SBJ/July 17 - 23, 2006/This Weeks News

Montoya’s switch causes a stir

Under normal circumstances, Dan Griffis, vice president of marketing for Chip Ganassi Racing, would have been home last week with his wife and his newborn baby girl.

Juan Pablo Montoya
Age: 30
Hometown: Bogota, Colombia
Resides: Miami and Monte Carlo
  • 1999 CART champion
  • 2000 Indianapolis 500 champion
  • 2003 and 2005 Premios Fox Sports Awards top Latin American driver
  • CART record: 10 wins, 14 poles (1999-2000)
  • Formula One record: 7 wins, 13 poles (2001-2006)
But last week was anything but normal. Griffis instead found himself in his Concord, N.C., office the day after the birth of his third child fielding a flurry of calls and e-mails, many from Fortune 500 companies, about sponsorship opportunities on the No. 42 Nextel Cup car and its new driver, Juan Pablo Montoya.

“I knew it would be intense, but this is just overwhelming,” Griffis said. “There’s just no way anyone could have anticipated this amount of traffic.”

In the two days following team owner Chip Ganassi’s July 9 announcement that Montoya would leave a successful Formula One career to compete in NASCAR, the team’s Web site,, went from an average of 8,000 unique hits per day to 64,000. Fans from Montoya’s home country, Colombia, were buying No. 42 merchandise off the Web site before the driver had made his first left turn, Griffis said.

That’s exactly the type of buzz Ganassi hoped to create. Texaco/Havoline is in its fourth season as the primary sponsor on the car, and the trademark star with a T in the middle is expected to adorn the hood next season when Montoya takes the wheel full time. Ann Barker, director of motorsports and licensing for Chevron, Texaco’s parent company, said her company has a long-term deal with Ganassi’s No. 42 car.

While Barker said it’s too early to fully appreciate the opportunities presented by a driver with significant international appeal, she’s already had conversations with the marketing officials in Chevron’s Latin American division.

“They are thrilled about it,” Barker said. “They’ve got a lot of ideas already. The whole energy around this is incredible and very refreshing. As this unfolds, we’ll see more and more opportunities.

“We were looking for something outside the box, and Chip delivered in a big way.”

Montoya’s presence for a company that markets globally is prolific — the 30-year-old driver was voted the top Latin American driver at the Premios Fox Sports Awards in 2003 and 2005.

Research indicates that the Hispanic community is starting to pay attention to NASCAR. Scarborough research shows that 8.7 percent of NASCAR’s fans are Hispanic, and Hispanic viewership of this year’s Daytona 500 drew a 3.0 rating, a 36 percent increase from 2005.

“I think it will be great for NASCAR from a global perspective to have him, but as always that will only last a couple of years and then success is going to be based on how he does on the track,” said Steve Lauletta, president of Radiate Sports Group and a former sports executive at Miller Brewing Co. “Texaco should be thanking Chip every day for the next year. This is exactly the type of aggressive owner move a sponsor should love.”

Montoya’s impact likely will be felt far beyond the No. 42 car. His schedule hasn’t been determined yet — he’ll probably run a handful of Busch Series races this season before taking over the Cup car in 2007 — but the wheels are turning at tracks where he might appear in 2006.

Homestead-Miami Speedway President Curtis Gray said he was on the phone with Ganassi’s office within five minutes after the announcement. He wanted to know if Montoya, who won the 1999 CART championship and the 2000 Indianapolis 500, would be driving a Ganassi car in time for the track’s November NASCAR weekend. Montoya maintains a residence in Miami and has driven there before in open-wheel races.

“This is one of the biggest things that’s ever happened to our track,” said Gray, whose track employs full-time Hispanic marketing and public relations managers. Because South Americans are typically loyal to their athletes, Gray said, he plans to create travel packages from Colombia to South Florida for race week.

“They enjoy their open-wheel racing, but they’ll enjoy any racing with one of their superstars competing,” Gray said. “In some of our other events, we’ve seen Colombians bring their flags to the track and create quite an atmosphere, like with the World Cup.”

Phoenix International Raceway and Texas Motor Speedway, tracks in communities with significant Hispanic populations, have their advertising campaigns mostly complete for their November Busch and Cup dates, but they’re eager to incorporate Montoya if he’s scheduled to race there.

“If he runs here, we’ll use his name and his likeness,” TMS President Eddie Gossage said. “I can’t think of another rookie we’ve done that with.”

Still, marketers have to be careful not to get carried away, PIR President Bryan Sperber said. There are distinctions to be made within the Hispanic community. The culture within the Mexican community is different than the Cuban or Colombian communities, and even the dialect can change from one group to another.

Montoya’s ability to speak fluent Spanish, though, will help bridge those differences.

“He can convey the emotion of the sport to the Spanish-speaking fans, and that helps tremendously,” Sperber said.

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