, including Kragen Auto Parts, America Online Inc. and its title sponsor, Southern California Ford Dealers, are shouldering part of the cost of the race, Burke said.

Bruce Collins, senior vice president for Dailey & Associates, the Ford dealers' ad agency, said the cost of the title sponsorship is "considerably more than" the rumored $500,000. The package includes advertising for the event that alone may be worth more than $1 million, he said.

A 10-day advertising blitz of 10,000 radio spots and 6,000 television spots was to begin running in the Los Angeles area last week, Burke said. The ads are Ford ads but carry a tag offering coupons and discounts for race tickets to those who visit a Ford dealership, Collins said.

Collins said Ford dealers are getting in on the ground floor of what he hopes will become "a major street race" to rival the Toyota Long Beach Grand Prix.

Though Featherlite is not considered a major series, major NASCAR stars Kenny Schrader and Mark Martin are planning to fly out the night before the Monday race after both compete in the Mountain Dew 500 Winston Cup race in Darlington, S.C.

Martin, the second-ranked NASCAR driver in the country, does not race in the Featherlite series, said his spokeswoman, Lori Halbeisen. He is taking part because his agreement with Ford Motor Co. provides that he do promotional appearances for the company, she said.

Because Martin and Schrader will not be in Los Angeles for the first round of qualifying on Sunday, they will have to start the race in positions 26 or higher, said Lee Elder, media coordinator for the Featherlite series.

However, if the Mountain Dew 500 were rained out, that race would be rescheduled for Labor Day, and neither Martin nor Schrader would be heading west, LA Street Race organizers said.

"If it rains in Darlington, then we're in trouble," Halbeisen said.

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