Anyone who saw the coverage of the Formula 1/NASCAR demonstration by Juan Pablo Montoya and Jeff Gordon at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2003 would be surprised by today's news that Montoya is giving up his Formula 1 career to move to the United State's NASCAR. Viewing that coverage you got the distinct impression that Gordon was having way more fun than Montoya. Apparently not.
Photo: Jeff Gordon and Juan Pablo Montoya, Indy 2003 -- photo credit/Autostock
But just why is it such huge news that Formula 1 driver Juan Pablo Montoya is joining NASCAR in 2007? Well, there are many reasons, but here are a couple off the top of my head.
Montoya’s Established Fan base
Until not very long ago, all NASCAR drivers came from the South (of the United States, that is). Alan Kulwicki was the first person that I truly noticed in NASCAR that wasn’t from the south – he was from Wisconsin (gasp!). I know there were a few others, including New Englander Ron Bouchard, but Kulwicki went on to be NASCAR champion (1992) so he garnered a little more attention.
Now there are drivers from Indiana, California and even Washington – not to mention Kulwicki’s home state of Wisconsin. There are even crew members from Connecticut – Frank Stoddard comes first to my mind.
However, another country? No way. Juan Pablo Montoya is from Columbia - the country, not the city in South Carolina. NASCAR doesn’t necessarily need more fans, since it is the largest spectator sport in the country, but they do need a more diverse fan base to have continued success. Juan Pablo may very well help to bring that diverse crowd that has been eluding NASCAR. Not that the NASCAR organization hasn’t tried to market to the fastest growing population in the United States, but I’m not sure how quickly it’s catching on. NASCAR’s diversity initiative just got a huge boost with the addition of Montoya to its ranks.
The European motorsports fans have long looked down on NASCAR as ‘roundy-round’ racing and haven’t paid too much attention to the sport. Try catching even the minimum NASCAR coverage in some places in Europe – results – it can’t be done. This is a constant source of frustration for me at the end of each summer when I’m in Germany for a trade show.
However, Montoya has an established fan base in Europe already, not to mention that anyone who has followed Formula 1, regardless of their favorite driver, will be very interested to see how he does in his new venture. The European race fans will be watching February’s Daytona 500. It’s up to NASCAR to keep their interest, but they are getting the chance to be seen by an untapped audience – all courtesy of Chip Ganassi Racing signing Juan Pablo.
With more diverse fans come additional sponsors. I’m sure there are companies out there that haven’t been interested in NASCAR in the past, but will be very interested now. NASCAR has the potential to be reaching a much different audience in 2007. Smart companies understand that they need to market to many diverse populations now, within the same country, to continue their success. Some of the marketing folks at these smart companies may just have become NASCAR fans. Believe it or not, there is quite a Formula 1 audience in the US and any racing fan knows of Montoya. Not only does he bring in a diverse audience, he’s talented and respected – two things that make him even more attractive to potential sponsors.
My guess is that Chip Ganassi will not have any trouble finding sponsors for either Montoya’s Busch car or his Nextel Cup car. He already mentioned that Texaco will stay with the car, but they are being a little quiet about that to respect the current relationship Montoya has with Mobil on his F1 car. Add ‘integrity’ to ‘talented and respected’. He’s a marketers’ dream!
Yes, I welcome the addition of Juan Pablo to the talented drivers already on the circuit, but NASCAR should be bending over backwards to make him feel welcome and appreciated before he even takes one turn on the track.
Just a little tidbit for today. Thanks for stopping by.