Question: What will be the first Japanese car to race in NASCAR?
Answer: The Ford Fusion.
A friend who lives in Ohio told me that joke. I don't think he meant it as a slam on Ford.
The Fusion, which is off to a pretty good launch, joins the NASCAR Nextel Cup circuit Feb. 19 at the Daytona 500.
A lot of guys in Ohio and elsewhere who eat, breathe, live and die NASCAR might not realize that the Fusion is a derivative of the Mazda6.
Most NASCAR fans probably assume that the Toyota Camry will be the first Japanese car to race in NASCAR when it joins the circuit a year from now.
Actually, while the race cars look somewhat like the production models on which they're based, under the decals they're all the same basic car that fits within NASCAR's body templates and has a carburetor-equipped, pushrod V-8 under the hood. (All the corresponding production cars gave up carburetors decades ago.)
Whether or not a DNA test would show the Fusion is of Japanese heritage, it's something the good ol' boys can chew on over a cold brew.
NASCAR racing is so popular that it's hard for automaker marketers to ignore.
Toyota has taken notice.
Toyota has raced in NASCAR's truck series for a couple of years, but the car series, with its higher visibility and massive following, is clearly where it needs to be.
The Camry's entry in NASCAR is another milepost in the steady Americanization of Toyota.
It makes me wonder about the first German car in NASCAR. Or perhaps the better question is which Dodge might qualify as the first German car in NASCAR?
Or maybe, as fans embrace the sheer speed and excitement of the great American racing series -- enveloped by a cacophony of noise and the heady aroma of burnt rubber and gasoline -- the national origin of cars just doesn't matter.
You may e-mail Edward Lapham at [email protected]