In 2012, NASCAR and the Grand-Am Rolex Series shared four venues on race weekends -- Indianapolis and Watkins Glen for the Sprint Cup and Montreal and Road America in the Nationwide Series.
In 2014, the number of NASCAR/sports car companion races will be down to one -- Indy. And that’s “by design,” David Higdon, NASCAR’s managing director of integrated marketing communications, explained Monday in Manhattan at the final Rolex series awards dinner.
NASCAR-owned Grand-Am is merging with the American Le Mans Series next year to form the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship. The scheduling thought process is two-fold: The strength of a combined sports car league can stand on its own, and too many companion races with NASCAR can make the sports car product look like an opening act instead of a headliner.
“The audiences are really quite different, and we like that,” Higdon said, noting that the sports car fan base is a more specialized group.
While NASCAR’s popularity is fueled largely by driver personalities, sports car enthusiasts often focus on technology. For example, one of the five nominees for “Best Moment” of the Grand-Am season Monday night was Mazda winning a GT class event with a diesel engine.
To keep with that specialized theme, United SportsCar released a schedule last month keeping 2013’s Grand-Am number of races, 12, when Higdon said it could have run 20 or more with the tracks that previously ran Grand-Am and American Le Mans races. The series will be televised on Fox Sports 1, with marquee events like Grand-Am’s Rolex 24 at Daytona, and AmerIcan Le Mans’ Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta and 12 Hours of Sebring in Florida, now running under one banner.
While fans will see fewer visible connections between NASCAR and sports car racing on the track, Higdon added that this will be the first time NASCAR will be putting the “full force” of its marketing and communications assets into promoting the sports car product.
He added that although people won’t be seeing any NASCAR branding at these United SportsCar events, “Think of us as the man behind the curtain.”