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NASCAR moves to reach its Spanish-speaking fans

Times Staff Writer

Spanish-speaking NASCAR fans got a double dose of good news Monday.

ESPN Deportes, a national Spanish-language radio chain, announced that it would begin broadcasting Spanish-language updates before and after many of NASCAR’s most popular weekend races.

And in a separate development, Chip Ganassi Racing unveiled a Spanish-language website detailing the exploits of Colombian-born open-wheel racing veteran and newly minted NASCAR driver Juan Pablo Montoya.

The sports marketing pushes are part of NASCAR’s continuing effort to broaden the ethnic makeup of its drivers as well as its appeal to 40 million Latinos in the United States and millions of racing fans around the world who have yet to connect with American stock car racing.

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ESPN Deportes will broadcast two- to three-minute race updates during Busch, Craftsman Truck and Nextel Cup series races. The reports debut during races at Homestead-Miami Speedway the weekend of Nov. 17.

Content will be provided by MRN Radio, a wholly owned subsidiary of International Speedway Corp., which operates 13 American tracks. The radio deal awon’t include flag-to-flag coverage but rather updates by Andres Agulla, a veteran Spanish-language racing broadcaster.

In Greater Los Angeles, the broadcasts will be heard on KWKW, KUNX and Pomona-based KWKU. The Spanish-language broadcasts also will be heard in San Diego, Fresno and Bakersfield, and other cities nationwide with large Latino populations.

“This essentially brings another sport into the Spanish-language radio marketplace,” said Mary Beth Garber, president of the Southern California Broadcasters Assn. “There is an enormous Hispanic population to be addressed, and this gives [NASCAR] the opportunity to court it.”

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Although ESPN Deportes is focused on the domestic market, the new Montoya website, espanol.chipganassiracing.com, is as much about global reach as connecting with U.S. fans.

“In the last few months since we made the announcement of Juan Pablo joining the team, we’ve had fans from over 100 countries log onto the website,” said John Olguin, vice president of communications for Ganassi Racing. “Forty percent of our visitors are coming from other countries.”

Many of those fans clearly are being drawn by Montoya, a racing veteran who finished 11th in his first NASCAR event Saturday, a Busch series race in Memphis, Tenn. Fans who painted their faces the red, blue and yellow of Colombia’s flag and donned the country’s yellow soccer jerseys, cheered their hero before, during and after his inaugural NASCAR race.

“It was all pretty exciting to see,” Olguin said. “For those who are Juan Pablo fans, this is a step toward having them become NASCAR fans.”

Montoya’s arrival, the radio coverage promised by ESPN Deportes and other initiatives could help NASCAR broaden its appeal in the Latino community. NASCAR has estimated that less than 20% of its fan base consists of African Americans and Latinos.

greg.johnson@latimes.com


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