Why NASCAR, why now?
Driver Mike Skinner, in the #23 Toyota, drives during NASCAR testing at Daytona International Speedway on Jan. 15, 2007.
TEXT OF INTERVIEW
MARK AUSTIN THOMAS: It's been a rough week for NASCAR. A cheating scandal has buffeted the Daytona 500. Two-time winner Michael Waltrip's crew chief and team director were tossed from the race for cheating. Both were suspended indefinitely after an illegal substance was found in Waltrip's new Toyota Camry during inspection. Five teams have now been caught cheating during preparations for Sunday's race. The big story beyond the scandals was the entry of Toyota into the NASCAR circuit. The strategy is marketing, but the goal is money and a growing share of the U.S. market. David Carter is the executive director of the USC Sports Business Institute. Toyota is already increasing its market share and could move past GM as the No. 2 automaker this year. I asked Carter why Toyota needs to join NASCAR?
DAVID CARTER: For me asking why a major corporation would want to align with NASCAR is a little bit like asking why an investment banker might want to be on Wall Street the first part of his career. It's where the action is. And I think Toyota realizes just how strong NASCAR has been historically in helping businesses grow their business. And certainly last year TV ratings were off a little bit, there's some softness in attendance at certain tracks, but it's pretty evident heading into this year that NASCAR's poised for some growth.
THOMAS: Why this year?
CARTER: First of all the arrival of Juan Montoya, noted racecar driver, won the Indy 500, has abandoned Formula 1 for NASCAR, and I think that allows NASCAR to tell a story about how they can build their audiences internationally. Television is another. You have ABC and ESPN back in this. Combine that with what Fox is doing. Fox has been very committed to this sport. So you have some stability on television. And finally I think NASCAR has changed it championship format. They've increased the number of drivers that are eligible to win the title, they've tweaked some of the rules to make sure that racing week to week is competitive for those drivers that want to win. And so they've refined their product, they've nailed down television again and they've brought on some real star power. Those things really tend to help.
THOMAS: No Toyota driver placed higher than 14th on Sunday. Does the automaker have to win at NASCAR in order to achieve its goal?
CARTER: I don't think they have to win initially. I think what's important is, there's going to be unprecedented notoriety this year for Toyota and for NASCAR. And there will be a lot of focus on them but winning and consistently finishing first or second in these races I think is less important than penetrating NASCAR, being steady, showing some progress and getting past what is going to be a learning curve.
THOMAS: So what are the chances 10 years from now it'll be baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Toyota?
CARTER: Well I'm not sure that's their ultimate goal. If you take a look at younger consumers, I'm not convinced that they're thinking baseball, hot dogs and apple pie at this point. Maybe action sports, iPods and Red Bull. I think what we're seeing is the sports consumers is really changing and how sports reaches them is important. And so I think Toyota is poised again to really understand and build its brand, using motor sports as a backdrop.
THOMAS: Thanks Dave.
CARTER: Thank you.
THOMAS: David Carter is the executive director for the USC Sports Business Institute.