NASCAR Clash race will return to the Coliseum next year

Confidence was high that a temporary auto race track could be built inside the LA Memorial Coliseum, crazy as that might sound. And everyone knew Los Angeles was a strong market for NASCAR. But catching the attention of a city as big as Los Angeles is no easy feat, especially when that little event called the Super Bowl is taking place in the area the following week. A Super Bowl with a local team in it.

So how did it go?

NASCAR announced Sunday it would be bringing the Busch Light Clash back to the Coliseum for a second year. The date is February 5th and the Super Bowl will be held in Arizona. It’s the first event of the NASCAR season.

NASCAR and Coliseum executives couldn’t find enough superlatives to describe how this great experiment worked earlier this year. The crowd was around 55,000, which could have been much larger had security measures around the track not reduced capacity.

Joe Furin, General Manager of the Coliseum, described the event’s success as “extraordinary”.

Ben Kennedy, NASCAR’s senior vice president of racing development and strategy, called it a “magnificent and spectacular event,” adding, “We drew more attention than expected.”

NASCAR drivers Joey Logano (left) and Kyle Busch lead the field into a corner during the Clash at the Coliseum.

NASCAR drivers Joey Logano (left) and Kyle Busch lead the field into a corner during the first Clash at the Coliseum in February.

(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

“The LA Coliseum is the right size, it’s the right market and it’s the right location,” Kennedy said. “For us it was a matter of course to come back.”

While NASCAR declined to commit to specifics about next year’s Clash format, it will likely be similar to this year’s races, which included four 25-lap heat races with the top four drivers moving up. Then racers who don’t meet this criterion compete in two 50-lap barrel races, with the top three qualifying. Add in the point-best leader from last year’s races who didn’t qualify and you have your 23-strong field for the 150-lap final race. A total of 350 laps over the quarter mile course.

NASCAR didn’t commit to 23 starters in the finals, but everyone felt that number worked well this year.

“We’re pretty happy with the format as it is,” Kennedy said. “It’s familiar to fans who like the short tracks, and a new system to learn for new fans. But we’re looking at how we can do better. But with a number of 23 cars, I think that’s a really good number.”

Things were going so well that not many lessons were learned from this year’s race, but Furin is trying to optimize the participant and audience experience.

“Operationally, we have a large footprint with the stadium and Exposition Park,” said Furin. “We are in the center of the second largest city in the country. We have learned to squeeze in all the elements, all the vans, all the support vehicles, the goods tag and others. We’ll take what we’ve learned, but don’t expect quantum changes. We just want to make it more efficient.”

Kennedy has pointed to other benefits of this year’s Clash success.

“The crowd at Fontana was incredible,” Kennedy said, referring to the annual NASCAR race held east of Los Angeles. “Part of that was the success we had at the Coliseum. Many of these fans also went to the Clash. Many people also bought tickets for Fontana. It helped give momentum.

“Los Angeles has more NASCAR fans than anywhere else in the US or in the world. There are a lot of fans, a lot of younger fans. It’s an important market.”

NASCAR also announced that racing will return to Fontana next year, which is no surprise. No date has been given, but it will likely be two races after the Daytona 500, which takes place on February 19th. NASCAR indicated that there would also be a race at Sonoma Raceway in Northern California.

As for the long-term future of the Clash at the Coliseum, no one is ready to budge, though Furin said he has blocked the dates for the following year.

Kennedy would not commit to holding the Los Angeles race, but has not turned it down either.

“We were very proud of this year,” Kennedy said. “It exceeded our expectations. The question is whether this continues to be a special moment on the schedule. If we continue to see momentum, I see no reason why it can’t be a long-term event.”

There is also enthusiasm from the sponsors.

“My crystal ball is still a little cloudy,” said Krystyn Stowe, director of marketing for Busch Family Brands, the race sponsor. “But if it’s anything like this year, I can see it in LA for years to come.”

Tickets for the race go on sale September 16 at 1pm NASCAR Clash race will return to the Coliseum next year

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