NASCAR looks international in the future

NASCAR will steer a course overseas for growth since it cannot expand its 9-month U.S. season, the racing association's top executive said on Wednesday. "Where do you grow? Domestically, it's tough, super competitive out there. When you look around the world, auto racing is either No. 1 or No. 2 depending on where you are, behind only soccer," Brian France, chairman and chief executive of National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing, said at the Reuters Media and Advertising Summit here. "Everybody understands auto racing," he said. NASCAR runs more than 100 races each year across the United States through three racing circuits — its signature Nextel Cup Series, Busch and Craftsman Truck. Unlike some other U.S. sports leagues, NASCAR boasts rising television ratings as well as a fast growing, highly loyal fan base. France said its new TV contract, expected to be announced soon, will be "substantially better" than the current six-year $2.4 billion deal that expires after 2006. With a season that already runs from mid-February to mid-November, there is no room to expand in the United States. France said the sport looked into but dismissed the idea of splitting into divisions like football and baseball to allow more races and drivers. "We're in the early stages of outlining a long-range international strategy that could capitalize on an already existing appetite for auto racing all over the world," France said, citing NASCAR's Busch race in Mexico earlier this year. He said NASCAR would likely hold a Busch or Craftsman Truck race in Canada, given racing's popularity there. And he said NASCAR officials have met with people in Europe. "Europe has the greatest density of tracks and fan interest," he said. "South America has good auto racing interest, too." And he noted China's love of Formula 1 racing. Reuters

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