NASCAR ponders more races outside USA borders

This Winston-Salem Journal article says (key excerpts), Robbie Weiss, NASCAR's multi-lingual internationalist, is suddenly one of the most sought-after stock-car racing executives on the tour. The latest men seeking his wisdom are people from Montreal and Toronto, here in Las Vegas for advance work on what looks like NASCAR's next marketing offensive.

Weiss, who helped lay out the Mexico City game plan and is now laying out Canadian options, likes the "rule of thirds." When NASCAR makes a change, he said, he expects a third of the stock-car men to enthusiastically embrace it, a third to just go with the flow, and a third to vigorously fight it – such as the people who still say that NASCAR was wrong to drop Rockingham for Los Angeles.

The votes are coming in on Mexico and Canada, and while Brian France may still have a hard sell persuading some still reluctant Cup drivers to make the trip to Mexico City next year, many of them seem resigned to whatever fate France plans to deal them.

France is holding his cards close to his vest, letting things ferment. He has proven that a Mexico City race is easily doable, even when sandwiched in that incredibly tight timetable between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. And he's proven to those who actually made the trek that Mexico City can be a delightful stop, disproving the pre-run horror stories. And he doesn't have to make a final call on the 2006 calendar for months.

One interesting point about the Mexico City crowd is that it was a very upscale crowd, thus a very targetable market audience for savvy companies.

Steve Hmiel sat in the stands Sunday, spotting for his son, Shane, who ran fourth, and watching Martin Truex Jr. win for Dale Earnhardt Inc., where Hmiel works as technical director. "The reception by the people was incredible," Hmiel said. "They stomped their feet and screamed and hollered. There were a bunch of us spotting, and some of the fans asked who we were spotting for and then they'd cheer for them. They really seemed to enjoy it. But what I most noticed was the seamless logistics. It was a very easy trip. Somebody did a heck of a job laying the groundwork. It was absolutely seamless. It was outstanding. The buses started running at 5 a.m., and you could wait as late as 7:30 or 8 and there'd be a bus or van to take you right to the track. And the hotels were beautiful.

"It was just a very enjoyable trip. I'd go back in a minute. It was perfect. They did a really nice job, it was a great track, well received by the people. None of the horror stories were true. And we were at home at 1 a.m. Monday morning, from Mexico City, even though that was a late-starting race. "The logistics were so smooth; and we'll leave here each night this weekend and know there will be a traffic tie up."

Part of the reluctance by some to embrace the Mexico City adventure is because the track is a road course, which is not a stock-car racer's favorite. But most racing throughout the world is on road courses, and there is certainly no incentive to build a large oval without the NASCAR eye and fan potential.

Jeff Gordon said to make the Mexican and Canadian ventures work just right, someone has to build oval tracks. The three-quarter-mile track at Cancun, part of a Formula One effort in that world-famous Caribbean vacation spot, is a hot topic here. And certainly Carlos Slim, the ultra-wealthy Mexican who promoted last weekend's race, could afford to build an oval. [Editor's Note: Carlos Slim is one of the top 5 wealthiest people in the world. This is the first time we heard that Slim was behind the NASCAR race. If NASCAR has him on their side they have a key ally and this may explain why NASCAR is quickly sucking the Mexican well dry for open wheel racing.]

But Mark Martin may be a hard sell: "Watched it on TV Sunday. Hope that's what I do again next year. Don't want to go. I'll only go kicking and screaming. Because of the hassles. Leaving the country is leaving my comfort zone. I'm just a hillbilly from Arkansas. I don't want to go to Mexico. I hated going to Japan, with a passion. If I go to Mexico – and I have been to Mexico – I want to go on vacation. I'm happy to go down there on vacation; but not to work."

Tony Stewart? Home Depot has a major and growing presence in Mexico; rival Lowe's doesn't yet, but made a splashy impact with Adrian Fernandez in a Rick Hendrick car. "We talked about running it," said Greg Zipadelli, Stewart's crew chief. "But, gosh, who wants to give up an off weekend? There aren't enough of them.

"It was a good first step." Charlotte's Humpy Wheeler said of the south-of-the-border run. "But we have some other challenges to take care of, too. One is expanding the fan base. The problem is until we get a really good Hispanic driver competing on a regular basis, it will be tough to get them really with us. I hope Michel Jourdain does well in Busch and doesn't get discouraged, because these cars are such a change.

"They did a good job putting on that race. It was such a logistical challenge. But I think they found it was easier to travel in Mexico than they thought it was. Security, while it's a concern, that is a highly civilized country. And there are parts of the United States I wouldn't want to travel through.

"We also need to be looking at a European driver. We're sending all this TV stuff into Europe, and they don't have anybody to pull for. Like, I like Australian Rules football, for about five minutes. Somebody from England, France or Italy would help us a lot." [Related article]

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