Army Invades NASCAR Nation to Drive Recruitment

ATLANTA, Nov. 8, 2005 — -- There is fresh evidence today of the challenges the Army faces in signing up recruits. The Army will meet its recruiting goals for last month -- but only after it tripled the number of recruits who scored at the bottom of its aptitude tests.

The Iraq war and the improving economy have forced recruiters to be more creative. They have found one place where their sales pitch is still well received: NASCAR Nation.

At every NASCAR event this year, the Army is setting up a military theme park in an attempt to turn young race fans into future soldiers. It is spending $16 million this year on the recruitment effort, using rock climbing walls, dog tags and electronic gunfights on simulated Iraqi streets.

"We call it event marketing," said Lt. Gen. Robert Van Antwerp, who was looking for new recruits at an Atlanta race. "At an event like this, we'll get about 2,000 leads, and on the whole about 40,000 leads, where we're getting young people, ages 17 to 24, that want to come talk to a recruiter. So it's good."

The Army even sponsors its own race car. Before each race, recruits get to meet the driver, racing veteran Joe Nemecheck, in a place most NASCAR fans would pay good money to see: his garage.

"NASCAR's done a very good job in their marketing and made this a very popular sport," Nemecheck said. "So you have to take advantage of that."

Each branch of the service is represented at the races -- the Navy, Marines, Coast Guard and National Guard. Each branch supports or sponsors race cars.

The fans -- mostly Southerners and highly patriotic -- haven't expressed concern about the marketing. "No matter what we think about the war, NASCAR fans support our troops," one NASCAR fan told ABC News.

The Army expects to recruit 200 new soldiers from the Atlanta race alone.

Arkansas high school senior Steve Crocker said he plans to sign up. "I'd just like to get into the action," he said. "I'd like to represent my country."

However, he says he does realize the service is more than the fun and games at the speedway.

ABC News' Steve Osunsami filed this report for "World News Tonight."