All-American sport? You bet. As red, white and blue as it gets. Chevrolets, Fords, Pontiacs and Dodges. They're all made by multinational corporate entities nowadays. A good many of them assembled in Canada or Mexico, but they're American brand names just the same.
NASCAR Winston Cup Series rules have always stipulated that its racing machinery is to be based on "American-made, steel-bodied sedans" in keeping with the vision of its founder, William H.G. France, who saw the appeal of a racing series based on automobiles with which spectators could identify.
It's pretty much what NASCAR racing is all about and always has been, right?
Well, yeah, mostly.
In 1954 at Linden (New Jersey) Airport, France's stock car series held its inagural race on a road-racing layout. The race was won by a Jaguar, so the British automaker, now owned by Ford Motor Co., is represented in the Winston Cup manufacturer victories list.
American rock 'n' roll and the U.S. racing classic, the Indianapolis 500, had to contend with "British invasions" in the early '60s.
Present-day NASCAR racing, at least in one of its divisions, is not quite all-American, either. Toyota's Celica has been mixing it up with Pontiac Sunfires and Mercury Cougars in Goody's Dash Series competition for the past few seasons.
Robert Huffman scored a breakthrough win for Toyota on June 16 at Kentucky Speedway, and has added to his total with a couple more victories since then. However, Huffman's win at Kentucky-the 32nd of his Dash Series career-was hardly the first for a Japanese automaker in recent NASCAR competition. Nissan's Datsun brand not only competed and won, it dominated the Dash Series in the late '70s and early '80s. Datsun has 39 race victories, and its drivers won three championships.
Is NASCAR racing ripe for a Japanese brand-or perhaps a European one-to crash the Winston Cup party in the coming years?
Feels So RightGiven the red-hot nature of the sport, with its robust attendance and television ratings figures, its enormous corporate sponsorship involvement and the famous brand-name loyalty of its fans, it might seem that Winston Cup racing would be the ideal activity for any foreign automaker that could afford to become involved. The reality is, it's a little more complicated than that.
"If today somebody waved a magic wand and said, 'We want you in Winston Cup in a year. Can you make it?' We'd have to say, 'No. Can't do it,'" says Les Unger, Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. spokesman. "We flat don't have the resources."
Toyota, a conservative company in most respects, is anything but conservative in its motorsports appetite. Its California-based Toyota Racing Development (TRD USA) supplies engines for Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) competition. An effort based in Europe will begin competition in Formula One this year, and the brand will enter Indy Racing League competition, with an eye on an Indy 500 victory, in 2003.
In addition to its NASCAR effort in the Dash Series, the company is also the engine supplier and title sponsor of the CART-owned developmental Toyota Atlantic Series, and remains active in off-road truck racing. Toyota provides assistance to grass roots-level competitors in Sports Car Club of America events and in previous years has mounted major factory-backed efforts in sports car racing in America and at the famous 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance event.
"If we get to a point where NASCAR feels it would be beneficial (for Toyota to participate in Winston Cup), and we feel it would be beneficial, we might have to reallocate some resources," Unger says.
One Japanese company that apparently is not at all interested in Winston Cup is Honda. Also like Toyota, Honda is a CART engine manufacturer and also has a Formula One pedigree. Like Toyota, it is a big player in the U.S. automobile market.
However, technological advancement is Honda's priority. Compared to NASCAR's 5.7-liter pushrod V-8s with Holley four-barrel carburetors, Honda's Indy Racing engines are high-tech.