Passion for racing fuels new business
By CARY DAVIS, Times Staff Writer
HUDSON -- Frank and Colleen Baker live and breathe NASCAR.
Their closet is filled with colorful T-shirts and ball caps bearing the faces, sponsor logos and car numbers of their favorite drivers. Every Sunday during racing season, they settle down in front of the television and wouldn't dare think of leaving until the winner takes the checkered flag.
In those respects, they're not any different from the millions of other NASCAR fans across the country.
But in one way they are unique: They have opened the only store in Pasco County devoted to selling nothing but officially licensed NASCAR apparel and merchandise.
Their store, Nascar Emporium, at 8719 State Road 52 in Hudson, opened the first of the year. A grand opening is scheduled for Jan. 31 through Feb. 2.
"This is so much fun," said Colleen, 41. "Really, we're just race fans, trying to start a business around something we love."
This is the Bakers' first try at owning a business. Frank, 40, recently left his job as a convenience store clerk. Colleen, meanwhile, has spent the past few years caring for her ailing father.
They know the retail business isn't easy.
But they also know they've targeted a market with huge potential. NASCAR is the fastest growing spectator sport in the nation. Florida is the birthplace of NASCAR. And the Bakers know from personal experience that there is an untapped market for NASCAR merchandise in Pasco.
"Whenever we'd wear our NASCAR stuff, people would stop us and ask, 'Hey, where did you get that?' " Frank said. "We decided we'd just open our own store and start selling it."
The store is not yet fully stocked, but new shipments arrive from distributors every week. By the time racing season begins on Feb. 16 with the Daytona 500, the Bakers plan to have the official pit crew hats for every driver on the Winston Cup circuit.
There also will be miniature die-cast replica cars and T-shirts for every Winston Cup driver, the Bakers say.
Already, there are plenty of choices for any NASCAR fan. In addition to hats and shirts, there are keychains, replica car hoods, even hair scrunchies for women.
Anything associated with the late Dale Earnhardt, who was killed on the final lap of the Daytona 500 two years ago, sells best. The legendary driver's driver son, Dale Earnhardt Jr., is a close second with customers, the Bakers say.
Frank and Colleen, for the record, favor Ricky Rudd.
Frank, a Kentucky native, is a lifelong race fan.
Colleen is a latecomer to the sport. She used to wonder what her husband of 18 years saw in the sport.
"How can you watch that?" Colleen used to ask Frank. "Those cars just go around and around and around."
And then, a few years ago, Colleen went to her first race, at Daytona, no less. She has been hooked ever since.
"Now you can't pull me away from the TV," she said.
The TV mounted on a wall of the store always is tuned to Speedvision, a channel devoted to motor sports.
Many customers end up staying for hours, Frank says.
"They've all got stories to tell about the races they've been to, their favorite drivers," Frank says.
"And that's fine with us," Colleen adds. "We love to talk, especially about racing."
HOURS OF OPERATION:
10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday
9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Noon to 6 p.m. Sunday
ADDRESS: 8719 State Road 52, in Plaza 52 just west of Little Road
PHONE: (727) 868-1029
© 2006 • All Rights Reserved • Tampa Bay Times
490 First Avenue South St. Petersburg, FL 33701 727-893-8111