Inaugural Clash at Coliseum could help remake All-Star Race, send Cup international
LOS ANGELES — With the city’s skyscrapers and the Hollywood sign framing the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, the Clash exudes a cosmopolitan feel that many NASCAR events don’t.
The Clash at the Coliseum — declared a success by Kevin Harvick a day ahead of the main event — could push NASCAR in a new direction and propel the series to race internationally. It also opens the idea of remaking the All-Star Race and the notion of a stadium event possibly being a points race some day.
Standing on the track he helped spur from concept to reality, NASCAR’s Ben Kennedy, the great-grandson of the sport’s founder, was not yet ready to celebrate on Friday.
“When we throw the green flag on Sunday I think we’ll probably have a pretty good idea of its success,” said Kennedy, NASCAR’s senior vice president of strategy and innovation.
Harvick said that celebration could begin regardless of what happens in Sunday’s 150-lap race on the quarter-mile track built inside the Coliseum.
“When you look at everything that has happened, the amount of tickets and media passes and all the things — you can’t screw it up at this point,” Harvick said Saturday.
A crowd of between 50,000-60,000 is expected for Sunday’s Clash, according to Joe Furin, general manager of the Coliseum. With the first 14 rows of lower level seats not used for fan safety, capacity is in the 60,000 range.
Kennedy is looking bigger. He talked Friday of an International aspect. While NASCAR has racing series in Europe, Mexico and Canada, racing inside a stadium opens more possibilities worldwide.
“You think about some of the new markets for our existing international series and then expanding into others with a handful of existing road courses that you could go to out there,” Kennedy said. “Not a ton of short tracks.
“We have a ton of soccer stadiums. We’ve talked about this for a number of years of building a temporary track inside of it. We haven’t had the chance to do it internationally yet.”
The Cup Series last raced outside the U.S. in 1998 in Japan. But the Clash — or just an exhibition race — in a soccer stadium could allow NASCAR to reach major foreign cities that it might not have been able to do.
While it might seem far-fetched, it was only a few years ago that the concept of holding a Cup race inside a football stadium seemed unrealistic.
Harvick, who has advocated moving the championship each year like the Super Bowl, is for big, bold changes.
“This is the type of event that you need to blow it out of the water at the start of the season to get the eyeballs and the people and (media) to all show up because it is different,” he said. “That is the world that we live in … and trying new things and having the guts to do it is sometimes hard to do, but the rewards are pretty big on the other side when it works.”
Harvick also said this event should lead to a re-evaluation of the All-Star Race, an event that has moved from Charlotte to Bristol to Texas in recent years in an effort to find its footing in the sport’s landscape.
“I think the All-Star Race ... could learn something from this just because of the fact that it needs to be more like this, instead of just at a 1.5-mile track that we go to all the time,” Harvick said. “It needs to have that intrigue and fun and atmosphere that goes along with an event that is different.”
Sunday’s Clash will feature a 45-minute concert by Trackhouse Racing co-owner Pitbull before the race and a performance by Ice Cube during the halfway break. DJ Skee will provide entertainment during caution periods.
By being different, the Clash has been transformed.
“I think we all were probably kind of getting to the point with the Clash in Daytona like we need to do something,” former champion Chase Elliott said. “That race was kind of just going on, I feel like, to go on.”
It still comes down to the racing and what fans see Sunday. If it works, NASCAR could return to the Coliseum. NASCAR’s three-year deal gives it the option to return to this historic venue in 2023 and ’24.
Could NASCAR make a stadium race a points event?
Kennedy said it was something series officials discussed when it looked at racing in the Coliseum.
“You can’t get 40 cars on here,” Kennedy said. “Having it as an exhibition race really makes sense especially for this first year.”
But in the future?
“I’m sure you could come up with a format to be able to do so,” Kennedy said. “I think they came up with a cool format this week with heat races and last chance races and everything.
“I think as far as stadiums and this kind of idea of a temporary venue goes, I don’t know that we would see a ton on the schedule. There might be one or two. This is going to be a really good testing ground for us, and I think Sunday will really tell us a lot.”
There could be many possibilities for NASCAR if Sunday’s race goes well.