NASCAR Mexico Series Coming North For Big Race
By Mark Armijo | Senior Correspondent
PHOENIX – The NASCAR Mexico Toyota Series doesn’t have a Daytona 500. It might now.
Thanks to an agreement announced Monday, the stock car series will make its U.S. debut March 1 at Phoenix International Raceway in conjunction with Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series races at the Avondale 1-mile oval.
“History is being made,” PIR President Bryan Sperber said at a news conference that included Toyota Series Managing Director Federico Alaman.
Driver Daniel Suarez, who leads Jorge Goeters by two points with two remaining races, hopes to make the tour’s first race outside Mexico even more historical.
“My goal is to be the first driver from Mexico to race fulltime in Sprint Cup,” said Suarez, who is 20 and is living in Charlotte, N.C., as he also is driving this season for a K&N East Series team. “I need to work hard and take it step-by-step. But I think we are doing it the right way.
“This race gives us a really good opportunity to show the NASCAR community the level of teams we have in Mexico.”
In turn, Sperber said, the race also is a chance to improve Arizona’s image in the Latino community.
“I don’t think it’s a secret that Arizona’s image, nationally, has taken a few hits because of political circumstances, particularly around immigration,” Sperber said. “This race is a great opportunity to show that sports can bring people together.
“The business and political leaders we’ve spoken to on both sides of the border are excited about what this could do.”
What the race can initially do for the Mexican series is give its drivers and teams a chance to show off their skills in front of a garage full of Sprint Cup team owners.
“It’s an honor to be on the same weekend as (Sprint Cup and Nationwide),” Toyota Series Director Enrique Contreras said. “It’s a big opportunity to show the potential of our series along with the level of our drivers and teams.”
Contreras said the series is the most popular motorsports series in Mexico and is second in overall popularity behind only soccer.
The series was born in 2004 and became NASCAR-sanctioned in 2007. It has 14 races this season – 12 ovals and two road courses – and a typical starting field is about 34 cars. The season finale is Nov. 11 in Mexico City, which draws sellout crowds of 35,000. The cars are similar to super late models and have 400 horsepower, about half the motor strength of a Sprint Cup engine.
The 75-lap PIR race will begin with a 50-lap segment followed by a 10-minute break for crews to work on the car. A 25-lap segment will conclude the race.
Contreras expects more than 40 teams to make the trip to PIR, but wasn’t certain if Sprint Cup or Nationwide drivers will be allowed to enter cars.
It doesn’t matter to driver Jorge Goeters who is in the starting field.
“This is our first time to cross borders to prove Mexico has good teams, good cars and good drivers,” said Goeters, the 2005 series champion and current runner-up to Suarez in the standings. “We also want the Hispanic people to come and see how our Mexican teams work.
“I’m 42 and not a rookie driver anymore. I have two kids and my family in Mexico City. It’s not my goal to race in Sprint Cup fulltime. But for someone like (Suarez), he has that dream. He’s doing very good in Mexico and has the talent to race in the United States. He just needs an opportunity to grow and make his dream come true.”
At the moment, the race at PIR is the only event scheduled outside Mexico for the foreseeable future, Contreras said.
“We’re not doing this race (at PIR) as a one-shot deal, but it’s really too soon to tell whether it makes sense to do it in additional venues in the United States because it’s primarily a Mexican championship,” NASCAR Regional and Touring Series Vice President George Silbermann said. “But we have our eye on several other opportunities and if the stars align the right way as they did here, I wouldn’t rule it out.”
NASCAR also sanctions the Canadian Tire Series and Euro Racecar Series, but the Toyota Series is the first circuit to schedule a race in the U.S.
Larry Lucero, who is president of the Arizona/Mexico Commission, said the Toyota event represents an opportunity to build business relationships.
“It’s a great platform for everyone to share ideas and take another step forward in business relations,” Lucero said. “In sports, there is no partisanship. It’s all about integrity, sportsmanship and camaraderie. Hopefully, out of that effort it translates into good business opportunities.”
Sperber believes the landmark race also serves as a chance to increase Hispanic viewership and attendance.
According to Sperber, Hispanics comprise about 10-12 percent of PIR’s on-site Cup race attendance and 30 percent of the local TV audience.
“Our hope is some of those potential fans might take a look at what we do,” Sperber said. “My experience has been that if we can get folks to the racetrack, they become fans.”
– Mark Armijo is the longtime auto racing beat writer for the Arizona Republic in Phoenix, and a frequent contributor to RacinToday.com2 Comments