NASCAR had an “if you build it, they will come” moment at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum. And from the eye test, the industry’s gamble of spending well over $1 million to put a temporary short track inside the stadium to host the Busch Light Clash was a success.
Despite a very messy second Last Chance Qualifier race that could have set the tone for a day of chaos, the main event resembled a typical day at Martinsville Speedway with bumpers used and a few feelings hurt. It was different but still entertaining.
Elsewhere around the facility, things were just as noticeably upbeat. While the exact attendance number was not revealed (the Los Angeles Times reported close to 60,000 were in attendance), the place looked not too far off capacity. Certainly more than what Daytona International Speedway, which had been the home of the Clash since 1979, had seen in quite some time. Most importantly, a large percentage of ticket buyers had not previously attended a race, but their interest was piqued just enough by this cockamamie idea to give it a shot.
The buzz was vibrant, the fans booed Kyle Busch as is normal, and outside the merchandise lines were long. NASCAR also trended No. 1 on Twitter in the United States.
Sunday was all about entertainment, doing something new and outside the norm. In that regard, the Coliseum delivered. Camera shots of the crowd during the concerts from Pitbull and Ice Cube made it seem like a good time was being had, and the drivers were just as excited to have the stars of the area come out and experience NASCAR.
For a preseason exhibition race meant to capture attention and reward one team with bragging rights, it’s hard to criticize what took place. No, this was not your typical Sunday afternoon NASCAR race. It was never going to be that. Those who could accept it and were able to put aside their notions of what it should have looked like, or putting on the same type of race weekend that’s taken place for over 70 years in the sport, will have enjoyed themselves.
NASCAR made it clear what this version of the Clash was all about, and went to work on that goal. Big-name stars, concerts, a track built to put on a show, and a format that sent drivers home.
Think of it this way: no points, so no harm, no foul in having some fun.
The concept worked, and it’s one that NASCAR officials can now study to try to repeat either next year at the same venue or somewhere else. NASCAR officials acknowledged as much afterward. There is no denying there is a new kind of hype around the start of the racing season than what usually takes place. Sorry, but the Clash at Daytona just wasn’t cutting it when most were always focused on the torn-up race cars and the lack of drivers in contention at the end.
The Coliseum concept worked. Give credit where it’s due and celebrate an exciting day for the sport where the talking points were largely positive.
But it’s also a concept that should come with some restraint when looking toward the future.
NASCAR wanting to keep thinking outside the box is admirable, but this cannot become something that happens all the time. While we all want to be entertained when we watch a race — or any sporting event for that matter — it cannot be how every race weekend looks. The Clash worked because it fully leaned into the entertainment side of things, and it had no impact on the overall championship.
That’s how it should be. A format with just as many off-track activities as cars on track should be a one-off, hype-designed event to draw eyeballs on the sport that day.
Thankfully for NASCAR, the Coliseum did that and it wasn’t the crash fest, cringeworthy spectacle that some expected.