Not long after he competes in the K&N Pro Series East race at Bristol Motor Speedway next weekend, Ruben Garcia Jr. will board a plane for Spain.
Waiting for Garcia will be the first part of a driver exchange program between NASCAR’s European and Mexico racing series.
The defending champion in the NASCAR Peak Mexico Series, Garcia will take part in the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series’ season-opening races April 13-14 at Circuit Ricardo Tormo in Valencia, Spain. On Nov. 30-Dec. 1, the Euro Series champion will return the favor by competing in the Mexico series finale in Mexico City.
All the races will be streamed live on Fanschoice.tv, the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series Youtube Channel and Facebook page and on Motorsport.tv.
The races in Valenica will be Garcia’s first in Europe, but Spain will “feel like home” for the him after frequent holiday trips there to visit friends.
“It was great news for me because for the last couple of years I’ve been trying to put something together to go run in the Euro NASCAR because that’s a series that’s been growing a lot and really got my interest,” Garcia said Wednesday during a teleconference. “Even though I’m very, very far from home or the United States and where I’m living now, it’ll still feel like home cause they speak my native language there and it’s a country I enjoy travelling to.”
Garcia’s Euro Series start will come in the ELITE 1 Division driving the No. 1 Alex Caffi Motorsport Toyota Camry. Though Garcia will only have three practices sessions to get used to his car and the 14-turn track, he thinks his history with road courses in the Mexico and K&N Series will help.
But Garcia is aware of some of the more intrinsic differences in series.
“The cars are similar to what we race in Mexico,” Garcia said. “So on that part I don’t think it will be as challenging. … Since they have more of the European style of racing, the FIA style of racing. … It’s different than what we do here in Mexico and the United States. They really don’t have contact. Their battles are strong, but they’re very, very respectful. That’s something I might need to get used to, no contact at all. They’re very good road course racers.”
The Euro series has garnered its share of attention in the last two years, with former Cup champion Bobby Labonte competing full-time in the series last year. He’ll be followed this season by former Indianapolis 500 winner and Formula 1 champion Jacques Villeneuve.
“I can tell you what got my attention,” Garcia said of the Euro Series. “They’re getting a lot of new cars, they’re getting a lot of new sponsors and that’s always a good sign for a series. If that’s happening it’s because they’re doing something right. As a driver you always want to try new things and get new challenges.
“They go to some really cool places and really cool tracks. … That’s something that really got my attention, they go to some Formula 1 race tracks. Some great facilities, some great road courses that when I was really little I dreamed of racing (at).”
Garcia said he’ll try to tap into the knowledge of three-time Euro Series champion Ander Vilariño and defending champion Alon Day, both drivers he has relationships with.
As a two-time Mexico Series champion, Garcia is excited for the driver swap as an opportunity to show off the series’ talent.
“There’s a great level (of competition) in the Mexico as well as the NASCAR Euro Series,” Garcia said. “I think it’s a great opportunity for both series to show how good they are and how good the NASCAR Mexico drivers can do outside their country. Even though we’re racing against road course specialists, we’ll still`perform really good.”