Report: Could NASCAR seriously expand internationally?

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A report from USA Today’s Nate Ryan is a good one to read in full, summing up the prospects of NASCAR’s international aspirations. NASCAR’s senior vp Steve O’Donnell told Ryan the sanctioning body is “approached every day” with opportunities to race in other countries.

Some of the countries mooted are Singapore, Malaysia, Russia, Brazil and Japan. NASCAR has already had exhibition races in Japan in the 1990s, and points races for its Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series divisions in Mexico and Canada. Additionally, the report notes that the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series will race in Germany, England, Spain and France in 2014.

All of the above countries hold a round of the Formula One World Championship except for France and Mexico; Russia’s inaugural GP will premiere in 2014 as part of a banner year for that country. It hosts the Sochi Winter Olympics in February, and that’s going to do the most to expose modern day Russia to the world stage.

But the difference NASCAR wants to achieve, per this report, is that it doesn’t want to merely show up and collect an appearance fee. In O’Donnell’s words to Ryan, “We want to be international but build from the grass roots. The goal is not to become Formula One and collect a fee and leave.”

The goal, ultimately, is to attract more foreign drivers to NASCAR over F1. And O’Donnell’s comment is also a big statement because it speaks to NASCAR wanting to export its brand and become a part of other countries, rather than merely a stop on a circus, as F1 is in the countries it chooses to visit.

NASCAR has the American motorsports market cornered. F1’s fan base in America is smart, passionate, dedicated … but still a fraction of NASCAR’s. IndyCar – for all its upsides, including an excellent on-track product – perpetually underachieves and deals way too frequently with political wrangling. Sports car racing, at its core, is simply too confusing to grow beyond the ultra hardcore, niche market it already has in play.

When it comes to motorsports around the world, F1 is the pinnacle and will remain the pinnacle based on the sheer volume of coverage it receives. NASCAR, worldwide, is a mere foot note. And if it truly wants to grow internationally, it needs to expose its brand and build drivers and fans in other countries.

So what NASCAR is saying in this story, to me at least, is, “We’ve conquered the U.S. and now, a la an NFL, we are determined to grow our brand globally.”

It’s not something that can be done in a day. The NFL is king of the American sports market, yet NFL Europe has already gone under and it’s taken a handful of years to begin to export the brand globally thanks to the regular season games in Wembley Stadium in London. And no, having the Jacksonville Jaguars there isn’t the best way to do so.

NASCAR is a uniquely American sport and one that probably could, I’d argue, almost be better served by trying to return more to its Southern roots rather than try to expand its brand globally. More short track races, dirt races, or races in Southern markets could do more to placate and grow the fan base domestically.

But that’s a topic for another day. Assuming NASCAR forges ahead with these aspirations, it will be very interesting to watch whether it can sink or swim as part of a global sports market, and who chooses to eat it up.

Heather Lyne, Dennis Erb Jr. make history in the World of Outlaws Late Model Series

Lyne Erb Outlaws Late
Jacy Norgaard / World of Outlaws
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More than two decades in the making, the pairing of Heather Lyne and Dennis Erb Jr. produced a historical milestone in Dirt Late Model.

Last month, Erb and his long-time crew chief Lyne won their first World of Outlaws Late Model Championship and with this achievement, Lyne became the first female crew chief to win in a national late model series. Their journey together goes back 21 years and tells the story of hard work, persistence and belief in oneself.

After a career-best season with the World of Outlaws, Erb and Lyne secured the points championship at US 36 Raceway in Osborn, Mo. with three races remaining in the season. The consistency and success of their season came down to pinpoint focus. Lyne and Erb are a team of two living out a David vs. Goliath tale. In order to be as successful as possible this year the duo knew they had to do as much as possible with the resources they had.

“It’s always a challenge when you only have two people, both at the racetrack and at the shop,” Lyne told NBC Sports. “I also work full time, so during the day, Dennis has to do a significant amount of work so that when I get down there I can start working and maintaining. It’s planning ahead. It’s having that system in place and making sure that you’re prepared ahead of time.

“When you have a problem at the track, making sure you have all that stuff ready so it’s a quick change and not a lengthy process to make a repair. We had zero DNFs in the World of Outlaws, we had only one DNF out of 96 races [combined among all series].”

Dennis Erb clinched his 2022 championship before the World of Outlaws World Finals. Jacy Norgaard – World of Outlaws Late Model Series.

Taming Time

This was not an easy feat. Between a full travel schedule and Lyne’s full-time job as an engineer, time comes at a premium. What they lack in time and resources they made up for in patience and planning.

“We buckled down, and we got all the equipment that we needed back, motors freshened, and things of that nature,” Lyne said about the mid-point of last season. “We were able to keep up with that. We just had a higher focus. I tried to reduce my hours at my day job as much as I possibly could while still maintaining what I need to get done at work. I got rid of a lot of the other distractions and got a more refined system in place at the shop.

“We did certain tasks on certain days so we had time to recover. We were on the road a little bit more, as opposed to coming home to the shop. So we had to be more prepared to stay out on those longer runs. It was just really staying on top of things a little more. It was a heightened sense.”

This was Lyne and Erb’s fourth full season with the Outlaws, but they’ve been on the road together for the last 21 seasons starting in 2001. Their partnership began with Lyne’s bravery. When one door closed, she was quick to open another. In 2001, Lyne’s dad was ready to stop racing. Her mother wanted to regain her weekends, but Lyne knew this was her life path and wasn’t prepared to lose it.

“I’ve always been a tomboy at heart,” Lyne said. “I watched racing with my dad. Growing up he watched NASCAR. In high school, I got tired of playing at the lake house, so I went to the local dirt track and fell in love with it. I just couldn’t get enough. It took a year for me to convince my dad to come to the track with me. He finally did and we sponsored a car that year, the following year he started to race limited cars. He ran hobby stocks and limited late models.”

At some point, Lyne and her father’s level of commitment drifted apart.

“He did it for about five years,” Lyne said. “And then my mom said: ‘I’m done racing. I want my weekends back. It’s just not fun anymore.’ I wasn’t ready to hang up my wenches and Dennis raced out of the same hometown so I, on a dare, went down and introduced myself; told him if you ever need any help, I’ll drill out rivets, I’ll help wash, whatever you need. Twenty-one years later here I am.”

Heather Lyne became the first female crew chief to secure a national touring late model championship in 2022. Paul Arch / World of Outlaws Late Model Series.

Breaking Through

Lyne entered a male-dominated job in a field that is also male-dominated – and where there were few examples of women creating these places for themselves. In this way, Lyne became a blueprint for other women as they strive to find a place for themselves in racing and in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) overall. She has her mother to thank for providing a strong role model, her father for sharing her passion, Erb for taking a chance on an unknow entity and most importantly herself.

“I was raised to believe that I can do anything, I want to do, as long as I put my heart and soul into it.” Lyne replied when asked about role models in the sport growing up. “My parents did not raise me to have that limitation. But from a racing role model perspective, I went in there completely green and just introduced myself to Dennis, the fact that he was brave enough to take that risk and bring a girl to the racetrack. Someone he didn’t know at all speaks volumes for him.”

Lyne and Erb have learned how to survive and succeed with each other on the road. They do this by leveraging decades of combined experience and an ability to adapt to the everchanging landscape of dirt late models. Next year the World of Outlaws visits nearly a dozen new tracks and Lyne sees it as an opportunity for continued success.

“I just want to do it again,” Lyne says going into next season, “I’m looking forward to the competition, I always do. I wouldn’t do it if I wasn’t competitively driven.

“There are some new tracks on the schedule that I’m looking forward to trying for the first time that I haven’t been to myself,” Lyne said of the 2023 season, “Dennis seems to do well on those first timers. We won out at Marion center, we finished second at Bloomsburg. We have a good solid notebook of information to tackle them over the last three years with these rocket race cars that we’re running. It’s good to have that information and leverage it to try some new things.”