This Sunday, NASCAR will take part in a unique event that hasn’t been seen in the 74-year history of the sport. The NASCAR Cup Series will be racing inside the LA Memorial Coliseum for the Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum.
There are two (maybe three) main reactions people have had to racing at the LA Coliseum. People are either optimistic that this race will attract new fans and be a potential game-changer for the future of the sport, or that it will be a complete disaster and potentially signal the beginning of the end of NASCAR. And then there are people in the middle who feel like NASCAR is better off racing at Bowman Gray or Irwindale.
It’s normal to be skeptical about a wild and expensive idea such as this, but that reasoning is rather flawed once you realize why NASCAR is doing this in the first place.
Take a drone ride around the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The Clash at the Coliseum is Sunday on FOX! pic.twitter.com/3ihb4nRbMK
— FOX: NASCAR (@NASCARONFOX) February 1, 2022
This was a move NASCAR had to make. Not want, not should- they HAD to make. This isn’t a race, this is an event. And if NASCAR is going to maintain their place in the motorsports world and try and gain back relevance in the mainstream sports world, they need events like this every once in a while. Not every race needs to be like this, but they can stand to occasionally do this.
Look at Formula 1. F1 might have just 23 races in 21 countries (which helps their case), but every race feels special. It’s an event for those attending in person and those watching from home in all corners of the world. Formula 1 doesn’t just sell the racing. They sell the glamour, the prestige, and the fun for those who are there. And that’s working even though NASCAR arguably has consistently better on-track racing, depending on your opinion on what makes for great racing.
Just about every F1 race has a big-time performer, and some races have multiple people in concert on its grand prix weekend. Look at the concerts at the United States Grand Prix in Austin over the years:
2021 – Twenty One Pilots, Billy Joel, Kool & The Gang
2019 – Imagine Dragons, Pink
2018 – Bruno Mars, Britney Spears
2017 – Justin Timberlake, Stevie Wonder
2016 – Taylor Swift, Usher & The Roots, The Weeknd
2015 – Elton John
2014 – Kid Rock
2013 – Pitbull
I don’t even like the music from most of these people, and other than maybe Kid Rock, you’re likely not going to hear the average NASCAR fan blasting any of these people’s music. The point is that when Circuit of the Americas gets these people to perform at their track during an F1 weekend, they do it to add value to the race weekend and entice casual or non-racing fans to buy a ticket. Fans that might prefer to see Britney Spears in concert will see a Formula 1 race in the process, as long as they can also see Britney.
That almost happened with some friends of mine. We wound up not going for other reasons, but our initial plan was to go to Austin in 2017 where my friends would go for Justin Timberlake and I would go for the race. I like to think I’m a great salesman, but it’s a tough ask to get someone who isn’t a racing fan to spend a good chunk of money to travel and go see a race where they don’t know any of the drivers or the cars. And it’s not a guarantee the racing would be any good. But if Justin Timberlake is having a concert that weekend, that changes things and now I have a selling point to get people to the track who normally wouldn’t. And maybe when they finally see a race in person, they’ll gain a deeper appreciation for the racing and understand why I watch every race.
This weekend, Pitbull will have a prerace concert, while Ice Cube has a halftime concert and DJ Skee will be spinning during cautions. A lot of NASCAR fans will roll their eyes seeing that lineup, but if I lived in the LA area and wasn’t exactly a NASCAR fan and liked any of those people, I could spend $90 to go to a concert, or I could spend as much to see a concert and watch a NASCAR race. Suddenly, someone might be attending their first race simply because they wanted to see Pitbull in concert, and that very well could be the thing that turns them into a fan.
That’s NASCAR’s strategy to attract some new fans and gain mainstream interest in a sport that has gradually lost that over the past couple of decades. This isn’t to say that NASCAR should make this the norm, but there’a definitely a happy medium. This is an exhibition race for one thing, and exhibition races should bring experimentation.
In 1996, NASCAR had exhibition races in Japan. At the peak of their popularity, NASCAR went to Japan for three years in order to try and cement themselves as a true worldwide motorsport. Was it a success? Maybe, maybe not. After 25 years, many people still have fond memories of a race that at the time was more than likely derided by traditional fans who questioned why NASCAR would go halfway around the world to go to a country that “doesn’t care about NASCAR.” It’s almost as if these fans are saying similar things about the LA Coliseum.
Worst case scenario, the Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum will be a unique footnote to NASCAR’s history like Japan. Even if the race turns out to be an on-track mess, the haters and the doubters might feel like they’re proven right, but let’s be honest, it won’t be nearly as bad of a spectacle as last year’s Indianapolis road course race. And that was an official points-paying race.
Best-case scenario, this race will be a talking point for many, and it’s a possibility that this takes place in other densely populated cities. Bringing the race to the people is a lot easier than trying to bring the people to the track and if this results in exhibition races in places like New York City, Seattle, London, and Paris. That can only help grow the sport.
NASCAR revealed that over 70 percent of people attending Sunday’s race have never been to a NASCAR race. That alone is why the juice is worth the squeeze. Maybe not every one of that 70 percent will become a NASCAR fan, but it’s certainly a more effective strategy to gain more fans than going to Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, NC.
The LA Coliseum, situated smack dab in the middle of the second-highest populated city in the country, is a prime location for the 10 million people who live in LA County. That makes the investment worth it, and whatever happens this weekend, NASCAR will be rewarded for investing in an amazing experiment- regardless if one loves this idea or hates it, they’re definitely talking.