NASCAR wins Latino fans
The Arizona Republic
Apr. 23, 2005
Outreach working gradually

Christine L. Romero
Eduardo Roa's love of fast cars means NASCAR has found a new fan.

"I like the speed," says Mesa's Roa, 24, who drives a souped-up Honda Civic.

And Roa's Latino background makes him exactly the type of fan that the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing is trying to cultivate. Roa has watched NASCAR only on TV, but he might eventually spend money to see a stock-car race live.

The outreach to the burgeoning Hispanic market eventually could bring more people like Roa to events such as this weekend's NASCAR Nextel Cup Series Subway Fresh 500 at Phoenix International Raceway.

Like marketers nationwide, NASCAR is courting the exploding Latino population, a coveted group of more than 35 million with a swelling economic influence. In just five years, U.S. Hispanics will control $670 billion, according to national researchers.

NASCAR's push to reach a broader audience, including women and African-Americans, has been trickling down from its top executives for a few years now. But building a new fan base takes time. Latino fans like Roa still account for only a small slice of the pie for NASCAR, whose fan base and drivers are overwhelmingly Anglo males.

"If they had a Mexican driver, I would like it even more," Roa says.

NASCAR's outreach effort includes creating bilingual fan guides at certain events, although they won't be at this weekend's races.

The organization also has set up an office in Mexico, where it will eventually run races and likely groom Mexican drivers. Just last month, NASCAR held a Busch series race in Mexico that generated a lot of excitement and displayed the sport's commitment to expanding its demographics.

The number of Latinos and Blacks calling themselves NASCAR fans is on the upswing, but they account for fewer than a quarter of fans overall. Even compared with golf and tennis - where Tiger Woods and the Williams sisters are top competitors - NASCAR remains one of the least racially integrated sports.

"It's something that doesn't happen overnight," says NASCAR spokesman Ramsey Poston. "It's getting more diverse as it grows."

NASCAR executives want to see more Hispanics among the ranks of fans. But there were no local efforts to advertise in Spanish for this weekend's race, according to Mike Pursinski, spokesman for Phoenix International Raceway.

"It's not just tickets to us," Pursinski says. "We are trying to leave an impression."

PIR recently hired somebody to handle Latino outreach and plans in the next year to add such services as signs in Spanish.

"We hope a year from now that we can welcome people to our event so they can enjoy the event and not feel handicapped," Pursinski says. "We want to make sure we are doing this right."

That lack of Spanish advertising creates a gap and leaves some out of the loop. Spanish-speaking Roa said he hadn't even heard of this weekend's race, even though he considers himself a NASCAR fan.

English-dominant Hispanics, like Richard Quiñones, likely have been caught up in NASCAR's overall rising popularity.

"I just started watching the race and it got interesting to me," says Quiñones, a 21-year-old Phoenix resident. "I love all sports. I'm a sports guy. My favorite is baseball, football and then NASCAR."

He started watching racing with his cousin and admits that it's hard to pique interest in NASCAR among other Latinos, especially his family.

"Everybody says, 'It's boring. It's just cars going in circles,' " Quiñones says. "There's so much more to it. But it's definitely still a White sport."

NASCAR officials say the Hispanic fan base has steadily increased and accounts for about eight out of every 100 fans. A consumer survey taken last year by Simmons, an Experian Company,indicates that about five out every 100 NASCAR fans are of Hispanic descent, while 10 out every 100 Hispanics have some interest in NASCAR.

About 40 percent of NASCAR's overall fan base is female; Latinos have more interest in NASCAR than their Latina counterparts, Simmons' research indicates.

Phoenix's Dan Cortez, 39, believes there will be an upward spike of Latino fans as NASCAR fever continues growing. The lack of direct advertising to Latinos could be part of the problem; Cortez believes that young Latinos who like low-riders and fast cars easily could find a new love and fall into NASCAR's arms.

"There are young kids out there with race fever, souping up their cars," Cortez says. "Some young Latinos are very much into their cars. . . . There's an affinity and a connection (with NASCAR), but I don't think it's been completed."

It's probably easier for English speakers like himself to get into NASCAR, but Spanish speakers will need to be specifically targeted, Cortez says.

"I'm a hard-core football, basketball and baseball fan, but NASCAR is creeping up on me without me even realizing it," he says. "They are smart to go after Latino fans, but it's not a quick hit."

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