There has never been any doubt that NASCAR’s totally inventive and seemingly crazy idea of building an auto racing track inside the L.A. Memorial Coliseum was a totally transparent attempt to increase its footprint in its largest market in the country. But now in the third year of its season kickoff event, NASCAR has shown its cards even more and its desire to work its way further into the Latino market.
Sunday’s Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum will be preceded by the King Taco La Batalla en El Coliseo, the first time the NASCAR Mexico Series has raced in the United States since 2015 when it was in Phoenix. And NASCAR shows it can market, having comedian Gabriel (Fluffy) Iglesias serve as the grand marshal for the Mexico race and a trophy designed by noted South Central artist Ozzie Juarez.
The “start your engines” honoree for the Busch Light Clash will be Mexican boxing icon Canelo Álvarez.
“This was a no-brainer decision for us,” said Chad Seigler, chief international officer for NASCAR. “Besides just growing the sport, growing the Hispanic audience has been a key initiative for us. … Los Angeles has the second-largest Mexican Hispanic population base in North America outside of Mexico City. We knew the crossover appeal would be there so a lot of those things played in together.”
The idea was talked about internally in 2023 but putting the logistics together was too big of an obstacle. But the idea did not die.
“We started working early in the summer of last year and by August we were finally in a spot where we could start notifying all of our teams that we’re going to do this,” Seigler said.
Los Angeles is NASCAR’s largest market with just shy of 2 million fans. About 850,000 are Latino and more than 50% of its fans are considered multi-cultural. Among new fans, less than three years, 32% are Latino.
So, what is the NASCAR Mexico Series?
It was started in 2004 and this year it will have 12 races, all but one in Mexico. The circuit is a cut below the U.S. Cup and Xfinity Series with cars that have lower horsepower, less technology and, most important, less cost to run and operate.
“If you go into Mexico and talk about NASCAR, people will probably tell you who is the current Mexican champion,” Seigler said. “We try and create in-market stars and an infrastructure that includes team owners, mechanics and race track promoters. … The second part we try strategically to do, is if there is a driver that says their dream is not just to stay in Mexico but make it to the Cup Series, we try and provide a pathway to the Cup Series. Danny Suárez is a perfect example, he’s a driver that left the Mexico Series and went to the Xfinity series and now is in the Cup Series.”
Suárez will be driving in both the Mexico and Clash races on Sunday. He was ranked 19th last year in the Cup standings and was the first Mexican driver to win a Cup race when he was first in the Sonoma race in 2022.
“I can’t wait to see a lot of the people I used to race with,” Suárez said. “I never dreamed something like this would ever happen. I am very proud of the series. Without the Mexico Series I don’t think I would have ever had a chance of becoming a Cup Series driver. I am honored to be invited to race and see it as a way to say thank you for everything that series did for me over the years. Plus, I really want us to put on a good show and it would be amazing if we could win.”
Presumably, Suárez is talking about winning the Clash more than the 37.5-mile Mexico Series race. But to do that, he’ll have to beat Martin Truex, Jr., who won last year’s Clash. Truex is no stranger to racing in Mexico, having won the first NASCAR race there in 2005 in the Busch Series, now known as Xfinity. The promoter estimated the crowd at more than 94,000.
“It felt different being there,” Truex said. “It was really interesting. We stayed at a hotel [instead of a trailer] and bused to the track. It had a totally different feel to it and you definitely felt far from home. … I remember it was just crazy and being a lot. I remember seeing everyone standing, and then after the race all the music playing and all the people partying in the stands. It was pretty wild. And then you saw people all around the track looking through the fences.”
Truex understands what Sunday’s race could mean to the Mexico Series.
“Obviously, this is a big stage for them to showcase their series and showcase their drivers,” he said. “With Suárez coming out of that and being a Cup driver [underscores that]. They are going to be on a big stage and it’s a great opportunity for drivers to get noticed. I’m sure a lot of them are trying to make their way in like Daniel did.”
Opportunity can sometimes need a little help, or the absence of obstacles. Getting the 22 cars into the country for Saturday’s practice took a little maneuvering. No worries, all went well.
“A lot of the teams are based in Mexico City, several of the teams are based in Guadalajara, there are some teams based in the Monterey region,” Seigler said. “You take Mexico City as the hub, where all the teams meet. It’s about a 35-hour trip from Mexico City to Tijuana. All of those car haulers form what I like to call a convoy and they make the trip in two days of driving just to get to the border.
“Once you get to the border there are some basic [Department of Transportation] restrictions. Certain haulers that you have in Mexico don’t meet those requirements so you have to swap those out to a truck that is capable of going into the U.S. You have to come to a meeting spot at the border, unhook all your trucks and trailers, bring in another truck to bring it in to the U.S. It’s not a problem but a challenge.”
There is also the issue of getting visas for the crews. Seigler said things have been very smooth.
NASCAR is hoping that the addition of the Mexico Series race will raise the sport’s profile in the important Los Angeles region. With the track in Fontana being torn down with no firm date for rebuilding, and this being the last year of a three-year deal with the Coliseum, a good show is vital to keeping live racing going in the region.