Alex Garcia was supposed to be a full-time Nationwide Series competitor in 2008, only to find himself one of countless drivers and teams whose plans were shuttered due to reductions in sponsor dollars. And since failing to qualify for the NNS race at Watkins Glen in August of that year, he and his No. 98 car have been absent from NASCAR.
But he never left the sport. Instead, the only Venezuelan to ever start a NASCAR race has been working the PR trails, trying to find the sponsorship that has been so fleeting.
“I’ve done a lot of events during the time I wasn’t racing,” says Garcia. “Every time somebody said show car, we were there. Autographs, I’m there. I’ve done events at Costcos, events at Mexican Independence Day, all kinds of events over the last year and a half. If I’m not racing, might as well get to work and do as much marketing and PR as we can.”
“I think we’ve gotten out there and gotten to it, but it’s a tough market.”
It’s a tough market indeed, one where the sport’s biggest names such as JR Motorsports and Roush Fenway Racing have found themselves side by side with teams like Garcia’s, desperately seeking the funding needed to keep cars on the track. But even before the economy turned sour, Garcia has been at the forefront of taking on a challenge that many in marketing have been unable to figure out… a way to bridge NASCAR and the Latin American markets.
Says Garcia, “we have to consider that in the US in 2050, Hispanics will be the majority. It’s an important market, you have to pay attention to it. Companies are, a lot of the Fortune 500 are, and they’re spending a lot of money advertising [to Hispanics]. They’re spending a lot on NASCAR advertising, but they don’t put it together.”
“You can actually, through a Hispanic driver, bridge that gap, and whoever does it is going to be real successful. I’ve tried and I’ve tried and I haven’t quite made it there.”
Now, as 2010 rolls around, Garcia is refocusing his efforts not as a driver, but as an owner seeking to facilitate driver development for Latin American drivers who now are considering stock cars as a potential career path.
“People now take notice [of NASCAR], whereas 15 years ago it was an impossibility,” says Garcia. “There’s drivers that want to get their feet wet running the road courses, to get familiar with a big car before they get to an oval. There are some ovals, some pretty big ovals, in Latin America, but there’s not many of them.”
With the focus of many foreign drivers tackling the road courses as an introduction to stock car racing, Garcia’s team is preparing accordingly.
“We’re finishing up our road race car [and] on the Nationwide Series side we’ll definitely be there for the road course races,” states Garcia. “We’re not ready to make the jump to full-time. We’ve got some interest in some races, the road races happen to be the first ones. We’re [also] building a car for the ARCA race, and we hope to test at Palm Beach on February 8.”
In fact, Garcia is extremely excited about the prospects of ARCA racing at Palm Beach.
“It’s going to be a good race. ARCA really impressed me with the road-course drivers, [Michael] McDowell and [Andy] Lally, when they went to New Jersey, and I’m expecting the same thing down there, especially with the way the phone’s been ringing. It’s good for ARCA, it opens the sanctioning body and race series to a whole wide world of viewers that haven’t noticed it. It’s a good call, especially having it in south Florida, which is pretty much a gateway to Latin America. Watch for a big turnout there.”