Opinion: NASCAR Is Thinking Outside of the Box Again, And That Might Not Be A Good Thing

Like you, I heard about a possible race at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Surprised? Nope.

Shocked? Hardly.

NASCAR has always had the mentality of every race needing to be a “game seven” moment. Hence why we have the playoffs and the run up to it.

But this is something different. This is the Clash. This doesn’t count for anything other than pride and money for those involved. When the Clash was run for the first time in 1979 at Daytona, it was a 20 lap race featuring the pole winners from the 1978 season. The race was run in 15 minutes. The format stayed mostly the same every year until 1998. The race hasn’t looked back ever since. There’s been consolation qualifiers for people who were the fastest in second round qualifying, clauses for former winners, entries earned by owner points finishes, 10 years worth of rookies invited, and so on and so on…

I don’t think Buddy Baker knew just what he started that day.

In the early years of my NASCAR fandom, I always percieved it as a southern sport. But as I grew and as the popularity of the sport grew, NASCAR wanted to push it’s focus out west. Over the last 35 years, NASCAR has held races in Las Vegas, California and Arizona. Those tracks are a far cry from the southern and midwestern dominated schedules of the seventies through the early nineties. Sure, California isn’t exactly an untouched market. There’s Auto Club Speedway in Fontana and Sonoma Raceway in the Wine Country of California.

The one place NASCAR hasn’t put it’s footprints too deeply into in California? Los Angeles.

It’s like a dream idea. Los Angeles is the town of celebrities and lavish living. Home to the Lakers and Dodgers, teams that have a rich history and have recently celebrated championships. It would give NASCAR everything it’s been looking for. It would give them the opportunity to brush shoulders with celebrities who may be closeted race fans. The Super Bowl is in LA at the same time NASCAR would be running the Clash. Think of the possibilities!

Well lucky for you, I’ve done some of the guesswork.

Over the last few days I have found myself on both sides of the argument. On one side, it’s a neat idea to want to do something like this. Take one of your biggest exhibition races with your biggest names and it practcially sells itself. This isn’t the sport where they’re trying to stay mostly southern and I commend them for continuing to try to push the sport ahead and find new niches for them to firmly plant their green flag in. The problem however, is if NASCAR is thinking too far out of the box this time.

One NASCAR team member I spoke to a few days ago pointed out just how much of a logistics nightmare this possible race could be. The Clash is normally held the days before qualifying for the 500 and the Duel races. If a team located in Mooresville, NC were to attempt to drive to LA, it would be a 36 hour drive, almost 2500 miles in length. To have to travel that distance twice and then add in a possible west coast trip again for Auto Club and Phoenix if they return to their normal dates on the schedule would be pure insanity for the truck drivers. They’re already missing time with their families. I get that drivers in that industry understand what they’re faced with when they sign up for the job. That doesn’t make things any easier. As of this writing, Daytona is still selling tickets as if the race is going to happen there.

Another issue is what type of car do they plan to use? Everyone is clamoring to see the Next Gen cars in person and on a racetrack. Are they going to give the Gen 6 a goodbye party, or do they plan to face this head on? Most teams are just now getting their Next Gen items in and are starting to participate in test periods. If NASCAR is going to run the Clash at the Coliseum, it will most likely be a short track race. If that’s the case, run it at Bowman Gray or Stafford or New Smyrna. There’s no need to cast a net that far for a exhibition race. It looks great on paper, but NASCAR risks complaints from teams and drivers who already feel as if their voices aren’t being heard. Fans have been on NASCAR about start times for the last 15 seasons, but NASCAR says they help the west coast ratings and viewers so they don’t have to get up at 10 am for a race that starts at 1 pm on the east coast. When you’re used to the early starts, old habits die hard.

However, I do see why NASCAR would want to move the Clash from Daytona. Think about 2019, when Jimmie Johnson caused the big one. Think about the following year when Erik Jones had a very damaged race car that resembled an Amazon package and was able to win. They don’t call Daytona & Talladega the “Million Dollar Junkyards” just cause it sounds fancy. As much as those tracks look fun on TV and from the stands, they’re burning holes in the pockets of owners. I’d have to use my toes to count how many big wrecks have happened in the Clash over the last 20 years.

NASCAR really has to take a deep breath here and see that they’re in the middle of a teeter totter at this point with no possible good ending in sight. The issue lies within the format of the race itself. I understand wanting all the big names to be there. But in the beginning, some of the big names weren’t there. There were years without Waltrip or Earnhardt or Martin, and that’s okay. Just throw it back to the original format, put a million dollars on the line and let the ones with the fastest laps or second fastest laps settle it. No need for gimmicks anymore, just get back to the basics.

Featured image from Jared C Tilton

Published by Phillip Spain

A 25 year veteran in the world Motorsports, Phil loves anything with an engine. When he’s not watching cars, he’s out with family.

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