Nascar doubles down on youth, tapping 14-year-old to direct its latest commercial

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CMO Jill Gregory says the auto-racing association is "committed" to attracting younger fans through classroom programs like Acceleration Nation

Forget just millennials and Generation Z. Nascar is also targeting a much younger audience.

In hopes of invigorating its aging fan base, the auto-racing association is introducing an advertising campaign this weekend to promote its youth program, Acceleration Nation, with a TV commercial directed by 14-year-old Amelia Conway.

The 30-second spot, which makes its debut on FS1 tomorrow and Fox on Sunday, features two children instructing a classroom of Nascar drivers, including 26-year-old Austin Dillon, on draft and drag.  "Are you guys taking notes?" he asks.  Launched in 2015, Acceleration Nation teaches 8- to 12-year-olds STEM skills (using a curriculum co-created with Scholastic), online (through its website and mobile app) and at the track (in the kid zones).

"What better way to prove our commitment to growing a younger fan base than to put the creative in the hands of a director who is in the direct target that we are trying to reach?" Nascar CMO Jill Gregory said.

The ad was created by New York City-based agency 77 Ventures. The idea to have a teenager director the Nascar ad "sounded less and less crazy," said Gregory, as she learned that Conway has shot commercials for TOMS Shoes, Beats Music and American Girl through production firm Adolescent Content, and "her work was really good."

The spot is a "freshened up" approach to the first advertising the brand created for Acceleration Nation, she said, a spot from Ogilvy & Mather that featured former Nascar driver Carl Edwards teaching kids.

But it’s not just the ads that needed a refresh. Nascar lost a popular driver in Edwards, who left the sport in January. A month later, The Wall Street Journal reported that Nascar’s television viewership was down 45 percent since 2005. And earlier this week, Dale Earnhardt Jr., arguably Nascar’s biggest star, announced his retirement.

With its audience and drivers aging out, Nascar needs youth. The association’s internal research shows that "if we can get that next generation of Nascar fan interested early, at a younger age, that they become a fan for life," Gregory said. "We know it’s a long-term investment."

That’s why Nascar just changed its ticketing policy to XFINITY Series and Camping World Truck Series races. Now, children ages 12 and under get in free. It "just makes it easier for a family to bring those kids out and have them get a taste of Nascar," Gregory said. "Whether it’s a kid or an adult, we know that once a fan is at the track" and experiences "the sights and the sounds of it, they're really hooked."

The group introduced another youth-driven initiative, "Kids Drive Nascar," last year. Originally a week-long program, the series, extended to three weeks this year, invites children to participate in events such as a kids-only press conference. 

Then there is the upcoming Disney/Pixar film "Cars 3." While Nascar legends Jeff Gordon and Richard Petty have voiced characters in previous "Cars" movies, younger drivers Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney, Daniel Suárez and Bubba Wallace join them for the third installment, which comes out in June.

"We constantly try to put new drivers into the mix," Gregory said. "We want kids to learn more facts about their favorite drivers if they have one and get exposed to some of our younger drivers that they might not know."

Even with these high-profile youth strategies, Gregory said, Acceleration Nation remains a "top priority." In just two years, it’s grown from 7,000 elementary and middle school classrooms to 10,000 nationwide.

"We know that we want to keep that funnel of fans growing," Gregory said. "Putting Nascar in front of students, where they might not expect to see it, piques that interest and makes them want to know more. So, you are going to see us continue on that path as we build future programs."

Both children and kids at heart will be able to see Acceleration Nation’s latest ad during Sunday’s Monster Energy Nascar Cup Series at Richmond International Raceway.