Racing Beat

| September 11, 2005

Imports may be getting ready for NASCAR’s big league.

A Toyota in the Next Nextel Cup?
Are foreign cars headed into NASCAR races?

NASCAR is growing in leaps and bounds, expanding to become one of America’s favorite sporting pastimes, at the track and on television.

One burning question now is how long it will be before foreign manufacturers break into the top series. Toyota recently announced it was leaving the Indy Racing League, which could open the door to a Toyota-NASCAR relationship.

“Well, we’ve had ongoing conversations, in particular, because they are in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series and have done a really great job of coming in, competing hard and all the rest,” Brian France says. “What their plans are beyond that, I don’t know, and I don’t know what the IRL’s departure means or doesn’t mean. It’s really their call. We are the biggest opportunity in the U.S. by a wide margin in motorsports, and I know they have noted that, and we’ll just have to see what they decide.”

If Toyota does come aboard, it could open the floodgates for other manufacturers, such as Honda.

“Well, from a motorsports standpoint, we are very proud that we have three of the top four series in the country, not just the Nextel Cup, but the Busch Series and the Truck Series,” France says. “They are a wonderful opportunity for manufacturers to showcase their products. Toyota has discovered that we welcome them with open arms. There was a lot of debate about that, but they have been a wonderful partner for us as a manufacturer, and hopefully that’s noted by others.”

As NASCAR’s popularity grows, so does the chance for even more TV revenue. Currently NBC and Fox are the sport’s main partners, but negotiations are also underway for future seasons.

“We are having the kind of discussions that you would expect us to have at this time of the contract,” France says. “We know that both of our partners are extraordinarily happy with the product. It’s performing in every way that you can measure it. And so we’ll make the kind of progress I think that we will need to and some decisions here in the coming months; we’ll figure that out.

“In the coming months I think that we’ll be in a position to know where we’re at. But again, we’re through 2006. As it stands now, there’s not any time urgency. Negotiations or discussions that we’re having are all ahead of schedule. We’re having those kinds of conversations you want to have with good partners about figuring things out.

France has also been a strong advocate of bringing in more minorities and women into NASCAR, such as female pilots Erin Crocker and Allison Duncan.

“I think it should it should be a big plus, as diversity in general kicks in and more talented drivers are found, either being female, Hispanic, African American; that is a hugely positive thing for the whole industry,” France says. “And the fact that Danica Patrick is leading the way and performing well [in her class of open-wheel racing], not just getting a lot of hype, but she’s really performing well, does open doors in all forms of racing. Matter of fact, Allison has already won a race at Stockton out in California. She’s competing hard herself and working her way up through the NASCAR ranks, so we wish her well.”

France Dynasty
His grandfather founded it. His father ran it for decades.

And now Brian France is in charge of NASCAR, which has rapidly become the most successful motorsports organization in the world. The 2005 season is the second in which France has served as the governing body’s top executive, and he has few complaints about NASCAR’s direction.

“You would expect me to talk about a good year, and we are having another great year,” says France, who also initiated the Nextel Cup “Chase for the Championship” program. “Obviously it starts on the track, and if you look at the competition, we’ve had photo finishes. We’ve had if not the most exciting Daytona 500, one of the most exciting. We had a terrific road race in Sonoma, record ratings for a road race ever for NASCAR, and so the fans react to that.

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