The most popular motorsports series in Mexico will make its U.S. debut next season at Phoenix International Raceway.
The NASCAR Toyota Series will run at Phoenix on March 1 in conjunction with the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and K&N West Series. The race will be the 2013 season opener for the series, which runs Mexican V8 stock cars.
George Silbermann, NASCAR vice president of regional and touring series, said the race further develops a vision by chairman Brian France to offer racing that appeals to U.S. Latinos. NASCAR took its second-tier Nationwide Series to Mexico for four races from 2005-08.
"Mexico has a long and rich motorsports heritage but not necessarily in stock car racing," Silbermann said Monday. "The whole Mexican motorsports culture has followed either open-wheel racing or sports car racing. Brian made it very clear that a strategic goal of his was to reach a growing fan base and connect with Mexican-American fans here in the states. It was a seed that was planted in 2005 and it has now grown into a tree."
NASCAR and PIR officials scheduled a Tuesday news conference in Phoenix. The event will be a 75-lap race with a scheduled break after 50 laps for pit stops.
The series was launched in 2004 as the "Desafío Corona." NASCAR sanctioned it in 2007, and it was called the NASCAR Corona Series. It became the NASCAR Toyota Series this year, and has run 125 races, all in Mexico.
Bryan Sperber, president of PIR, said he jumped at the opportunity to host the first series race in the U.S. and the demographics of his track's fan base made it a natural fit.
"I look at this as a real opportunity for sports to bring people together," Sperber said. "It's no secret in terms of NASCAR that we want to broaden our consumer base and reach the Latino market. NASCAR Mexico allows us to reach out potentially to new race fans but also give exposure to this series and its drivers."
It's welcome exposure for 20-year-old points leader Daniel Suarez, who has relocated to Charlotte, N.C., in an attempt to climb through the NASCAR ranks.
Suarez has been identified as part of the NASCAR's Next 9 — a group of nine drivers who are under 21 and represent the next wave of young talent. He's on track to become the youngest champion in series history, and won his first race in May at Mexico City.
Suarez said the chance to run at the same track on the same weekend as the premiere Sprint Cup Series gives Mexican drivers an opening to showcase their talent to prospective owners and sponsors.
"People can see what is going on in Mexico," he said. "There are fans who know nothing at all about racing in Mexico. This series is the best in Mexico, the racing is the best. We have more fans, the best drivers, the best sponsors and the chance to race in America is a very big first step."
The race at PIR is a one-year agreement, per NASCAR guidelines. But Silbermann said it's part of a long-term plan for NASCAR.
"This is an important race for making the connection on both sides of the border," he said. "From a business standpoint, a lot of the series sponsors and partners see the value of a race in the U.S., and everyone sees the value in building the sport among Spanish speaking audiences. We believe the race will shine a spotlight and be a pleasant eye-opener for fans when they see the high caliber of talent in that series."