Manufacturers would need U.S. plants

Updated: June 14, 2009, 2:46 PM ET
By Ed Hinton | ESPN.com

BROOKLYN, Mich. -- NASCAR continues to have contact with foreign-based carmakers who are not yet involved in stock car racing but have manufacturing plants in the United States and may want to market through NASCAR, sanctioning body chairman Brian France said Sunday.

"Clearly there are some companies that are going to look at opportunities that may not have been there in the past," France said.

Of NASCAR's four current manufacturers, Chrysler and General Motors are in bankruptcy and Ford has reduced its expenditures on racing.

In Detroit's backyard, at Michigan International Speedway, GM announced on Friday it was cutting support throughout all three of NASCAR's major divisions -- Cup, Nationwide and Trucks.

Toyota, though its worldwide passenger car sales have been lagging, stands now as the strongest supporter of NASCAR among manufacturers.

But other brands could help fill the void if the traditional American carmakers should weaken further and reduce if not eliminate their NASCAR participation.

"We have companies that are interested in particular in developing the North American market as robustly as they can," France said. "And we're all aware that there are lots of foreign manufacturers producing cars here in America. That was part of the rationale that Toyota used" to get involved in NASCAR.

Other such companies with U.S. plants include Honda, Hyundai, Nissan, BMW and Mercedes-Benz.

But, "I'm not going to name names," France said. "We have been talking to people off and on for a long time. These are decisions, in terms of new manufacturers joining the sport, that will take a long time to evaluate and actually enter.

"So this isn't something that if we turn the light switch on tomorrow morning it would happen.

"But of course, we're the preeminent place in America for car manufacturers to build their businesses with an auto racing group. We remain that."

France said NASCAR would maintain its rigid technical procedures for entering the sport.

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

For example, Toyota had to develop an archaic pushrod V-8 engine, with a carburetor, especially for NASCAR, because its production lines produced only overhead cam, fuel-injected engines.

New companies, all of which mass-produce fuel-injected engines, might be reluctant to spend on developing engines that are completely outdated for public use.

But NASCAR's current engine formula, a 351 cubic-inch V-8, with tolerance to 358, with a four-barrel carburetor, is 35 years old.

So an influx of manufacturers conceivably could convince NASCAR to make long-awaited changes to fuel injection and overhead cams.

Though new manufacturer participation in NASCAR would be years down the road, France expressed belief that the current manufacturers aren't going away anytime soon, if ever.

Of the GM cutbacks, he said, "Obviously, everything they're doing, every program, is being affected, and we're no different. We were hoping to have the most minimal of the impact with their decision to restructure the business. The details aren't all out yet as to exactly what that will mean to us ...

"I think our job now is to figure out how to be good partners with them as they're trying to restructure their entire company and be a different company on the other side. And for us to be a part of it. And I think we will.

"I'm confident they'll be in the sport for many, many years, because it works for them," France continued. "But obviously our teams are affected more than anyone.

"The tracks have already felt their [Detroit's] restructuring last year," France added, referring to massive layoffs that contributed to attendance falloffs at several NASCAR tracks. "And now individual teams at all levels feel it.

"And that's not the best-case scenario for us," France admitted. "But it's the reality of where we are, and we'll deal with it."

Ed Hinton is a senior writer for ESPN.com.