NASCAR chairman Brian France admitted over the weekend at Michigan International Speedway that the sanctioning body was talking to several foreign manufacturers about the possibility of entering the sport in the coming years. France wouldn't reveal the name of those manufacturers, but said that in order to qualify for admission into the sport, the companies had to have manufacturing plants in the United States.
With both General Motors and Chrysler facing bankruptcy issues, and in one degree or another pulling their support from the teams, the move makes some sense; you can bet NASCAR wants to have more than two manufacturers in the sport who aren't in need of government assistance. Not that Ford and Toyota are doing all that great, but they're certainly better off than Chevrolet and Dodge.
Among the foreign automakers with American plants: Honda, Hyundai, Nissan, BMW and Mercedes-Benz. None of those companies make engines that would meet NASCAR's comparatively-archaic technological specifications, but if Toyota was willing to take that challenge, I would imagine a lot of these other automakers would, as well.
When NASCAR let Toyota into the sport, they used the same logic; Toyota had plants in America that were being used to build their automobiles, so NASCAR allowed those makes to be represented. The Tundra, manufactured in America, was introduced to the Camping World Truck Series in 2004, while the Camry -- built in Kentucky -- made its NASCAR debut in the Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series in 2007.
An unfair foreign invasion, you say? While the Camry is being built in America, the Ford Fusion, Chevrolet Impala and Dodge Charger are not. Fusions are built in Canada, while Impalas and Chargers are being built in Mexico. All the while plants and dealers are shutting their doors in this country.
Good ol' red, white and blue, right?
Don't get me wrong; I love America as much as the next guy. I'm even a proponent of buying American (I own a 1997 Pontiac, and it saddens me to know I'll never be able to buy a new one) ... but when the likes of Toyota and Honda are putting out a better product, who are we to blame people if they want to take advantage of that? It's not NASCAR's fault American automakers are in such trouble, and NASCAR is not flying in the face of tradition by listening to foreign manufacturers.
I'm sorry to tell you this, NASCAR purists, but the sky will not fall if Honda fields a Cup car in 2012.
Personally, as long as the manufacturers represented in NASCAR have American plants, and the vehicles running around the tracks are built in America, then what's the big deal? Sure, Toyota is a Japanese company, but the Camry that flies around the track every Saturday and Sunday is built right here in America.
There is a chance such a move isn't needed; if GM, Chrysler and Ford all make it out of their respective financial issues without having to completely pull out of NASCAR, the sanctioning body might decide it likes where it is with four manufacturers. But NASCAR does need to have a plan in place, just in case the manufacturers have to pull out completely.
Besides, Toyota isn't the first foreign make to run in NASCAR. Do a little research into the sport's history, and you'll see foreign cars littering the early years. In the early days, NASCAR ran Aston Martins, Austin-Healeys, Citroens, Jaguars, MGs, Morgans, Porsches, Renaults and Volkswagens.
In a road race in Linden, N.J. in 1954, in fact, Jaguars finished first, fourth, fifth and sixth. So it's not like NASCAR opening its doors to foreign nameplates would be anything earth-shattering or unique. If Big Bill France was willing to let it happen back in the day, then why should be villify Brian France if he's considering the same thing?
With almost all American companies trying to outsource overseas, NASCAR is trying to reward car companies that have plants -- and by extension, jobs -- right here in the United States. Really, what's so wrong with that?
EDIT: Jenna Fryer, who covers NASCAR for The Associated Press, wrote an interesting article on this subject. You can read it by clicking here.