NASCAR in Primetime: an Inside Look at Life in the Fast Lane

ABC News gets an exclusive look inside the world of NASCAR.

July 12, 2007 — -- NASCAR – it might be the fastest growing sport on Earth and it shows no signs of slowing down. With drivers hurtling around the track at close to 200 miles per hour and fans flocking to raceways in throngs, it's a seemingly unstoppable phenomenon.

"NASCAR in Primetime" airs Wednesdays at 10/9c.

Stock car racing has its origins in Prohibition-era bootlegging and until recent years was popular mainly with Southern white men. Today, NASCAR casts a far wider net.

Over 40 percent of NASCAR fans are women. And with the introduction of drivers such as Juan Pablo Montoya, NASCAR has made inroads into a growing Hispanic fan base in both the United States and abroad.

NASCAR is a multibillion dollar empire built on brilliant marketing, speed and the American dream. It already has a firm hold on the hearts and minds of Americans and now it's fixing its eye on the rest of the world.

Movies like "Talladega Nights" have thrust stock car racing into the mainstream. NASCAR is now ubiquitous in corporate America and is used to market everything from motor oil to the military. It's an organization that is highly conscious of its public image and fiercely protective of its trade secrets.

NASCAR in Primetime is the first time that NASCAR has given any news organization uncensored access to its inner workings. ABC News spent six months following drivers, fans and officials, documenting everything that happened on and off the racetrack. Our cameras saw people and places that NASCAR has never before allowed to be filmed for TV.

For the first time, viewers will get an inside look at the real world of NASCAR.

Gentlemen, Start Your Engines!

In the life of a NASCAR driver, there are tragedies and triumphs, victories and defeats. And that's just in a day on the racetrack.

Drivers are the celebrity athletes du jour -- think Michael Jordan or the Beatles, but bigger. Simultaneously adored and reviled, their on-track dramas play out like soap operas on the airwaves and their autographs can fetch thousands of dollars.

ABC News had unprecedented access to some of the biggest names and fastest rising stars in the sport.

The Drivers

Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson are the poster boys of NASCAR. Johnson is a clean-cut driver who plays by the rules and always keeps his cool. Stewart's aggressive driving style and fiery temper have earned him a bad-boy image. Both drivers have had their share of victories, but it's not always easy to stay on top.

Juan Pablo Montoya has conquered all the major races in the Formula One circuit, but he is a NASCAR rookie and has a lot to prove. Will he live up to the hype? His wife, Connie, is betting on it.

Eight years ago, David Stremme was broke and working as a mechanic. Through good luck and hard work, he raced his way up through the ranks of NASCAR. But a rocky rookie season last year nearly cost him his job. Can he turn things around and make it in the cruel world of racing?

A former Hollywood stunt man, Busch Cup driver Stanton Barrett has movies like "Spiderman" and "Batman" on his resume. He's spending his life savings trying to make a name for himself in NASCAR. But without committed sponsors or a full-time pit crew, he's fighting an uphill battle.

Mark Martin is a beloved racing legend with 25 years of Nextel Cup racing experience under his belt. His work ethic is unparalleled and his commitment to the sport unmatched. But a personal tragedy leads him to rethink spending so much time behind the wheel.

Johnny Sauter is a promising driver with one of the best crew chiefs in the business. But he's had a string of setbacks and can't seem to catch a break on race day. Will he be able to shake off his bad luck and rise above his underdog status?

After a 175-race drought, veteran driver Jeff Burton came roaring back last year with a win at Dover Downs raceway. Now he's in the running for the championship. Will this be his year to finally win it all?

Sage Karam is a young go-kart racer who dreams of making it all the way to the Nextel Cup Series, the crème de la crème of the stock car circuit. He could be the future of NASCAR, but it's a long road to Victory Lane.

It's Just Racin'

In spite of NASCAR's devout following, there are still plenty of people who don't quite get what all the fuss is about. But if you listen to the millions who tune in each week and flock to the track, you'll understand the sport's powerful allure.

NASCAR in Primetime lets the fans tell it because they tell it best. People from every corner of America sing the praises of roaring engines and wax poetic about the smell of burning rubber. Grown men get misty-eyed remembering the fatal crash that robbed the world of Dale Earnhardt Sr. And you won't hear more enthusiastic renditions of the National Anthem anywhere.

NASCAR is already a quintessential symbol of America. And with a fan base of 75 million and growing, NASCAR is going global -- fast.