- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 14, 2009

BROOKLYN, MICH. (AP) - NASCAR says it would be open to other foreign manufacturers joining Toyota in stock car racing.

Chief executive Brian France says nothing is imminent but talks with several companies have been ongoing for a long time.

France spoke at Michigan International Speedway ahead of Sunday’s Sprint Cup race. He was asked about the likelihood of companies like Japanese manufacturer Honda and some German automakers eventually competing in NASCAR.

He says foreign companies are interested in developing the North American market and NASCAR is the “pre-eminent place to consider.”

“I’m not going to name names, but we have companies that are interested in particular in developing the North American market as robust as they can, and you are well aware as we are of the foreign manufacturers now producing cars here in America,” France said. “That was part of the rationale that Toyota used, that (being in NASCAR) helps them associate more with this market.”

France’s comments come on the heels of an announcement earlier this week by GM, which is reorganizing through bankruptcy, that it is making deep cuts in its support of NASCAR teams in Cup, Nationwide and trucks, the latest in a series of harsh economic news for the sport.

“Well, obviously … every (GM) program is affected and we’re no different,” he said. “We were hoping to have the most minimal of the impact with their decision to restructure their business. The details aren’t all out yet and exactly what that will mean to us, but, obviously, we are affected.

“I think our job now is to figure out how to be good partners with them. They’re trying to restructure their entire company to be a different company on the other side (of bankruptcy) and for us to be a part of that. And I think we will. I’m very confident that they’ll be in the sport for many, many years because it works well.”

GM’s Chevrolet brand competes in NASCAR, along with Dodge, Ford and Japanese automaker Toyota. All of them have been hit hard by the crumbling international economy and France left the door open for other manufacturers to become part of the sport.

“We have been talking to people for off and on for a long time,” he said. “These are decisions in terms of the new manufacturers joining the sport that would take a long time to evaluate and actually enter. So those aren’t something that we turn the light switch on tomorrow morning and it would happen.

“Of course, we’re the pre-eminent place in North America for car manufacturers to build their business with an auto racing group. We remain that and clearly there’s some companies that are going to look at opportunities that may not have even been there in the past that could be presented in the future.

Under NASCAR rules, only cars manufactured in the U.S. are eligible to compete. Toyota joined the truck series in 2004 and, in 2007, became the first foreign manufacturers to compete NASCAR’s the elite Cup series in 50 years.

“We’ll have our philosophical approach to that in terms of welcoming new companies in as we did with Toyota,” France added. “It is under a very clear set of circumstances that the manufacturers come to NASCAR to compete. And that will not change.”

France said NASCAR will do whatever it can to help its teams, tracks and sponsors get through the tough economic times.

“The question is, with falling revenues in every sports league, what are you going to do to help to figure out the way forward?” France said. “For us, we have a huge interest in the sponsorship model. We’re more dependent on it than anyone else. So we’re affected.”

He said NASCAR will look to new companies, new technologies and, particularly, to the growing green industry to help build the sport.

“So we’ll be looking at figuring out, like anyone in our position, how to create new opportunities for new companies building brands and services here in NASCAR,” he said. “Because existing companies, that our teams have in particular relied on, are changing. And that’s just the reality.”

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