The Hispanic stamp is becoming ever more prominent on the NASCAR circuit, with Latino drivers and teams and, even, marketing strategies directed at that segment to broaden the sport's fan base.
In a mechanical workshop in Mooresville, North Carolina, a team of five people is making history each day by working for Viva la Raza Racing, the first Hispanic NASCAR team in the United States.
Oscar Sanchez, the director of Promo Race, the Mexican firm that is sponsoring the project, told Efe that his first dream had "become reality" when the team was formed in February and that 2012 will be a "learning year."
"We'll seek and support Hispanic talent, youngsters from 17 to 20 years old, who want to race, but we also need the sponsorship of brands that support this initiative, both in Mexico as well as in the United States, who are seeking to penetrate the Hispanic market," he emphasized.
The team will participate this year in the races of the Whelen All-American Series and K&N Pro Series, with an eye toward getting into the main categories, the Sprint Cup Series and Nationwide Series.
Cody Sommer, the team chief for Viva la Raza, says that over the next 10 years, Hispanics will form "a fundamental part of NASCAR."
"I see and I believe in the potential there is in this market. There's a need for companies or someone who sponsors, for a long time, the team, with mechanics, drivers, cars. NASCAR can come to be the main sport of Hispanics," he said.
To achieve that, NASCAR acknowledges that it must invest more in advertising and public relations initiatives to reach a potential market of more than 50 million Hispanics in the United States.
NASCAR recently began to seek a marketing agency with experience in the youth segment, multicultural, with an emphasis on the Hispanic market, online marketing and media planning.
Tyson Webber, the accounts vice president for GMR Marketing in Charlotte, said that the key to motivating Hispanics is "education."
"There's no doubt about the growth potential of the Latino population and above all the buying power for any brand," Webber - who managed the ad campaign for Lowe's, the main figure of which was Mexican NASCAR driver Adrian Fernandez - told Efe on Thursday.
"You have to understand the Hispanic market and increase your knowledge about NASCAR. This won't happen overnight, but it's already begun and especially among the youngest fans," the sports marketing expert said.
Nine years ago, NASCAR created the program Drive for Diversity, an initiative that each year gathers together the talents of minority drivers and female members of the pit crew.
However, Hugo Lopez, the publisher of the Mexican sports newspaper La Cascarita in Charlotte, who has closely followed the interest in NASCAR by taking Hispanic fans to the racetracks, told Efe that what's needed is "more promotion."
"There are Hispanics who don't know ... that there are Hispanic NASCAR drivers. The organization is certainly working harder to get to that market but I think it lacks the figure or the driver who everyone can follow," Lopez said.
Along those lines, some of the sport's fans say they feel that the changeover of Colombia's Juan Pablo Montoya from Formula 1 to NASCAR has contributed to getting more Hispanic interested in the sport.