NASCAR confirmed Thursday it is heading south of the border, bringing the Busch series into Mexico City next season for the first international points-paying event in over 50 years.
The race at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez road course will be held March 6, and be the third event on the 35-race schedule. It will mark the return of road-course racing for the junior-level Busch series.
''Mexico has a long tradition in motorsports, and we are thrilled that NASCAR is now part of it,'' NASCAR Chairman Brian France said. ''Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez is a beautiful track that provides our NASCAR Busch series teams the opportunity to perform on an international stage.''
The purse for the race will be $2 million, making it the richest Busch event on the schedule.
NASCAR has been trying for some time to branch out into new markets, and had expressed interest in both Mexico City and Canada. The schedule is already full for the premiere Nextel Cup series, so the Busch series was the only schedule NASCAR could add new events to.
Although NASCAR has also been exploring expansion into Canada officials visited the Champ Car race in Toronto this year and the Formula One event in Montreal that is not a priority.
All future expansion efforts will likely be for the New York City area, where NASCAR wants to bring its Nextel Cup series.
''Our focus as a company for the near future is on the U.S. market, and how we can better grow and build NASCAR in the United States,'' said George Pyne, NASCAR's chief operating officer.
International Speedway Corporation, NASCAR's sister company, recently purchased nearly 700 acres of industrial land on Staten Island to potentially develop for a race track.
Meanwhile, a Mexico-based operation was launched Thursday to help build the growing stock-car interest.
NASCAR Mexico will oversee marketing and licensing with an emphasis on creating programs to increase interest in NASCAR events and attracting corporate support of stock car racing from companies based in Mexico and throughout North America.
NASCAR has previous connections with Mexico, dating back to 1950 when founder Bill France Sr. teamed with Curtis Turner to compete in the first Mexican Road Race. The tandem went over 2,000 miles from El Paso, Texas, across Mexico and into Guatemala.
Mexican great Pedro Rodriguez drove in six NASCAR races from 1959 to 1971, finishing a career-best fifth at the 1965 World 600 in Charlotte.
He and his brother, Ricardo, also raced several times at Daytona International Speedway. Pedro won a sports car race there in 1963 and 1964, and also won the 24 Hours of Daytona sports car race in 1970 and 1971.
Competitors were thrilled with the addition of Mexico City. The last time NASCAR has been outside the U.S. was in the 1990s, when the top series ran exhibition races in Japan.
''I am one of the few drivers that raced in all four Japan races, so I have seen what NASCAR can do internationally and it is pretty cool,'' Busch series driver Ron Hornaday Jr. said. ''The international fans know about NASCAR, but few have ever really seen a race.''
The Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez currently hosts Champ car events and has held Formula One races as well. The track drew a three-day total of 402,413 fans during the Champ Car weekend.
''We are proud to bring NASCAR, the greatest stock car series in the world, to the Mexican market and race fans,'' said George Gonzalez, track director. ''We are prouder still that NASCAR has chosen Mexico to stage a points race for the first time ever outside the U.S.''
NASCAR is currently watched in more than 150 countries and in 23 languages. This year, NASCAR's international broadcast partners will air more than 4,000 hours of NASCAR-related programming outside the U.S.
In addition to the Mexico City race, NASCAR is also returning the Busch series to the road course in Watkins Glen, N.Y., after a three-year absence. That race will be held Aug. 14.
The 2005 Busch schedule will hold 35 events at 27 tracks in 22 states and two countries.
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