NASCAR Bootleggers

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NASCAR
has come a long way from the dirt track "strictly stock"
races of the late 1940s that were often won by drivers whose skills
were honed on backroads delivering bootleg moonshine (the winner
of the first strictly stock race was disqualified for having heavy-duty
"bootlegger" rear springs on his car). While there is
much to admire about NASCAR, I found a recent FOX Sports Net report
on "counterfeit" and/or "bootleg" merchandise
troubling and illustrative of just how far NASCAR has come over
the years .

The
main hook used to highlight the alleged problem was the mountain
of unauthorized commemorative merchandise related to Dale Earnhardt's
tragic death (to illustrate, an Ebay search for "Dale Earnhardt"
went from yielding a few thousand items to over a hundred thousand
items after his death). Although driver Rusty Wallace and others
expressed sadness that bootleggers would try to profit from Earnhardt's
death, a representative Ray Childress Racing (Earnhardt's team owner)
confirmed that there is currently no official commemorative merchandise
for Dale Earnhardt’s fans to buy.

Driver
Jeff Gordon seemed quite earnest when he worried that hard working
fans who save up to go to races every year might buy a counterfeit
item thinking it had "real value" only to find out it
was a fake. This contradicted one of the show's main contentions,
that being that counterfeit merchandise was easy to distinguish
from the real thing.

So
after all of the bluster the viewer is left with the question, "Is
counterfeit and bootleg NASCAR merchandise the grand problem the
show made it out to be?" If one accepts the assertion that
counterfeits are easy to spot and therefore avoid, the potential
for fraud seems miniscule. If fans buy counterfeit merchandise it
can be assumed that they are doing so knowingly. If there is no
official Dale Earnhardt commemorative merchandise to be had, how
can those who provide it be villianized since clearly the market
demand was enormous? The only thing really going on is that entrepreneurs
are finding an unmet demand and meeting it. Bootleg merchandise
may be lower quality but it is probably lower priced than official
stuff. Those who can afford and desire the real thing still buy
it.

As
for the charge of profiteering off Dale Earnhardt's death, FOX Sports
Net ran a "Behind the Glory" episode about Earnhardt after
his death which I'm guessing contained paid advertisements. I bought
a Dale Earnhardt commemorative issue of Sports Illustrated
which cost six dollars and had a back page ad for a hard-bound edition
costing twenty dollars. I mention the Sports Illustrated issue
only because one its articles hypocritically condemned the Ebay
profiteers selling Dale Earnhardt window stickers.

I'm
not condemning FOX Sports Net or Sports Illustrated for anything
but hypocrisy. People want information and goods that pertain to
Dale Earnhardt; the media and others have provided it. Everyone
is made better off than they would otherwise be.

The
worst aspect of FOX Sports Net special was the comments of driver
Rusty Wallace. Wallace assured the viewers that helicopters and
FBI agents would be around the track looking for and arresting bootleggers.
I can't imagine pioneer NASCAR drivers like Buck Baker or Curtis
Turner saying something like that.

April
13, 2001

Greg
Davis is an avid reader of Austrian economics and business history
books.

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