NASCAR recently made a significant impact at the renowned 24-hour Le Mans race by showcasing a modified Next Gen Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, skillfully handled by the formidable Hendrick F1 Flows team. The driving force behind this initiative was NASCAR president Jim France, who aimed to pay tribute to his father, Bill Sr., the visionary who introduced NASCAR machinery to Le Mans back in 1976.
The overwhelming response from the massive crowd at Le Mans has sparked discussions about NASCAR’s potential to cultivate a following in Europe. Many believe that by bringing their American stars and Cup cars across the Atlantic Ocean, NASCAR could captivate European fans and create a substantial presence in the region.
According to Button, a former Formula 1 champion, it is crucial to help European fans not only appreciate the thrilling races but also familiarize themselves with the personalities within the sport. Button expressed his optimism, stating, “I think it could be big, and doing a race in Europe next year would be great. We shouldn’t overlook the tremendous following we witnessed at Le Mans, which generated numerous memes and ignited a social media frenzy. To seize this opportunity, action should be taken as soon as possible.”
NASCAR already sanctions stock car racing series in Europe, Canada, Mexico, and Brazil, albeit with slightly different specifications. Notably, the Xfinity Series, NASCAR’s second-tier competition, has previously raced at Formula 1 circuits in Mexico City and Montreal, while the Cup Series held two exhibition races at Suzuka in the mid-’90s.
Button contemplated the possibility of NASCAR collaborating with a World Endurance Championship event in Europe to attract racing enthusiasts who might appreciate the American-style racing. He proposed leveraging weekends when other races, such as Formula 1 or WEC endurance events, take place, as this could serve as a stepping stone for future races in Europe, given the already established fanbase.
Furthermore, Button believed that producing a behind-the-scenes television show akin to “Drive to Survive” would greatly assist European viewers in getting to know NASCAR drivers and teams better. By delving into the personalities within the sport, fans could develop a deeper connection and support their favorite drivers beyond the excitement of the race itself.
Button also emphasized the importance of international driver crossovers, citing the examples of F1 world champion Kimi Raikkonen and Australian Supercars star Shane van Gisbergen’s participation with Trackhouse’s Project 91 entry. Encouraging more drivers from the endurance racing and Formula 1 spheres to try their hand at NASCAR’s Cup Series would help expand the sport’s audience beyond North America. Button expressed his pleasant surprise at the level of competitiveness in NASCAR, especially on street courses and road courses, which exceeded his expectations.
In conclusion, following the successful venture at Le Mans, NASCAR is actively exploring opportunities to establish a presence in Europe. By bringing its top drivers and races to the continent, fostering familiarity through media initiatives, and encouraging international driver crossovers, NASCAR aims to engage and captivate a broader audience, both in Europe and worldwide.