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Pit Pass: Has NASCAR outgrown America?

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Pit Pass is a new weekly column on the highs and lows from the NASCAR race weekend, brought to you by the editor in chief of American Thunder, the #1 magazine for the American racing lifestyle.

Love him or hate him, Tony Stewart is one of the best known drivers in NASCAR. There is something refreshing about seeing his unshaven mug smiling on camera, speaking his mind and consistently finishing near the front of the pack. His fans, like my buddy Patrick, love his cocky attitude, the orange and black Home Depot colors, and more importantly like to see him win-silencing the naysayers who wish that anyone but No. 20 will drive into the winner's circle. The race on Sunday was typical Tony. Early on the speculation was that Tony was going to sit out the rest of the race due to stomach cramps. But Stewart muscled through the discomfort, motivated by running in the top three and sensing a victory at the Glen. Tony Stewart 1 - Haters 0. But many casual fans must have been surprised to learn that the man who finished right behind Stewart, Ron Fellows, is from Canada. His accent was a little out of place, and his name was not as recognizable to fans. But given that he was driving for DEI, he was appropriately given credibility. To race fans outside the NASCAR world, Fellows is no stranger, driving for the Corvette factory team and winning races in American cars on a consistent basis. Fellows' unbelievable jump from starting 43rd to capturing second place is a reminder that the South — and even the U.S. — is not the only geographic region to compete and win in NASCAR. Like Pamela Anderson and Mike Myers, Canadians are becoming a part of American popular culture, and that includes sports like NASCAR. They can keep Celine Dion. A lot of noise was made when Toyota entered the Craftsman Truck Series. And with Travis Kvapil's win at Michigan International Speedway, Toyota laid claim to its first NASCAR victory. Does this really change anything? Does it make NASCAR any less American? It might come as a shocker that Toyota Tundras are made right here in the US of A — Princeton, Ind. as a matter of fact — thanks to a $2.5 billion investment from Toyota in the plant. NASCAR fans are among the most passionate in sports and have been resistant to change. With the brouhaha created by eliminating some of the storied venues from the NASCAR schedule in favor of newer tracks west of the Mississippi, you can only imagine the panic that an international NASCAR has caused. 2004 will go down as the year of Foreign Relations 101 for NASCAR. Earlier this year, NASCAR formed NASCAR Canada, capitalizing on the success of the CASCAR Super Series (Canada's version of the Nextel Cup Series) and embracing the fact that our neighbors to the north like stock car racing. NASCAR representatives' visits to Canadian cities were tracked by racing fans and pundits like paparazzi stalks J Lo. NASCAR's chief operating officer George Pyne is on a plane to Toronto — call in the Mounties! Canada is a long way from Daytona, but once you have expanded as far east and west in the U.S. as you can, it would seem only natural to begin leveraging your brand internationally. Since NASCAR has been hesitant to go whole hog into uncharted waters, offering up the Busch or Craftsman Truck Series as a test — maybe even some sort of all-star showcase — would be a natural step to see if their inclinations are correct. So don't expect to see Dale Earnhardt Jr. tearing up the course in Montreal any time soon. And headlines were made when NASCAR announced that it would run a Busch Series race in Mexico City next year with a $2 million purse at Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez. Could NASCAR be making the biggest land grab since the Louisiana Purchase? Again, it seems to make sense when you think about the huge Hispanic population in the U.S. (40 million and growing) that NASCAR not ignore a sizeable demographic, both in the U.S. and south of the border. Now, this does not mean that we will be changing our name to North American Thunder to encompass the new nations, but NASCAR should be proud of the international interest that it has generated. It was not that long ago that NASCAR sent drivers over to Japan to race at the Motegi Twin Ring and talk was afoot about testing in Europe. Neither the races nor the testing talk stunted NASCAR's growth in the U.S. Several other American sports have tried forays into the international market with limited success so instead of complaining about NASCAR selling out or fretting about drivers defecting to foreign nations, wish NASCAR luck and plan to see some paint traded north and south of the border.


Lucas Mast is editor in chief of American Thunder. He can be reached at editor@getthunder.com or visit www.getthunder.com. To subscribe visit www.getthunder.com/subscribe.

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