Last spring, about 100,000 people massed at the city-center track for NASCAR's first major race south of the border. They watched little-known Jorge Goeters beat Robby Gordon for the pole, and DEI's Martin Truex Jr. beat Richard Childress' Kevin Harvick in the marquee Busch race.
It was, all in all, a good beginning.
Two countries, multi-prong strategy
France's Hispanic game plan is both admirable and makes good sense financially, given the increasing Hispanic segment of the U.S. population. Not only is the Hispanic market important to ticket sellers at California Speedway, Phoenix International Raceway, Texas Motor Speedway and Homestead-Miami Speedway, but also to ticket sellers in other large urban areas such as Chicago.
One big reason for NASCAR's coming to Mexico City is to show Hispanics in the United States that the sport is serious about wanting their business at U.S. tracks. The other big reason is for American companies - GM and Ford, for two good examples - to expand their use of NASCAR marketing.
As Ed Hinton says in another piece, they really made an effort to back that up.
Fox's live telecast of Sunday's Busch Series race from Mexico City will offer Hispanic audiences the option of play-by-play in Spanish via the "SAP," or Second Audio Programming, system.
Jim Hunter, the NASCAR vice president for corporate communications, makes no bones about it: "We need the Hispanic market."
Mexico's growing economy also makes it attractive to NASCAR:
* During the past four years, family income in Mexico has gone up a whopping 50 percent. The peso is strong, and inflation is falling.
* More than two-thirds of this population is under 35.
* And there is a major construction boom in housing and in new shopping malls, Wal-Marts, Coscos, and Home Depots. Wal-Mart has almost 500 stores in the country. Home Depot entered the market in 2001 and has 50 stores, boasting a growth rate of 10 percent a year. That, of course, raises the question of why rival Lowe's, which has no stores yet in Mexico, has logos on Adrian Fernandez's quarterpanels.
The upside potential for NASCAR and its teams and drivers and sponsors is clearly large.
Mulhern asks a very pointed question here.
Why is France wrapping this event around a Busch race, NASCAR's second-tier series, rather than a Nextel Cup race?
Mexican racing fans are very savvy, and have seen the true best of the world. They had Formula One, the very pinnacle of motor racing, at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez throughout the sixties, and then from the 80's to early 90's. Champ Car has been racing at the circuit for the past four years, as well as top notch sportscar racing the past four decades. In addition, Monterrey hosts other top races, and the FIA World Rallye Championship was racing in Leon Mexico this same week. They know that the Busch series is. kind of............Bush may we say.
Where Da Smoke At? Bushwacked, Cars and No Stars,
So Busch does good in the US because of all the Nextel Cup drivers, competing on Saturdays.
And the Busch series itself has lost its distinctiveness the past two years, in part because of the soaring cost of racing, in part because of an influx of Nextel Cup drivers and team owners wanting to use the series for extra practice and testing. Last Saturday's Busch race at California Speedway, for example, featured 19 Nextel Cup stars, almost half the field, and the top 11 finishers were Nextel Cup drivers.
That Nextel Cup-Busch entourage may be good for ticket sales in the U.S., but many of those Nextel Cup drivers are taking this week off.
So in Mexico, we get Busch sans Stars
If Home Depot is so big here, where is defending Cup champion Tony Stewart?
If Lowe's wants to make inroads, where is its driver, current points leader Jimmie Johnson?<
In the past 15 years Mexicans have had the opportunity to see the likes of Senna, Mansell, Prost, Schumacher, Piquet, Gronholm, Sainz, Loeb, McRae, Tracy, Zanardi, Castroneves, Andretti, Bourdais, race in their country.
So lets insult the Mexican fans by not only running a second tier series, but without the stars of Nextel Cup.
Y la lana?
When NASCAR teams approached Mexican companies last year for sponsorships, the companies were generally aghast at the costs. How NASCAR addresses that financial disconnect will be closely watched.
Nothing new here, there is no money for auto racing sponsorship, most Mexican multi-nationals like Telmex and the Beer companies already have their budgets mapped out. Champ Car racing is fairly big in Mexico, had top ratings on TV and packed houses on two circuits. But even top draw Adrian Fernandez had trouble securing sponsorship when Cerveceria Montezuma cut their funding for him. A switch to the rival IRL with a decent TV package did nothing for AF, despite race wins he was uanble to run most of last year. That filtered down to other popular and talented Mexican drivers like Michel Jourdain Jr. who lost his Gigante sponsorship and was unable to get any money for his Busch efforts and Mario Dominguez who lost Grupo Herdez.
The money would have to come from US Companies.