Brian France and he suits in Daytona have been preaching expansion outside of the borders of the United States for years. In a very interesting announcement, Foster Gillette announced an agreement with Prince Faisal bin Fahd bin Abdullah al-Saud, a member of the Saudi Royal Family, that is going to see development of a NASCAR racing circuit and Richard Petty driving schools in the Saudi Kingdom and other Middle Eastern countries. This may not be exactly what NASCAR had in mind, but it certainly could be a very fruitful relationship for all of the teams in the garage area.
Apparently the Middle East is a region of the world that is fraught with racing fans clamoring for sophisticated forms of motorsports. One thing that many of the fans in that region have in abundance is cash. For people who follow horse racing, they have seen an influx in recent years of horses owned by Middle Eastern royalty. the royalty in the region has the money to play expensive games and buy the very best that money can afford to play those games properly. If the people in the Middle East with the money get the bug to come NASCAR racing, the tough economic times that are hurting NASCAR now could very easily be a thing of the past.
The major problem that could stem from this new venture is the perception that NASCAR is going to further lose its identity as not only a Southern sport, but as an American sport. Fans worry now that the big four in the sport control too many of the cars and there isn’t enough diversity in ownership. If the biggest families in the Middle East decide they want to get involved in the sport, it could be very hard for people to reject the kind of money that they will bring to the table. If that happens, the sport could end up being monopolized by owners from foreign countries who will be completely disconnected from the American fanbase. Hardcore fans have already lost interest in the sport to some extent, and an influx of ownership without American ties could very well be the final nail in the coffin when it comes to the fans who have been following the sport since its early years.
On the plus side of things, an increase of sponsorship and ownership money into the sport could spur some new innovation, as well as see many of the employees who have been laid off since the economic downturn return to the shops and garages. the increased money would also entice some bright engineering minds from other forms of racing to come over to the full-fender series and continue the safety and engineering advancements that have grown so much in the past decade.
While this relationship has just been announced and, like the Yates-Petty merger, there are still details to be worked out, we’ll have to see what the long-term ramifications are for the sport. There is no doubt that the influx of billions of dollars will, without a doubt, alter the landscape of the sport beyond what any of us can imagine at this time.