The historic first appearance of the NASCAR Mexico Toyota Series on United States soil — Friday night at Phoenix International Raceway — completes a circle that started with the NASCAR Nationwide Series' first trip south of the border in 2005.
"When we first decided to take the Busch (now Nationwide) Series to Mexico more than eight years ago, it was part of a broader strategic plan to, among other things, help with our Hispanic marketing efforts here in the United States," said George Silbermann, NASCAR vice president of regional and touring series.
"Roughly a decade later, things have come full-circle."
The NASCAR Mexico Toyota Series race will feature the top driving talent in Mexico competing over 75 laps broken into two segments of 50 and 25 laps — a special format that will introduce the series to American fans.
Make no mistake. Stock car racing is enormously popular in Mexico, fueled by an oval-track building boom that has transformed what was once a road-racing culture into one where the NMTS is truly a national series and the most popular form of motorsports in the country.
"The series started out predominantly on road courses," Silbermann said. "If I'm not mistaken, in the first season, all the races were on road courses except one oval race. Then you flash forward today in Mexico, and in a very brief time, it's just the opposite. Today, all the races that we run with the series in Mexico, they're all on oval courses with the exception of one road course.
"In a very short time, a whole stock car racing culture has erupted in Mexico. If you attend an event down there, you find the grandstands packed with very passionate fans. You would think you were at Talladega or Daytona, just seeing the enthusiasm in the very large crowds they draw. But if you got to the broader picture, with the series now coming to the United States for the first time, that seed that was planted eight, nine years ago has now sprouted and grown."
The defending series champion is Jorge Goeters, a one-time pole winner in the NASCAR Nationwide Series — in 2005 in the first NNS road-course race in Mexico City. Goeters left the Caneles team after last year's championship to form his own organization.
Taking his place with Caneles is Ruben Garcia Jr., who won the NMTS rookie-of-the-year title at age 16. Daniel Suarez, one of NASCAR's Next9 up-and-coming drivers will compete at Phoenix. So will Rogelio Lopez, the first Mexican driver to win a NASCAR K&N Pro Series East event (2007 at Nashville).
"Keep in mind, NASCAR fans here in the United States have already seen some very talented Mexican drivers competing in our U.S. series," Silbermann said. "You've got folks like the multi-time series champion, German Quiroga, competing in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. You've got Daniel Suarez who's been identified as one of NASCAR's Next9 drivers; he's making a name for himself in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series.
"Just less than two weeks ago, you had the reigning series champion, Jorge Goeters, compete in the inaugural UNOH Battle at the Beach. Some Mexican drivers already are making a good name for themselves in the United States, but I think some fans will really be surprised how deep the talent pool is in the Mexico Series."
Logistically, it's no easy task to transport an entire series across an international border, but by Tuesday night just after midnight, Silbermann said all the haulers had arrived in the United States, with the first ones expected to arrive at PIR later that day.
"There are some logistical challenges we're overcoming, just as we did when we were going in the opposite direction, taking our then-Busch Series down to Mexico City," Silbermann said. "I will say that a lot of the agencies on both sides of the border -- customs, immigration, the entities that deal with all the paper work and logistics -- have really gotten behind this event to try to make the transition across the border as smooth as possible.
"The good news is all the haulers are in the United States."
And fans will soon understand the significance of the NASCAR Mexico Toyota Series' inaugural visit to the United States.
"This event's going to have an impact on many different levels," Silbermann said. "First of all, the race will open the door for new fans, but, at the same time, existing NASCAR fans are really going to like what they see.
"The series features very talented drivers who, as we say, are not afraid to have at it. But also, this event helps serve as a focal point for the diverse array of Latino endeavors by the NASCAR community across the board here in the United States."