Does NASCAR really have a chance in the Global marketplace?

 by Steven N. Levinson
March 10, 2006

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I do follow NASCAR, believe it or not. No, it's not by watching those five-hour Bore-A-Thons on TV, or reading Darrell Waltrip (DW) or Larry McReynolds' insipid propaganda pieces or listening to Jeff Hammond mangle the King's English. I simply read Ben Blake's astute and acerbic writings on SpeedTV.com (assuming you can find informed "commentary" on SPEED, that is consistently being overrun by meaningless space fillers penned by the three aforementioned NASCAR shills).

So it is with particular interest that prior to the commencement of the 2006 38 race for the Chase, or whatever its called, I noted Brian France's comments regarding expansion into the global motorsports market. Now Brian France is certainly a smart guy. I'll let others debate how smart. After all, he spends a lot of time in my hometown, Los Angeles. So he definitely knows where to hang out. LA is a Global City, that unfortunately does not extend to the eastbound San Bernardino Freeway's Cherry Avenue exit.

The theory is that Toyota's entrance into Nextel Cup will be a natural for NASCAR's global ambitions, and that Toyota would push for more "International Races".

Really? Toyota's interest in NASCAR is solely related to its interest in the world's largest Automobile Market....The USA. That certainly is understandable. Toyota was in CART, until it was instrumental in its destruction. Then to IRL, where it aided and abetted in its destruction, and now has turned its eyes to NASCAR. Many in NASCAR, believe that its involvement will be just as harmful, as well.  Certainly there is resistance from its stalwart redneck fan base. Who knows? But Toyota, ever resourceful, has hired ol "DW". Lets face it DW is one smart guy, who could sell ice to the Eskimos, snake oil to the Indians or Toyotas to the Rednecks.

Toyota, in my view, will not use NASCAR for its international marketing strategy. For that it has Bernie Ecclestone and F1.  Formula One is THE UNDISPUTED Global Racing Series. Toyota pumps untold millions of Dollars and Euros and Billions of yen into F1's Global marketing platform.

For that reason it doesn't need NASCAR to go into the global auto market. Besides, NASCAR uses a 50 year old antediluvian 385 Cubic Inch V8 engine with carburetors running on poisonous leaded fuel. The only places those types of engines are still used are Cuba, Kazakhstan, Eastern Siberia, Alabama, Tennessee and Texas.

It is extremely unlikely that Toyota marketing believes that either the Europeans or the Japanese would be interested in such a low tech racing series. Both European and Japanese racing fans are interested in "High Tech" racing as demonstrated by their love of F1 and German DTM.

In the case of Japan, NASCAR's "been there and done that" and failed. NASCAR raced at Suzuka's challenging road circuit in 1996 and 1997 and then raced at the Twin Ring Motegi oval in 1998 with their "Big Guns" Dale Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon before paltry crowds. And then "CUT AND RAN". In other words the Japanese weren't buying.

It would be equally so for Europe. In Germany, the DTM Series features High Tech Mercedes Benz CLKs and Audis, Opels and MGs that run on some of Europe's finest circuits in thrilling door banging battles with top drivers drawing huge crowds. After seeing a DTM race it is extremely doubtful that NASCAR's 3,500 pound behemoths would have any appeal whatsoever.  Ditto, for Italy, where cars are a way of life for everyone. This is the country that makes Ferraris, Maseratis and Lamborghinis. I don't think the Italians would even be interested.

France? Well, they loved Jerry Lewis and invented French Fries. While it' true that Jeff Gordon (who loves France, by the way, and Belgium as well), Jimmie Johnson and Casey Mears were in Paris for the (REAL) Race Of Champions at the Stade de France, I don't see NASCAR as a mainstay of conversation on the Champs E'lysee or the fashionable boulevards of St. Germain.  And the French do love their racing. They won F1's 2005 Manufacturing Championship with Renault, as well as annually holding their own at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.  The French, while being a bit peculiar, do prefer their racing to be High Tech, just as they prefer their food to be Haute Cuisine. Americans have raced in France.  Dan Gurney and Ford won the 24 Hours of Le Mans over Ferrari in 1967 with A.J. Foyt as his sidekick. Dan drove most of the race while Foyt was looking for a "Big Mac". (Didn't AJ say that all he could find was "fish covered with almonds"?)

That leaves us with the UK. Perhaps they could draw a crowd at Rockingham if they had Dan Wheldon doing well for Chip Ganassi. But the Brits are also used to slam bang BTCC racing on "proper circuits" such as Donington Park, Snetterton, Brands Hatch and Silverstone. They would be more open than the European continent to seeing the Bullying Kid with the Big Ears, the backflipping guy who looks like Howdy Doody, and the limp-wristed fellow who could take the lead in "Brokeback Speedway."  Jeff Gordon would be accepted ANYWHERE. But to go to The UK for one race on an OVAL, very risky with that bloody British weather. It doesn't make sense for NASCAR , especially with a schedule already loaded to the "Carburetors" (can't forget those new fangled thangs). Perhaps they could have a big "Vintage" weekend at Rockingham with the British version of NASCAR, ASCAR, or is that ASS-SCAR"?

And how would the international press receive NASCAR?  If any one of them wrote a positive article about NASCAR they would lose their F1 media hard card.  While the France family control the motorsports press in the USA, they hold no power whatsoever in the international motorsports media, save for their coverage in Autosport.  NASCAR owns America, but Bernie owns the world.

International expansion for NASCAR? It looks very doubtful from where I sit.  Last week was their second assault in Mexico for the Busch Series. Guess what?? Even with 8 Mexican drivers, and the Big Mexican hero, Senor Adrian Fernandez, attendance was down significantly from the previous year. Now, Mexico is right on our border. Mexicans love their Chevys and Fords. They get 100,000 fans at Aztec Stadium for NFL Pre-Season games. A real "SELLOUT". Gee the Mexicans aren't buying. Perhaps they will try Canada, now that they've bought Paul Tracy. Perhaps Canada will be more accepting, and NASCAR can finally lay claim to being an "International Series"!

The author can be contacted at SteveL@autoracing1.com

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