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NASCAR MEDIA CONFERENCE
February 7, 2014
JON TEJADA:¬† Thank you for joining us.¬† I would like to introduce our guests today.¬† First is Federico Alaman, he is the general director of the NASCAR M√©xico Toyota Series.¬† Last year the NASCAR M√©xico Toyota Series became the first international NASCAR‑sanctioned series to hold a points race in the U.S. when it opened its season at Phoenix International Raceway.¬† On February 28, the series will once again hold its opener under the lights at PIR.¬† The race will be broadcast live on Mun2, the Hispanic cable network that is a division of Telemundo in the U.S.¬† It is a first for NASCAR and the NASCAR M√©xico Toyota Series.
Federico, what does it mean for the series to be able to return to Phoenix?
FEDERICO ALAMAN:¬† First of all, hello to everybody.¬† It's great for us to be back.¬† I want to have this moment and the chance to thank the track and Bryan Sperber, to thank NASCAR especially, George Silbermann, for all the enthusiasm and time that they've been putting behind this project, and we're really, really happy and thrilled to be for the second time this year on the track again.
JON TEJADA:¬† Our next guest today is NASCAR vice‑president for Touring and Weekly Series, George Silbermann.¬† NASCAR has made a lot of news on the international front in recent weeks.¬† The Canadian Tire Series schedule for 2014 was recently announced along with new and exciting things happening in the Whelen Euro Series.¬† Can you talk about the significance of NASCAR M√©xico Toyota Series event at PIR in terms of NASCAR's growth in the U.S. and abroad?
GEORGE SILBERMANN:¬† Yes, and first of all, I want to say hello to everyone who's joined us on the call, as well.¬† Every time I attend a NASCAR race in M√©xico, I see the same thing:¬† Grandstands full of enthusiastic race fans.¬† The same thing happens at NASCAR races in Canada, in France, in England and so on, and that's the real basis of our international strategy.
The NASCAR M√©xico Toyota Series is unquestionably the top series in M√©xico, but these drivers speak an international language when they mash the gas pedal down.¬† They're not afraid to trade paint.¬† They're not afraid to do what it takes to win.¬† And we expect this year's race to be just as exciting and dramatic as the inaugural Toyota M√©xico series race at Phoenix International Raceway last year.
And so for us, we're very proud of the series.¬† We're very proud of our relationship with our partners in M√©xico and our partners at Phoenix International Raceway, and we're really looking forward to this.
JON TEJADA:¬† Our last guest is the president of Phoenix International Raceway, Bryan Sperber.¬† Phoenix International Raceway celebrates its 50th anniversary all year long with special events to commemorate its deep racing tradition, contributions to the community and dedication to its fans.¬† Bryan, can you talk to us about what it means for Phoenix International Raceway and its fans to once again host the NASCAR M√©xico Toyota Series and have it be one of the opening events during this historic anniversary season?
BRYAN SPERBER:¬† Yeah, thank you, Jon.¬† Hola from Phoenix International Raceway, and I too want to thank Federico and George for their support in making this event happen last year and also for the event that's upcoming in a few weeks.¬† We're tremendously excited to once again play host to the NASCAR M√©xico Toyota Series because I think not only did last year prove that it's phenomenal racing, and it truly is.¬† The grandstands were on their feet the entire time.
But I also think it says something about the ability of sports to bring different peoples together, different cultures together, and it was really a magical night, and seeing fans from both M√©xico and the United States all embracing what was really just a great event and a great race.¬† We're really looking forward to having the event as part of this really important season for Phoenix International Raceway.
Jon, as you mentioned, it's our 50th anniversary, and to have the NASCAR M√©xico Toyota Series play such a big role in our 50th anniversary is tremendously exciting for all of us here at PIR, but I think this community, as well, and the excitement here among all the fans and really the community in general in Phoenix and throughout Arizona is sky high in anticipation for this year's race.
JON TEJADA:¬† Thank you, Bryan, George and Federico.¬† I think we're ready for questions.
Q.¬† Federico, last year was a very exciting year, was the first season that you had the Desaf√≠o down in the Toyota Series in M√©xico.¬† Can you talk about the excitement that was at Desaf√≠o and how that's carried over to this season?
FEDERICO ALAMAN:¬† Absolutely.¬† This format of calendar today which we're having in '14, also, it's 15 races which gives us the opportunity to have the Desaf√≠o Challenge at the end of the season for the last five races.
This generates last year a lot of excitement and a lot of different audiences, especially live audience and TV audience, and I think we're going to keep up with the format because we proved that having something very similar to what the national series has, the Sprint Cup Series has, it was going to create this enthusiasm.¬† So we're keeping the format for that, the last five races of the season are again going to be the Desaf√≠o, and obviously we're expecting to have more audience and attendance at the racetracks for this year.
Q.¬† For Bryan and George, when you guys look back at last year's event, what worked and what sort of led you to think that this is something that you wanted to do more than once?
BRYAN SPERBER:¬† I thought the event was a tremendous success on a lot of fronts.¬† We hoped that the race would resonate with fans and potential fans in the American Latino market, and it truly delivered.¬† David, I don't know if you were actually at the event and saw the grandstands, but it was full of fans that I think probably had never been to PIR before, or if they had, they hadn't been in a long time.¬† The level of enthusiasm and excitement among what I think is an emerging fan base for the sport as a whole was really exciting to be around that.
So I think the event as a whole was just tremendously successful.¬† I think the drivers also answered any question marks about whether or not they were ready to take on Phoenix International Raceway, a one‑mile, pretty fast oval.¬† Not only did they take it on, but they put on one heck of a race and I think just thrilled all the fans that were watching on television and that were here in person.
We're tremendously excited about what we're going to see in a few weeks.
GEORGE SILBERMANN:¬† I echo what Bryan said.¬† We also had some other takeaways, and you'll see there are going to be some format changes for this year.¬† It was such a successful event that we're actually going to run a longer race this year, so the fans are going to have even that much more to experience the excitement and the drama of the NASCAR Toyota M√©xico series.
FEDERICO ALAMAN:¬† Also I just want to address a little bit because we're doing a longer race, and what you saw last year was a cold pits format race.¬† This is going to be like a regular race that you see any other series of NASCAR, so we're going to have open pits and the teams are going to work on their strategy for the race.¬† I agree with George, it's going to be much more exciting than last year.
Q.¬† Federico, what does it mean to your series to compete on a major NASCAR racetrack?
FEDERICO ALAMAN:¬† It's a great opportunity.¬† It's something that we didn't know that it was going to happen so fast as far as our growth.¬† We truly are very pleased with NASCAR and with ISC and with all the teams to have the opportunity to race on a big weekend of the national series.
This is a big step for us on the exposure side, on the growth, on the format and the series of what we're very proud working on with NASCAR in M√©xico, and I think not only the Latino market but the Mexicans must feel very proud that the Mexican series in the history of M√©xico, because there has not happened in the past to have 100 percent Mexican series go to the U.S. for a second time and have this kind of event.
Q.¬† I have a question for Bryan, but first of all, can we please specify more specifically what the format for the race is going to be this year?¬† Last year it was 50 laps, a 10‑minute break and then a 25‑lap run to the finish.¬† You're talking about a longer race.¬† Can you be specific on the format, please?
FEDERICO ALAMAN:¬† The format is going to be a longer race.¬† Last year was 75 laps with one break of 10 minutes for all the grid.¬† This time is going to be 120‑lap race, so it's 120 miles, and it's going to be optional for every team where to‑‑ when to do a pit stop, but it's going to have an obligation of a pit stop for fuel and a pit stop for tires, so I believe they have to make two pit stops, and the qualifying format is going to be the same as on the national series.¬† It's going to be two laps per car.
Q.¬† So 120‑lap total distance, two pit stops but no specified break; is that correct?
FEDERICO ALAMAN:¬† That's correct.
Q.¬† And approximately how many entries would you expect for the race?
FEDERICO ALAMAN:¬† Well, it's hard to know in NASCAR racing, but at least definitely they're going to have two, one for fuel and one for tire.¬† We don't know exactly how the Hoosier tire is going to do on the track, but that could be challenging for the teams to see how the tires degrading, how they're going to set up the cars to see if they need to have another third pit stop for tires or not.
Q.¬† How many entries do you expect for the race?¬† How many‑‑
FEDERICO ALAMAN:¬† Sorry for that.¬† We're expecting our regular average full grid, which is 30 cars.¬† Right now we have 30 cars confirmed.¬† We don't know if we're going to have any other entries because it's early in the season for us.¬† That's going to be our first race of the season.¬† But we're definitely going to be with I believe 30 cars on the grid.
Q.¬† Could you be specific on why it was decided to change the format and extend the race distance?¬† What were the factors that led to that change?
FEDERICO ALAMAN:¬† Certainly our racing, it's getting more challenging and more competitive every year, and the teams were asking to have like a regular format race.¬† In M√©xico our races are an average of two hours, two hours and a half, which is almost 200 miles, on every track that we have in M√©xico.¬† When we discussed the opportunity to go again to Phoenix, it was something that we decided between the NASCAR team in the U.S., the NASCAR M√©xico team and obviously some team representatives.
Q.¬† One question for Bryan:¬† When the event was first run last year, obviously you talked about this being a growth opportunity for PIR.¬† Based on what you saw last year, the discussions within the community leading up to this year, what are your thoughts in terms of what might be expected in terms of increased attendance or overall growth potential this year over last year?
BRYAN SPERBER:¬† Well, I think last year was a bit about introducing the series here in Phoenix, and so a lot of folks here in the Valley didn't know much about the NASCAR M√©xico Toyota Series, and so last year was really about sharing with them some information about the series and getting them excited about what they might see.
This year we have the benefit of being able to reintroduce those fans to the excitement of the race that they did see.¬† I've been around racing many, many, many years, and the event, the race that these drivers put on at PIR was fantastic, and I don't know how anyone could come away from that night feeling anything but just totally energized about what a great race they saw.¬† So that gives us a lot to build on for this season, and I know a lot of fans are already looking forward to coming back.
Ticket sales for Friday night are up over last year, and so that gives us a lot of enthusiasm around what we're going to see on Friday night.
Q.¬† Bryan, if you could expand on that a little more, taking the second year of this event with a lengthened race distance, combining it with what will be the first example of the new Sprint Cup qualifying format, what opportunities do you think that presents for PIR, that packaging of these two events and new formats in terms of driving spectators to the track that Friday?
BRYAN SPERBER:¬† Well, I'm very confident that race fans are going to respond to the changes that NASCAR has made, both in qualifying and with the Chase format.¬† All the feedback that we've been getting here at PIR has been tremendously positive.¬† Really with the emphasis on wins, every race is an opportunity for a driver to secure a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.¬† Whereas in years past, the second Sprint Cup race of the year was a nice event for a driver to win, now it has championship implications.
All the feedback that we've gotten from the fans has been overwhelmingly positive about that change.¬† Then you couple that with the return of the NASCAR M√©xico Toyota Series with a lengthened event, and again, we saw such a tremendous race last year, which is almost‑‑ quite a bit shorter event.¬† Now we're going to be able to treat the fans to a longer event, longer race, and even more action, and then all of that plays out against the backdrop of 2014 being our 50th anniversary season with so many legends coming back to PIR, historically significant race cars returning, and it's just going to be, I think, a magical weekend.
Q.¬† For George, Federico and Bryan if I could, fans don't sometimes understand quite the lengthy process or the preparation, the time and the work that NASCAR and partners do to make changes and prepare for events.¬† Could you kind of give them a timeline of what it takes to put all this together?
GEORGE SILBERMANN:¬† Well, I think it's safe to say that we began discussions about this year's event the day after we ran last year's event.¬† If you think about it, this is the national series of M√©xico.¬† They travel to great racetracks throughout the country, so it's very similar to the experience of NASCAR teams here in the United States.
If you look at some of the distances involved, pull out a map and look at the distance between M√©xico City and Phoenix, you'll see that's a pretty long haul.¬† So you have all the normal discussions that Bryan, Federico and all the many people in our three organizations behind the scenes have been putting together on the logistical side, the events side, and then you couple it with literally an event for the NASCAR Toyota M√©xico Series in a different country, there's a lot that goes on behind the scenes above and beyond what you would normally do for an event.¬† We're fortunate that all the pieces are coming together and the cars will be crossing the border here very soon, and we're really looking forward to it.
Q.¬† Federico, after last year's event I know Bryan spoke to how positive the fan reaction was.¬† Can you talk about what the drivers were saying after last year's event?
FEDERICO ALAMAN:¬† Other, the drivers' experience was amazing.¬† They didn't realize that it was going to be a bunch of fans in the grandstands, especially Latin fans or Mexican‑American fans.
I think what Bryan was addressing, it's also very important for the project, and the project is NASCAR U.S., ISC and M√©xico City.¬† I think jointly we're looking forward to make not only the Latin market growth in the U.S., but you've seen all the NASCAR international tools, which we're one of those, to break the Latin market.¬† We're more than compromised with all the teams to make this happen, and the experience that we as a series and the team owners, the drivers, the Mexican sponsors that we have a chance to invite to the race, it was amazing.¬† We didn't measure or realize that the first event from the NASCAR Toyota M√©xico Series was going to be that big.¬† I'm more than happy that in the past information that we received from the track and from Bryan's team that the ticket sales are growing this year, and that's actually the purpose from everyone in this side is to make something bigger every day, and we're actually absolutely looking forward to do that.
Q.¬† Federico, can you explain, you said earlier, the situation, the format for the race, it's going to be 125 laps with pit stops opening.
FEDERICO ALAMAN:¬† Basically the format as we expect is going to be 125 laps with open pits.¬† This is more similar to what we normally race in M√©xico.¬† Our race length in M√©xico is a little big bigger on every race on the average.¬† It's capped at two hours and a half on time or 200‑‑ in most of the cases, 200 miles, and that's what we wanted to ask the track if we can do a longer length on the event, and that gives us the opportunity to make an open pit instead of a cold pit format.
Q.¬† Federico, how many practices does NASCAR have in Phoenix with the new car?
FEDERICO ALAMAN:¬† There's going to be an open practice.¬† It's going to be an hour practice on each slot of time.¬† We're looking for two hours in breaks of one hour each.
Q.¬† And Bryan, can you tell us what you're planning for the 50th anniversary of the track all over the week, the weekend?
BRYAN SPERBER:¬† Yes, we've got a display that our team has been working on called Memory Lane where we've gone back and identified and then found cars that have a historical connection to PIR, so for example, the AJ Foyt's winning car in 1964, which was our first big race here, we found that car in Indiana.¬† That car is coming back, along with AJ Foyt himself.
Other significant cars include Alan Kulwicki's 1988 winner here at PIR, which was our first NASCAR Sprint Cup event, and a whole host of other cars that have historical significance.¬† A lot of former drivers will be back throughout the weekend, as well, and so Bobby Allison, for one, and a number of others, Tom Sneva from the IndyCar Series, Rusty Wallace will be here, even though he's not on the broadcast team that weekend.¬† On his own he wanted to come and be a part of the 50th.¬† There's a lot of announcements that will be coming out over the next few weeks as travel schedules get firmed up, but it's just going to be a phenomenal weekend.
Q.¬† The goal is 18,000 in the stands with NASCAR M√©xico.¬† What is the goal for this time?
BRYAN SPERBER:¬† Well, I think first and foremost, we want to have a great race.¬† We're very pleased with what happened on the racetrack last year, and I thought that the teams and the drivers put on a heck of a show, and so I think it all starts with that.¬† So we're really looking forward to with this longer format seeing how the teams and drivers react to that.¬† I think it's going to be really intriguing.
As far as attendance, we're not really necessarily locked in on one particular number.¬† I think it's really about creating a great event, and now with our new television partner, with Mun2 being able to have that translate in terms of television is really important, as well.
So there's a lot of metrics that we'll use to gauge whether or not we're satisfied with the growth of the event.
But I can tell you right now we're already ahead of where we were last year in ticket sales, so I'm anticipating it really being a fantastic success.
Q.¬† (Question posed in Spanish.)
FEDERICO ALAMAN:¬† We're actually changing our new generation chassis this year, so we're definitely going to have a brand new car for the first race at Phoenix International on the 28th of February, but we're certainly going to have an official practice in M√©xico which is the 14th of next month.¬† It's going to be a couple of weeks prior to the event, in order for all the teams to have the opportunity to test the cars in one open practice.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports