By Lewis Franck
DAYTONA BEACH, Florida (Reuters) - NASCAR are eyeing a strategy to help build their international presence but the preeminent stock car racing organization have no immediate plans to schedule races outside the United States.
Citing another made-in-America sports league, the National Basketball Association, NASCAR has decided to take a bottom-up approach in the hope of nurturing international drivers who might one day make the leap to the United States.
"The NBA model is a great one," Steve O'Donnell, NASCAR's executive vice-president and chief racing development officer, told Reuters. "You have a (local league)in a particular country or region but the ultimate goal is to play in the NBA."
Although the NBA has played games overseas, NASCAR do not intend to export their premier Sprint Cup series, which includes the Daytona 500.
In the distant past the mostly oval track racing series had non-points races for its stars in Australia and Japan. But those exhibitions do not fit with current NASCAR plans.
"It was an idea before its time and we learned from that,” said O’Donnell. "Just taking a race to another country does not help build the sport.
"Our model for success is to grow at the grassroots level."
As part of the strategy implementation, a relatively new series, called the Whelen Euro Series, promotes racing on a variety of circuits in six countries, including former Formula One venues at Brands Hatch in England and Zolder in Belgium.
As a result, fans too young to have seen the legendary battles for the F1 world championship between Austrian Niki Lauda and Briton James Hunt have been treated to ones between their sons, Mathias Lauda and Freddie Hunt.
The younger Lauda, who also races in the World Endurance Championship, explained from Spain why he also chose a stock car-based formula.
"NASCAR is pure racing without politics," the 35-year old Lauda told Reuters in an interview from Spain. "Fans always look for heroes connecting with the driver ahead of the car."
Hero-worship aside, he feels that driver-skill plays more of a part in the outcome of a NASCAR race than Formula One.
"As a driver you can make a difference” he said. “It’s very close racing, fun racing.”
(Editing by Andrew Both and Frank Pingue)