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NASCAR has a youth problem, could answer be younger drivers, relatable sponsors?

Brendan Marks, The Charlotte Observer on

Published in Auto Racing

Kyle Larson has a busy day ahead of him.

For now, he's climbing out of his car and peeling off his navy fire suit in the back of the garage at Chip Ganassi Racing. Next up: The barber shop, then McDonald's.

But none of those errands are by chance. On Tuesday, Larson is spending the day darting across Charlotte, N.C., to film a commercial for First Data, one of his sponsors.

"I don't think I have any lines," Larson chuckled. "That's the way I'd prefer it."

First Data is essentially a tech company that offers credit card processing services to businesses large and small. Or as Larson simplifies it, they help people pay for stuff.

How does that relate to Larson, a 25-year-old NASCAR driver who is second in the standings and one of the favorites to win this season's Cup Series championship?

Actually it does on a number of fronts. For starters, First Data's technology is something you might already use every day, especially if you're tech-savvy like many young people.

The company has over 2,500 interactions per second. Their software is in phone applications for McDonalds, Panera Bread and Chick-fil-A, plus a number of mobile banking apps. Basically, if you've ordered a sandwich and paid for it on your phone, you can thank First Data.

That matters because First Data is the sort of sponsor young people, those adept with ever-changing technology and their phones, can relate to. It also matters that the company sponsors Larson, who is part of the demographic NASCAR is desperately trying to reach.

"Any sponsor you get is great, but I guess when it is shifted more toward a younger demographic, I definitely think that's good for our sport," Larson said. "Our sport, and every sport really, is in desperate need of getting younger generations, but especially ours."

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