February 17, 2007


NASCAR's oval goes global with Montoya: On Daytona's high-banked track, Montoya and stock car racing hope to benefit from a different direction (Kevin Baxter, February 17, 2007, LA Times)

NASCAR kicks off its 2007 Nextel Cup season with Sunday's Daytona 500 after a year in which TV ratings rose for only three of the series' 36 races, dropping 6.5% overall on Fox, 5% on TNT and a whopping 10% on NBC. And although NASCAR tracks don't release firm attendance figures, fewer than half of last year's races sold out, and crowds for at least 12 races decreased.

No driver, even one with [Juan Pablo] Montoya's sizable gifts, can turn that around alone. But the Colombian gives NASCAR a lot to work with.

First, there's his skill. The youngest driver to win a championship in the old CART series, and a winner of the Indianapolis 500 and the Grand Prix of Monaco, Montoya was an open-wheel superstar. And though drivers and fans in the wine-and-brie world of Formula One tend to look down their noses at stock cars, Montoya's defection seems likely to persuade at least some in the fractured world of open-wheel racing -- where CART's successor, the Champ Car World Series, and the Indy Racing League battle for sponsorships and fans -- to give NASCAR a look.

Then there's his personality. A handsome, charismatic 31-year-old, Montoya is bright and articulate in two languages -- something that will not only help NASCAR internationally but nationally as well, since more than a quarter of this year's Nextel Cup races will be run in Texas, California, Arizona and Florida, states with sizable Latino populations.

"Once the Spanish[-speaking] community can get to know this kid is out there, he's going to attract a whole new wave of clients," says Felix Sabates, co-owner of the Ganassi team. "He's a sponsor's dream."

He's also wealthy and something of a celebrity on two continents -- Europe and South America. In Colombia, for instance, kids don miniature versions of Montoya's fire suit on Halloween and he can't go out to dinner without being hounded by fans. (Which isn't entirely a bad thing. He met his wife Connie when she approached him for an autograph, and the couple now has two children.)

As a result, there's an air of both erudition and regality about Montoya, who has filled his 44th-floor bayside penthouse with works by Brazilian pop artist Romero Britto and who counts Mexican royalty -- singers Luis Miguel and Patty Manterola -- among his neighbors.

"He's bringing a whole new wave of people to the sport," Sabates says. "He's bringing flamboyance into the sport."

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 17, 2007 7:55 AM

Good marketing move by Ganassi and NASCAR. The "good old boys" are disappearing fast and I really miss 'em. Times change. A lot of the younger drivers are little snots. Montoya is good driver and should do well. Hasn't had much luck this week, though. Lost a wheel in the 150 and an engine in today's Busch race.

Watching spatial mobility is fun, Especially at Daytona and Talladega.

Posted by: jdkelly at February 17, 2007 3:04 PM