When people think of NASCAR, they often think of 35 to 40 cars driving in circles for 500 laps, often within secluded areas of the Southeastern United States. However, it has grown in popularity, and many new fans may have questions, such as whether NASCAR is an international sport.
NASCAR is international in a sense, although it primarily races in America. The NASCAR Cup Series held exhibition races outside America during the late 20th century when they were still known as the Winston Cup. NASCAR sanctions three major divisions outside the Continental US.
NASCAR’s evolution since its founding over 70 years ago has grown into a worldwide phenomenon. From professional racing series in Canada, Mexico, and Europe to exhibitions as far east as Japan. Below, we take a closer look at the different places NASCAR has raced.
NASCAR isn’t only in America, although the Cup Series does only take place in the US. The NASCAR Cup Series traces its roots to 1949 and has since become America’s top professional racing series. The NASCAR Xfinity Series, Camping World Truck Series, and ARCA Menards Series comprise the lower tiers.
Add past international drivers like Juan Pablo Montoya, Christian Fittipaldi, and Dario Franchitti leaving their home countries, and one would think a move to the United States is the only way to compete in NASCAR-sanctioned events.
However, this is not the case. NASCAR is not only in America and its brand has gained international support. In fact, NASCAR has spent over a decade expanding its product worldwide. And they have even traveled to select racetracks outside the US since its founding.
Besides the four National Series in America, NASCAR sanctions three International Series: NASCAR Pinty’s Series, NASCAR Mexico Series, and NASCAR Whelen Euro Series.
The NASCAR Pinty’s Series, also called Sèrie NASCAR Pinty’s, is the successor of Canada’s CASCAR Super Series.
NASCAR acquired the series in September 2006 and set the inaugural race at Cayuga Speedway on May 26th, 2007. Canadian Tire originally sponsored the series until 2015, but on December 7th, 2015, NASCAR signed a sponsorship deal with Pinty’s Delicious Foods.
While the Pinty’s Series raced exclusively in Canada, its first jaunt into America came in 2018. That season, the series ran a race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, which replaced the then-Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series’ fall race at the track.
Besides Canada, NASCAR has also traveled south of the border. Formerly called the Mexico Corona Series, NASCAR Mexico Series has evolved into the sport’s highest level of racing in the country.
Founded in 2004 as Desafío Corona, the series quickly gained a following. By 2006, corporate sponsors and drivers signed on, attracting fans from all over the country. Despite its popularity, the series took a break from competition in favor of the Formula One Mexico Grand Prix. The series returned one year later and has seen zero interruptions since.
NASCAR has also ventured into Europe with the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series tracing its roots to 2002, when Jèrôme Galpin attended a NASCAR Race. However, Galpin’s Racecar Euro Series would not see its inaugural season until 2009.
The series struck a deal with NASCAR and renamed itself the Euro-Racecar NASCAR Touring Series. They became the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series when they struck a deal with Whelen Engineering, a company that also holds sponsorship rights to NASCAR’s Whelen Modified Tour.
Since taking its product international, NASCAR-sanctioned events have become a global phenomenon. NASCAR Pinty’s Series continues to hold most events in Canada, but they also venture to the Northeastern United States. NASCAR Mexico Series has also remained exclusively in Mexico except in 2013, when they held an event at the Phoenix Raceway.
However, the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series has raced all over Western Europe in countries like England, France, Spain, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, Croatia, Belgium, and the Czech Republic.
As of 2022, NASCAR events take place in 48 states, Mexico, Canada, and Europe, sanctioning over 1,500 events annually. NASCAR also sanctions the Whelen Modified Tour, the NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series, ARCA Menards Series East, and ARCA Menards Series West.
NASCAR, even before its divisions in Canada, Mexico, and Europe gained popularity, held events outside the United States in the past.
The NASCAR Xfinity Series held several races beyond America’s borders. Notable road course events were held on the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve road course in Quebec, and the Autódromo Hermanos Rodriguez road course in Mexico City.
From 2013 to 2019, the NASCAR Truck Series held an event at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park. The Cup Series also raced in Canada from 1971-72, and again between 1974-1980 at the Ontario Motor Speedway.
NASCAR also ran a short track race called the Jim Mideon 500 in 1958 at the Canadian International Exhibition Stadium. NASCAR has also gone international on dirt tracks decades before they started regularly sanctioning races worldwide. One race took place in Stamford Park at Niagara Falls in Ontario in 1952.
Has NASCAR Sanctioned Events Outside Canada, Europe, And Mexico?
In 1988, NASCAR crossed the Pacific Ocean and held an event in Melbourne, Australia called the Goodyear NASCAR 500. The late Neil Bonnett won the event in a race that featured notable drivers like Bobby Allison, Kyle Petty, Chad Little, and Michael Waltrip.
In 1996-97, NASCAR hosted an event at the Suzuka International Racing Course. They also held an event at Twin Ring Motegi in 1998 called the Coca-Cola 500. Like the Goodyear NASCAR 500, the Coca-Cola 500 was an exhibition race, but it was held after the 1998 Winston Cup Season.
Jeremy Mayfield won the race that featured a field of 31 cars including prominent Japanese drivers like Keiichi Tsuchiya, Hideo Fukuyama, Motohiro Nakaji, and Kazuteru Wakida. Despite its exhibition status, the Coca-Cola 500 was significant because it was the first Winston Cup Race that featured Dale Earnhardt and Dale Earnhardt Jr. on the same track.
The race also set the stage for NASCAR’s future in terms of manufacturers. Following the event, Mike Helton responded to inquiries of whether Honda would join NASCAR. However, Helton stated Honda’s engine fell short of NASCAR’s standards.
Six years following the event, Toyota broke into the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. And in 2007, the Japanese manufacturer debuted in the Cup Series, where it remains active today.
NASCAR traces its roots to America’s Southeast, often running on dirt tracks in the early days. For this reason, it generated a large, southern fanbase that persisted until the 21st century. These days, NASCAR has diversified, and their visits to Canada, Mexico, and Europe show such diversity.
With NASCAR having expanded its product beyond its continental borders and overseas, it’s likely the NASCAR Cup Series will also return to international tracks in the future. The Cup Series laid clues for experimentation with the schedule in 2021 when they ran six road course races. They followed up in 2022 with four road course races plus an exhibition race at the Los Angeles Coliseum.
NASCAR is once again deviating from tradition, racing in large metropolitan areas and on road courses. Since they are exploring new concepts, many wouldn’t be surprised if they announce in the near future that the Cup Series will hold exhibition or regular season events outside the US.
Balancing Tradition With Innovation
A sub-sector of NASCAR fans will always prefer the speedways, superspeedways, and short tracks over road courses and overseas events. Most of NASCAR’s events remain on the traditional ovals, or variations of them. They also host a throwback race every year in Darlington. And in 2021, the Bristol Dirt Race became a hit with drivers and fans.
Although NASCAR strives to take its fanbase worldwide, it has not forgotten about fans who filled the grandstands over the past seven decades. Regardless of where NASCAR goes in the future, signs point to them striking tradition with innovation.
It’s logical to expect NASCAR to explore other junctures beyond America’s borders. And it’s further logical for NASCAR to seek ways to keep its traditions and roots alive.
NASCAR is international, as outside of the Cup Series NASCAR races in countries like Canada and Mexico, as well as all over Europe. Whether the NASCAR cup series will ever include regular international races remains to be seen, but the dedicated series outside of America are here to stay.