Change is something which NASCAR continues to strive for. As the sport fluctuates in relevance, popularity and most importantly revenue, the tour will head to wine country this weekend. Sonoma Raceway, now a mainstay on the NASCAR schedule, provides for the most difficult type of racing the series sees.
One of the drivers looking to surprise is an unknown name with a lot to prove, .Victor Gonzalez Jr. is making his first career Sprint Cup Series start and the first start for a driver of Puerto Rican descent at NASCAR’s highest level.
He will be driving the No. 36 car for Tommy Baldwin Racing, a car which posted a top-10 this year despite being a part-time operation. Gonzalez will have Joe Lax on top of his pit box. Lax has only managed strategy for one road course race in his career, a 27th-place finish for Jeremy Mayfield.
Victor has all the traits of someone who can be a successful in NASCAR for a multitude of reasons. Successful on the track and off, he offers a rare marketability which the Drive for Diversity Program was set out to create. Personally sponsored by PhoneDaddy.com, it doesn’t seem like Victor’s first race at The Sprint Cup Series level will be even close to his last.
I was able to ask Victor a few questions about what he has done to prepare for this week’s race, a stepping stone for his career, and the progress NASCAR makes around the world.
What’s the presence of stock car racing in Puerto Rico, especially where you grew up?
“People love Formula One and they love racing. They are used to road courses. NASCAR’s presence has not been that big, it can have a great success in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. Having me racing on NASCAR road courses gives them someone to cheer for and reason to watch the races.”
What do you think of the Sonoma track? Did he do any preparation with simulators?
“It is great track and facility in a beautiful part of California. It is tight and it has elevation changes, so it’s going to be a challenge. We did a lot of iRacing but sometimes the simulators give the wrong feedback. They are good to learn the course, but it’s not the same as being in the car and knowing how it is going to behave on the actual track.”
Has the team been able to do any testing?
“We tested at VIR at the short course. It helped me get used to the car, and the testing went better than we expected. We did a complete test to know what the car needed and what I needed as a driver. It was a big plus heading into Sonoma to have that learning experience.”
What’s the goal? Can Tommy Baldwin Racing contend at Sonoma?
“Our goal is to have a great race and a solid finish. TBR has a great crew, from Tommy Baldwin at the top, to Joe Lax, to every person who does every task to make the race happen. These guys work so hard and are incredibly talented at what they do. With the smaller teams, it is amazing to see how hard they work without the resources the big teams have. With the right strategy, and if I do my job, we can surprise people.”
What’s your future in NASCAR if this run goes well?
“I would love to stay in NASCAR for the long run. I know I can bring a new Hispanic fan base to NASCAR. Just in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic alone, there are 15 million people who love racing, and want someone they can follow and cheer for. NASCAR is doing great things to reach out to Hispanics, and I want to help them broaden that fan base.”
Overall, how would you say NASCAR is doing at attracting Latin-American fans? What is it doing well, what needs improvement?
“NASCAR is working hard at it, and they have done well with certain Hispanic markets through Juan Pablo Montoya and with their outreach to Mexico. But there are other huge Hispanic markets to reach and I am doing what I can to help them reach those markets.”
Follow Mike Guzman on Twitter @Mike486