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Is NASCAR Going Global, or Toyota Going Native?

Toyota Joins NASCAR NEXTEL Cup and Busch Racing Series in 2007
Back in 2004 when Toyota announced its participation in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series with the Tundra, speculation started about whether the company would go for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup. As of January 2006, three teams have signed up to race Camry sedans in the 2007 NEXTEL Cup series (Bill Davis Racing, Michael Waltrip Racing, and newcomer-to-NASCAR Team Red Bull). Busch teams have not been announced. Toyota’s website for NASCAR_2007 says “This Year Will go Very Fast.”
The Camry has held the best-selling car slot for the past four years (and eight of the past nine). It has long stood for dependable, reliable transportation, but not inspired emotion or passion. Racing the Camry on Sunday is more about generating excitement for Camry and Toyota brands than about direct increases in sales on Monday. Toyota’s involvement in NASCAR will not convert a deeply pro-American buyer into a Camry owner. Nothing will do that. But it can give Camry owners something to be proud of on NASCAR race days and may attract some with less-idealistic reasons for not having considered a Camry.

What Does NASCAR Get Out of This?
NASCAR, long the playground of Dodge, Ford, and Chevrolet with very little foreign involvement over the years, has fiercely loyal fans with strongly pro-American values and attitudes. So why would they risk upsetting their fan base?
For NASCAR, benefit outweighs risk. They did a test run with the truck series and allowing Toyota to race is more likely to increase the fan base, though maybe not in massive numbers. Adding Camry may spark controversy for some diehard NASCAR fans, but controversy is good for a sport like this. It is not likely to drive fans away, even those who don’t approve of foreigners joining their race. Having a team to root against is as important as having one to root for.
Toyota’s involvement in U.S. motorsports has spanned more than twenty-five years, though they have been criticized in some cases for outspending the competition, dominating the respective series, and then pulling out. NASCAR has historically held keeping a level playing field as a core value, and they expect Toyota to play according to the rules already in place to keep everyone in check.
Toyota Has Strong American Presence
Toyota is not an American company, but it does have a strong American presence and is part of our national community. It is firmly entrenched in our culture and marketplace. The company builds several models in the States, including the Camry in Kentucky, and has design facilities and R&D offices that have real impact on the vehicles that are sold in this market. Toyota is looking to build new production facilities at a time when the home-market brands are closing plants and is responsible for about 140,000 jobs here. Can one be pro-American and enthusiastic about Toyota joining NASCAR at the same time?
Judging by the reluctant acceptance of the Tundra into the Craftsman series, most seem to already understand that companies are global entities as much as they are American, and will ultimately accept Toyota’s involvement as a part of life‚Ķassuming Toyota sticks to the NASCAR rules about a level playing field. Should Toyota throw financial muscle about the NASCAR pits, reception could be far colder.
But Americans usually reward the winners. If Toyota begins winning at NASCAR, the old adage of “Win on Sunday, Sell on Monday” could once again become true.

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