Indeed, NASCAR is streaking ahead on its own merits. Schiffman's task of acquiring more corporate sponsorship for NASCAR, its teams and its tracks is made easy by companies that are standing in line to get in on the promotional bonanza. "What they see is a sport [with gross revenues] growing at 20-plus percent, attendance quadrupling over the past six or seven years," says Schiffman. "We have an image that fits what they want to be associated with. We don't have people spitting at referees or kicking people or doing drugs." Drivers can't even cuss: After racer Geoff Bodine uttered "goddam" in his complaint about a competitor on a live TV interview in April, NASCAR zapped him with a $10,000 fine.
NASCAR racing is often compared to the current style of Hollywood action films—but with real-life danger. Jerry Bruckheimer, executive producer of the NASCAR-based Days of Thunder, as well as many other action movies, believes both Hollywood and NASCAR are selling "a great adrenaline rush. People can sit there and get excited. It's like an amusement park ride."
"Of course we sell adrenaline," says Wheeler. "We always have. The American public is beginning to realize that. It's been a long time coming."
There have been some very small signs of a thaw between CART and the IRL. George announced on May 16 that the 25-8 rule would be dropped for next year's race. CART driver Al Unser Jr., a two-time winner of the 500, calls that "a step in the right direction." The IRL also opened the competition to more manufacturers but rigidly resisted modifying its technical specs to bring them more in line with CART's. There the conflict stands, with little hope for resolution anytime soon.
CART drivers very much want to be back home again in Indiana next Memorial Day weekend. As Unser says, "I want to go back to the Indy 500. I've told Roger Penske, my boss, that. I've told Marlboro, my sponsor, that. But we need to do it right. They need to adopt the '97 CART rules. That change needs to happen for us to go there' and feel safe, feel competitive and run in the tradition that the Indy 500 deserves."