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Lawyers Red Flag 'NASCAR Valley'

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Photo: Groupuscule


As Food Lion Speed Street opens today, we'd like to welcome you to NASCAR Valley.

But the lawyers won't let us.

Charlotte leaders coined the phrase "NASCAR Valley" last year and repeated it countless times during the competition to land the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

It caught on with marketing types, who saw it as a great way to sell the Charlotte region to tourists as a hotbed of racing's past, present and future. But by winning the hall, Charlotte threw "the valley" into limbo.

During weeks of talks to bring the shrine to Charlotte, the phrase was a big part of negotiations between the city and racing. In order to make the phrase an official slogan, the city needed NASCAR's permission, and racing wasn't willing to give it.

Which is why you won't see any "NASCAR Valley Welcomes You" signs uptown or around Lowe's Motor Speedway this week, leading to Sunday's Coca-Cola 600.

Mayor Pat McCrory thrust the phrase into the limelight, saying during the competition to land the hall that this part of the Carolinas -- with its race shops and stock car heritage -- could be to racing what California's Napa Valley is to wine.

He said it so often that talk radio and TV stations couldn't resist making fun of him for it. Not to mention the fact that Charlotte isn't in a valley.

NASCAR wasn't laughing, though. Racing officials liked the concept of "NASCAR Valley," but their lawyers balked.

"I would never want to dampen the enthusiasm of the mayor," said Mark Dyer, NASCAR's vice president for licensing, "but the legal opinion was that it was just far too risky."

What's the problem? If NASCAR allowed an entire region to use its name, that might dilute its trademark, Dyer said. Pretty soon, any body shop or dry cleaners could start calling itself "NASCAR Valley's favorite," or something like that, and NASCAR couldn't stop it.

"It was simply too uncontrollable when put into the public use," said city attorney Mac McCarley, who tried to find a way to satisfy racing's concerns -- without success.

Dyer said he thinks the issue is closed, but Charlotte leaders still hope to find a way around the legal conundrum.

Cathy Bessant, a top Bank of America executive who served until recently as the company's chief marketing officer, said NASCAR Valley is too perfect to give up without a fight.

"It took off like wildfire," she said. The cadence works, and the phrase immediately conjures up the image marketers want.

An alternative, such as Speed Valley, just doesn't have the same pop, Bessant said.

"I think that's a missed opportunity," she said. "I'm hopeful that the topic is not closed."

So is McCrory, who doesn't want to give up his favorite catchphrase. "We've got to get beyond the lawyers," he said.

There might not be a valley big enough for that.