BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — IndyCar driver E.J. Viso isn't worried the death of Hugo Chavez will affect state sponsorship of Venezuelan drivers, including himself.
Most of Viso's sponsorship money comes from PDVSA, the Venezuelan state-owned oil and natural gas company. His primary logo is CITGO.
"I am not nervous, and I really need to thank the president because one of the things he did was focus on the sport and there is nobody out there that can say the opposite," Viso said Monday at IndyCar's annual media day. "That was one of his priorities to expand this sport in the world, which he did. Racing became bigger, motorsports, soccer, baseball, you now see many Venezuelan sportsman in many disciplines around the world. Me as an athlete, as a sportsman, I have to thank him for what he did.
"I now believe that the people who are in charge will follow his ideas because we've only done good things for the country, and they will want to keep the strength he put together and keep it going."
PDVSA also sponsors Formula One driver Pastor Maldonado, and Milka Duno is sponsored in the ARCA Series by CANTV, a telecommunications provider in Venezuela.
Viso said Chavez, who died last week after battling cancer, was a staunch supporter of promoting Venezuelan athletes.
Through his sponsorship from Team Venezuela, Viso has risen through the ranks and is the only Latino-born driver racing full-time in the IndyCar Series. He moved the sponsorship money this season to Andretti Autosport, where he joins the lineup with reigning IndyCar champion Ryan Hunter-Reay.
A native of Caracas, Venezuela, he's entering his sixth season in IndyCar and also has the "Team Viso Venezuela" initiative to support young drivers in the Mazda Road to Indy ladder.
He credited Chavez for helping his career.
"He was a very intelligent and smart person. He did good moves, not many people shared his political ideas, which is not my side. I am only a sportsman," Viso said. "But I thank him for what he did for the sport. Anything regarding sports, he supported. He liked baseball the most, that's why you see so many great Venezuelans in the world. But he did like racing very much. We have a Formula One driver right now. There's me, there's drivers at many levels, because of his support."