SBJ/January 29 - February 4, 2007/This Weeks News

Riding the Montoya revolution

Russia. That’s one Juan Pablo Montoya can’t figure out.

Ask Montoya, NASCAR’s newest driving sensation, how he became so popular in Russia and he just laughs and shrugs his shoulders. He never even raced there in his old job as a Formula One driver.

“I don’t know why Russia,” Montoya said. “It’s the same way in India. People follow me even though we don’t race there. It’s just always been like that.”

When Montoya begins his first full Nextel Cup season next month, he’ll bring with him the broadest and most diverse group of fans the sport has ever seen.

The Colombian-born driver with a rich record in open-wheel racing was thought to be an instant portal to the Hispanic world when he signed with team owner Chip Ganassi to drive Texaco/Havoline’s No. 42 Dodge. But as Chip Ganassi Racing and its sponsors have learned, Montoya’s appeal is hardly limited to the Hispanic audience.

He has a large following throughout Europe and Asia, where he became one of F1’s most appealing stars, and his switch to NASCAR for 2007 led ESPN The Magazine to name him one of its five “NEXT” athletes, even though he’s 31 years old and the others are no older than 23.

Ann Barker, Texaco/Havoline’s motorsports manager, already has a promotion ready to run in Russia that will offer customers free Montoya posters with purchase.

“This is a U.S. position,” Barker said of her job, “and I end up spending 15 to 20 percent of my time on Latin America, Europe and Eurasia. Now when we talk about global marketing assets, we have to talk about NASCAR. That’s how it’s changed.

“I can guarantee you that the person in this position 20 years ago, or even five years ago, wasn’t thinking about Russia.”

The top names on Montoya’s
sponsor list are Texaco/Havoline,
Wrigley and Dodge.

Montoya’s appeal has led to new ground for Ganassi Racing. This week, Sirius Satellite Radio is expected to announce that Montoya will star in a weekly one-hour radio show on its NASCAR channel.

Ganassi Racing also is working with NASCAR to produce a video of Montoya’s rookie season, which could result in a TV show or a series of shows at the end of the year.

“Part of building Juan’s brand is telling his story,” said Chris Weiller, Ganassi’s vice president of business development. “The amount of media requests we get, it’s overwhelming, but there’s a lot he needs to do to tell his story to the fans in the U.S., as well as the potential partners that are out there.”

In addition to figuring prominently into point-of-sale materials throughout Latin America — Texaco/Havoline will emphasize Colombia and Brazil — Montoya will play heavily into a national sweepstakes in the U.S. called “42 Days of Racing,” a play on his car number that will team Texaco/Havoline with Dodge and potentially other sponsors. Winners will earn trips to a handful of races.

“We’ve heard from so many people around the world, through our Web site, that they’re going to be paying attention to NASCAR now,” Barker said.

Officials at Ganassi saw Montoya’s international impact almost immediately through the team’s Web site and other media outlets. In the six months since his signing, Montoya’s name has appeared in 10,500 articles and the Web site has been visited by Internet surfers from more than 100 countries, according to the team. Forty percent of the site’s traffic comes from outside the U.S.

There’s also a fan site dedicated to Montoya in Russian at

When Montoya, dressed in his firesuit, introduced Dodge’s new Avenger as the manufacturer’s NASCAR Car of Tomorrow at the North American Auto Show earlier this month, Mike Accavitti’s Google alerts nearly caused his computer to smoke. Accavitti, Dodge’s motorsports director, found references to Montoya in news outlets in Finland and Greece, of all places.

“It really underscored his popularity and the impact he’s going to have,” Accavitti said. “We’re just starting to scratch the surface.”

Three team sponsors — Texaco/Havoline, Wrigley and Dodge — have rights to use Montoya’s likeness and name in advertising, point-of-sale material and other marketing items, as well as access to him for appearances. Montoya also came to Ganassi with an Oakley endorsement for sunglasses.

Neither the team nor the sponsors would reveal the number of appearances Montoya will make, but drivers typically make 15 to 20 for a primary sponsor and fewer for an associate. Many of those appearances are scheduled at the track.

Texaco/Havoline is the primary sponsor on the No. 42, while Wrigley signed an associate deal in November and Dodge is the team’s car manufacturer. Other than those three obligations, Montoya and his team have purposely been methodical about selecting endorsement opportunities.

“We all feel, ‘Let’s not put the cart before the horse.’ Let’s build this slowly, make the right decisions,” Weiller said. “We’re not looking for one-off opportunities with not a lot of meat on the bone. What we want to do is build long-term relationships and not just jump at the first few things that come along. We’ll pursue a handful of opportunities, but not an overwhelming number.

“There’s already a heavy commitment to Texaco/Havoline, Dodge and Wrigley’s. We don’t want to shortchange that to build up a quick portfolio of endorsements.”

Montoya admittedly doesn’t get too involved in those discussions, preferring to let his father, Weiller and the newly hired William Morris Agency handle the business side.

Montoya came to Ganassi without an agent, so Weiller essentially has assumed that role as part of a relatively modest team of advisers compared with other athletes with that kind of international cachet. WMA’s Philip Button, who also has worked with Kevin Garnett and Michelle Wie, will work with Weiller and Montoya.

“It’s not a typical agent relationship,” Weiller said. “We’re taking the lead and we’re working with them. They’re going to help us build the brand and seek those long-term marketing partnerships.”

Montoya’s desire is simple: “I want to be seen, but not overexposed. I understand that people relate who you are with the companies you work with.”

Having raced in just four NASCAR Busch Series events and one Nextel Cup race last season, Montoya still isn’t sure what to expect in 2007 in terms of time commitments to his sponsors. Barker said demand is high for Texaco/Havoline to take Montoya out of the country, especially to Latin America, for appearances.

“One of the things you’ve got to learn is how many days you want for yourself,” Montoya said. “I want to make more money, but how many days are you going to be away from home? You know, I have two kids.”

As he learned during five days when he went from Bogota, Colombia, to Daytona for testing, to Miami for a Texaco/Havoline meet-and-greet, to Detroit for the auto show, and back to his home in Miami, Montoya’s ability to manage his time away from the track will be a chief challenge.

“Dealing with everything off the track is going to be a lot harder for him,” predicted Kevin Harvick, who drives the No. 29 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing. “You have to be up front with your sponsors. It’s taken me five years to figure out that part of it.”

Montoya, though, isn’t the typical rookie. He understands that all eyes, even those in Russia, will be on him this season.

“I would be more concerned if nobody was looking at me,” he said with a smile.

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