NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Beside the Rising Tide: Flying Jets in a Gymnasium

A long time ago, in days of yore, Kyle Petty once compared racing NASCAR Cup Series cars at Bristol Motor Speedway to flying jet fighters in a gymnasium.

The inestimable Mr. Petty also recommended Bristol be flooded, stocked with trout and used to host a fishing tournament. 

The phrase occurred to me again this week as NASCAR announced its plans to kick off the 2022 Cup season with an exhibition race on a quarter-mile track located inside the Los Angeles Coliseum. If NASCAR sticks to the current rules (and, like Sheryl Crow, lately they seem to make up the rules as they go), with a track diameter under 1.33 miles, the cars competing would be using the full party 750-horsepower package if the sport goes that route with the new car. 

The L.A. Coliseum has been used to host both the Olympics (twice) and the Super Bowl. Over the years, it has seen a widely disparate range of events, including football games (collegiate and pro) as well as a couple Evel Knievel motorcycle jumps and what was billed as the most expensive demolition derby ever, featuring at least one Rolls Royce and a replica of Reed and Malloy’s Plymouth Satellite Adam 12 squad car.     

The timing of this year’s Clash will strike some as a bit odd. It is two weeks ahead of the Daytona 500 and a single week ahead of this year’s Super Bowl. What’s more, it is scheduled for Feb. 6, the same date as this year’s NFL Pro Bowl. OK, being in the Pro Bowl isn’t the huge honor it was once considered, but in a head-to-head TV ratings matchup, I’ll still predict a bloodbath for NASCAR. 

To date, NASCAR hasn’t even released a length for the event. It doesn’t have to be a long race to be successful. For example, the first Busch Clash back in 1979 was only 50 miles, or just 20 laps in length. A total of nine drivers competed in the 1979 Busch Clash, with Buddy Baker taking the win. 

As far as how many cars will race in the event, NASCAR doesn’t seem quite sure. It’s said it is an invitational race and all are invited. Presumably, that means all the teams with a charter and possibly some other outfits that have run at least a few Cup races. It seems NASCAR would like to have about 25 cars on hand for the main event. They have hinted at having heat races to decide starting lineups prior to the big show. 

Even 25 cars is a lot on a quarter-mile oval track. NASCAR will likely add some banking to it to spread things out, but no one has said how much or where. 

Getting 25 cars to participate could be a challenge. Recall that Speedweeks are held at Daytona International Speedway. The drivers, the teams and their race cars will need to be on their way there. Between practice, qualifying, the twin 150s and the 500 itself, there’s a lot going on. It’s just over 2,500 miles from Daytona Beach to L.A., creating an additional expense and travel burden for teams.

See also
Beside the Rising Tide: All-Stars, Super Stars and Fast Loud Cars

So will this new race become a permanent part of the new schedule, or is the L.A. Coliseum a one-off experiment? It’s interesting that plans are to put down layers of dirt to protect the Coliseum’s playing surface, then pave the dirt surface. That indicates if the experiment is not well received, it could easily be reversed with minimal drama.

Fans in SoCal did not support Riverside, the road course in the area, enough to spare the track from the developer’s ravages. Nor did they support Ontario (a track in the L.A. area, not Canada) that hosted Cup races from 1971 to 1980. Only 15,000 fans showed up for the 1980 event at the track. More recently, Fontana (Auto Club Speedway) has not turned out to be the cash cow NASCAR envisioned. For anyone curious, work to convert Fontana to a half-mile track is still underway and is slated to debut next year. Why NASCAR chose to build a quarter-mile track in the same market is beyond me. 

Over the years, I have communicated with many SoCal fans. Far from being annoyed by races in their area ending in the early afternoon, they celebrate it. Having a race end in that time period leaves them with a lot of daylight hours to do something else.

Some reveled in a chance to break out their big two-wheelers and ride the coastal highways. Others hit the beach. Still others chose to go hiking in the canyons or bicycling wherever their moods dictated. There’s a lot to do in SoCal so long as your particular area isn’t battling wildfires or enduring a campaign to recall the governor. If it weren’t for the taxes, I’d have likely relocated to the area a decade ago. 

As things stand, the quarter-mile track will also mark the competition debut of the Next Gen car. The problem is those cars and repair pieces for them are said to be hard to come by, with the designated vendors struggling to keep up with demand. Keep in mind the last time the Busch Clash was held on an oval (2020), fully 12 of 18 entrants were listed as DNFs at the finish due to crash damage. A similar attrition rate this time around could have dire implications for the Daytona 500, which remains, after all, the biggest event of Speedweeks. 

So why is NASCAR risking tossing an Ozark in the cesspool with such an outlandish concept? Simply stated, “Because they can.” Other ideas NASCAR has experimented with include moving the second edition of their All-Star Race from Charlotte to Atlanta Motor Speedway. What’s more, it decided Mother’s Day would be a grand date to host the event. The idea was not popular with the fan base. Attendance dropped from 122,000 ticket-buying fans at the first Winston All-Star Race at Charlotte in 1985 to just 18,500 tickets sold in 1986.

Apparently, the lesson was lost on NASCAR over the years. It’s decided to host next year’s Bristol spring race on the dirt track (already an idea of questionable validity) on Easter Sunday — not the Saturday night before Easter, on Easter Sunday itself. Fans I’ve spoken to about the scheduling have reactions that range from mild irritation to absolute outrage. Personally, I guess I fall somewhere in the middle. I have no plans to watch the race on the solemn holiday.  

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23 Comments
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Bill B

Well most football fans ignore the Pro-Bowl because it’s stupid, but it will still beat a NASCAR exhibition race (or glorified practice session). The whole thing seems frivolous at best with lots of downside and very little upside, but when has that ever stopped NASCAR from doing something goofy?
Like I said when it was first announced, I will watch it. Still think it’s stupid though.

Chris

Wasn’t it Dick Trickle that made the comment that racing at Bristol was like flying fighters in a gymnasium? Pretty sure it was.

DoninAjax

I thought that too but John Potts informed me that it was a sprint car driver whose name escapes me who coined it.

Sally Baker

I thought it was Darlington that Kyle Petty wanted to fill with water?

janice

the idea of going to the LA coliseum makes little sense to me. let’s go across the country, then back to daytona, then across again. so they’ll have spare car shipped to california, as isn’t qualifying the sunday after the shootout and the twin 125’s, or whatever they’re called now, the following thursday evening? when i saw this announcement i thought they should race teslas. i guess this race will give fans opportunity to go and do shopping for souvenirs just as they did that first race at fontana.

then when they opened up running the event to any team, ha. talk about sponsor pressure to run the event.

Kevin in SoCal

I agree and I’m in SoCal. I won’t be going to this race. Exhibition races should be on the east coast where all the teams are.

Bill B

Feb 6th The Clash in LA
Feb 13th traditional Daytona qualifying for front row
Feb 17th The Twin qualifying races at Daytona
Feb 20th The Daytona 500
Feb 27th back to Cali for the first race at the reconfigured1/2 mile track

Still a silly waste of resources for all.

Rg72

Aren’t they running one final race on the 2 mile track in 2022 at Fontana, because of the unnecessary 2021 cancellation? Either way, the extra cross country travel within that short time span is ridiculous.

Bill B

I thought the original 2 mile track was razed (maybe not?). Even if it still exists, NASCAR will be running the 1/2 mile version in 2022 from what I’ve read.

Kevin in SoCal

Yes they have not started construction on the short track at Fontana yet. Its still the 2-mile oval that will host the race in 2022.

Bill B

Thanks Kevin, you are 100% correct. I went back to the original article for the 2022 schedule and confirmed, they are running the 2 mile track one last time.
Sorry to all for causing confusion.

Carl D.

I can’t for the life of me understand why Nascar would hold a 75-lap (?) exhibition race on the left coast right before speed weeks. If I was a team owner, I wouldn’t send my teams across the country for a non-points-paying waste of time and money. Does anyone even remember who won the Clash last year? I’d have to google it; that’s how insignificant this race is.

Last edited 1 month ago by Carl D.
KU

I have no idea where the idea to have the teams go all the way to LA for a 1/4 track before the Daytona. Why did the owners or drivers buy into this?
The one thing of biggest in my mind is how this “temporary” asphalt track is going hold up to the the heavy cup cars? This is the strangest idea than any that I have seen in 40 years of any other strange ideas.
Glad to see an article from you, it has been a while.

Bill B

Glad to see you are back Matt, you were missed. I was afraid to ask because I didn’t want to pry.

Carl D.

Ditto what Bill B. said.

DoninAjax

The quote in the book also includes Mark Martin who probably got it from Dick Trickle but they didn’t come up with the line. I imagine it described 900 HP sprint cars on a track like Slinger Speedway.

David Russell Edwards

Have a compression fraction in that same vert. and even standing can be a challenge for more than a couple of minutes. Best of luck for you with that.

JT

Brian France was long-convinced that there was a huge “sleeper cell” of NASCAR fans in SoCal, which is part of how he conned the TV networks and sponsors into to believing there were “75 million NASCAR fans”. I guess his nephew, Ben Kennedy is riffing off this mantra with the “Coliseum Clash”?

When the Fontana track first opened, casual SoCal fans did fill up the stands. But with casual fans having so many distractions, each year that went by saw NASCAR Cup race attendance leak out in a steady stream. The Winter race date, when what little rain that falls on SoCal usually comes, wasn’t the best. The attempt to move it to Labor Day, right when the hot Santa Ana winds turn SoCal into a furnace, also flopped. Next year they are gambling that chopping up the 2-miler into a 1/2-mile will bring back the fans. I hope they are right.

Earlier, on another Frontstretch post, we discussed the issues of holding this race at the LA Coliseum. One that stood out is that the Coliseum happens to be in a rough neighborhood, which might discourage the casual fans. Also, NASCAR is gambling that nearly 80,000 Angelinos will pony-up $65, plus parking (what little there is) to watch an exhibition race. The blimp shots of the Coliseum could show some mighty empty stands. However, if Fox can squeak out better than a 1.0 Nielsen Rating, I guess all the NASCAR stakeholders will declare “victory” and plan to try this again in ’23?

Rg72

We can’t forget the gem from the Fontana track president, claiming that the fans were all shopping under the grandstands when asked about attendance.

Charlie

I will not watch this fiasco nor will I watch the Easter Race. That is poking the eye of the fans who have stuck out other stupid Second Bill France and now his grandsons’ ideas.
The usual shills, Moody, Pistone, DW and MW (dumb and dumber) will be promoting both events.
Not me.
How quickly they forgot moving the Southern 500 and then no one willing to point to the moron, Second Bill France, who made the decision.

Hope they can have a decent Daytona 500.

Christopher

Your reference to the usual shills is so on point. Matt Mclaughlin is one of the very few who is most definitely not a shill. Matt Weaver is another (although he is apparently no longer with Autoweek).

John Dawg Chapman

I may be wrong, but I believe the phrase about flying fighter plane in a gymnasium originated with Dick Trickle.

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