Ex-Driver Tries to Sell NASCAR Fans on Wine

LEXINGTON, N.C., July 24, 2005 — -- The conventional wisdom is that NASCAR fans know more about victory laps than vino, more about a chassis than a Chablis.

Now, however, a former driver has come up with what he thinks is a winning business plan. He's trying to get NASCAR's solidly beer-drinking fan base to switch over to wine.

For decades now, beer has been the beverage of choice for NASCAR fans. But as stock car racing attracts more diverse and affluent crowds, wine is making its move.

"There's a tremendous amount of wine drinking than before," said Jeff Burton, a NASCAR driver. "It was much more [than] just beer."

And not just among the polo shirts in the speedway club. Good old boys from the infield have been flocking to a Tuscan winery in Lexington, N.C.

'Huge Potential'

There, Richard Childress, a former NASCAR driver turned team owner, spent more than $12 million converting his back yard into a vineyard. The one-time moonshiner fell in love with wine while racing in California 30 years ago. Now, he wants to share his passion with the 75 million Americans who call themselves NASCAR fans.

"I just think that it has a huge potential for growth," said Childress, owner of Childress Vineyards.

Veteran winemaker Mark Friszolowski quit his job with a renowned Long Island vineyard to help Childress reach beyond the typical wine and cheese crowd.

"I think a lot of winemakers and wine owners would almost cringe at that," Friszolowski said. "They'd see that and say 'Oh, my god, who are these people?' … But when they saw the market potential, they would be extremely envious."

However, to turn potential into profit, Childress must create wine drinkers, not just souvenir seekers -- as with one recent patron, who said she'd save an autographed bottle rather than drink it.

'Chicken-Bone Throwing and Beer Drinking'

NASCAR fans are the most brand-loyal in all of sports. So Childress has his work cut out for him trying to turn his beer and bourbon drinkers into connoisseurs of Bordeaux and blush.

"Used to be, when you went to the track it was all chicken-bone throwing and beer drinking," said Bill England, a NASCAR fan visiting the vineyard. "But it's more of a sophisticated crowd now than what we had in the past. You do see a lot of people who drink wine."

But most are still more interested in carburetors than Cabernets.

"You're at the race," said one bikini-clad fan. "You don't drink wine at the race.

"I'm gonna stick with Budweiser," said another fan.

ABC News' Geoff Morrell originally reported this story on "World News Tonight" on July, 9, 2005.

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