The Frontstretch: Bowles-Eye View: NASCAR's International Expansion Missing a Foreign Star by Thomas Bowles -- Sunday March 5, 2006

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For the second straight season, Mexico City played host to NASCAR’s Busch Series Sunday for a 200-mile road course racing affair. Run in front of record crowds and a large, enthusiastic audience, the race served notice that it could simply be a matter of time before the Nextel Cup series finds itself south of the border for a full-fledged race of its own.

On the surface, such a move seems like a great idea. With explosive growth within the United States, NASCAR’s top series would appear ready to branch out. Montreal, Canada has also shown interest in holding a NASCAR race, and with the roots of stock car racing now strong in various parts of the United States other than the Southeast, what better way to further the sport’s growth than to spread itself beyond the U.S. Mainland.

There’s just one tiny problem with this whole arrangement"¦while the fan base of NASCAR is becoming increasingly diverse, the driving population within the Nextel Cup Series is far from it. It’s not that NASCAR just doesn’t have a Mexican star or a Canadian star"¦it doesn’t have ANY international stars. Period.

Of course, NASCAR does its best to mask this during its ventures outside the country. In both the Mexican races and the Japan exhibition races held years before in the late 1990s, NASCAR would "rent a ride" for several local stars to showcase their skills for a day, pleasing the fans and giving them hope for an upset victory in their driver’s home country. This year was no different, as CART stars Adrian Fernandez and Michel Jourdain, Jr. headlined eight local heroes who were a part of Sunday’s road racing affair in the Busch Series.

However, none of these drivers finished higher than 11th on Sunday, and a win by any of them would have been considered a huge upset. Don’t hold your breath for more magic, either, as you likely won’t see any of the Mexican stars this weekend at Vegas for the Busch Series race"¦or for any of the other races this season. These drivers are basically given one opportunity to shine"¦and then quickly get left behind while NASCAR moves on with its American stars.

For NASCAR to truly become successful on the next level, though, an All-American starting lineup for every American race in the season simply just won’t do. Just like with race and gender, NASCAR has to put forth an effort to find a foreign star that can stand on his or her own two feet at every race track on the circuit. Unfortunately, NASCAR’s discovered the very same lesson with international drivers that it’s had with women and minorities"¦easier said than done. Hideo Fukuyama, Shigeaki Hattori, and Carlos Contreras are just some of the drivers that have attempted to come up the NASCAR ladder in the past few years, all with little to no success.

Still, it seems there’s some potential international talent on the horizon. CART star and Canadian native Paul Tracy is set to jump to the Busch Series full-time next season, and has performed relatively well in his first few starts in stock cars. Jorge Goeters won the pole in Mexico City last year, and has held his own in a limited series of starts with Busch teams during 2005 and 2006.

Certainly, the situation isn’t hopeless. But NASCAR would prove itself wise to make sure it’s got a star from Canada or Mexico clearly on the rise within its three series before making a commitment to expand beyond the borders of the United States. Simply put, it’s far easier to convince fans to come to the races when you have someone from their own country driving on the track.

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Robert Ryan
03/07/2006 12:27 AM
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Remember Jim Richards the Aussie Driver who beat Mark Martin for pole at Suzuka in the wet in a very under funded Winston West car? He eventually finished 6th in the race, but did not bother
chasing any more NASCAR glory because of his age(about 53) and he felt NASCAR “was a closed shop”. That was Jim’s only race outside Australia and New Zealand.

 

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