By Jerry Jordan, Editor
LOS ANGELES – In the nearly 100-years and 4,800-plus events held at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum (L.A. Coliseum), none of them have ever included a NASCAR race but that is about to change as the greatest stock car racers on the planet will “Clash” this weekend to kick off the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season.
What began as a crazy idea more than two years ago with drawings and sketches on sheets of paper, is finally coming to fruition and it is the talk of Tinseltown and the surrounding Los Angeles community, according to Joe Furin, General Manager of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. And, in reviewing the availability of tickets for NASCAR’S Busch Light Clash at The Coliseum, there are far more seats already sold than are available for purchase. In fact, early estimates indicate the attendance will be greater than the most-recent USC vs. UCLA college football game.
“The NASCAR fanbase is extremely excited and the buzz is growing, so something like that wouldn’t surprise me,” Furin said. “The buzz for this one has grown, unlike any other event. The interest is off the chart. I am hearing from people I haven’t heard from in a long time and those who I never thought were NASCAR fans. We do a lot of business with people and I had no idea they were NASCAR fans. They are like, ‘this is a must-see, tell me more.’
“The A-listers are responding … it slides very well into the (Los Angeles) Rams heading to the Super Bowl and that is still a week away. That might as well be a year away with all the talk about Sunday with NASCAR.”
Earlier this week, Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer, said he is pleased with the attendance numbers he has seen, so far. Although NASCAR doesn’t provide specific attendance numbers O’Donnell did confirm the tickets sold had already surpassed some of NASCAR’s regular-season points races.
“L.A. is definitely a little bit of a late buying crowd in terms of some of the celebrity influencers but we are very happy with where we’re at already,” O’Donnell said. “From an attendance standpoint, when you compare that to even some of our points races, it’s surpassed that already, I’m so very enthusiastic about where we are today. But you know, there’s still some room to see where we end up throughout Saturday and Sunday.”
According to Furin, the seating capacity for the L.A. Coliseum is 77,500. He did confirm that NASCAR had blocked off some lower areas around the track for safety reasons but he expects a significant crowd, if for nothing else, because fans don’t know what to expect. Furin said when fans go to a concert, for example, the Rolling Stones, they have an idea about the stage and how the Stones will put on their show.
“This, this is different, you don’t know how it is done,” Furin said. “It is really interesting from the venue perspective.
“People are going to be blown away when they come in. If you’re used to seeing it in a football setting for USC (University of Southern California) or the L.A. Rams for the past decade, you will have your mind blown. They’ve been slowly and incrementally building since December. When I glance down at it, it fits. It’s awesome and slides right in and it’s been a really cool experience.”
Furin said he’s felt the rumble of the engines as NASCAR has tested the track leading up to this weekend’s action. It’s something, Furin said, that can be felt throughout the facility.
“It was unlike anything else,” he said. “That rumble goes right through the concrete building and hits you in your gut and in your core. You can just envision 20-plus cars down there with their engines roaring.”
Built in 1921 and opening in 1923, The Coliseum cost less than $1 million to construct at the time. Coincidentally, when O’Donnell was asked by a reporter if $1 million was an accurate number relating to the cost of converting what is traditionally used as a football stadium into a quarter-mile asphalt racetrack, O’Donnell said, that estimate was low.
“I would say it’s significantly more than that and it’s been a significant investment by NASCAR,” O’Donnell said. “I’m not going to get into the exact number, but you know, we made a big bet on this but we think it’s the right thing to do for the industry.”
O’Donnell also said that NASCAR is estimating that based on previous ticket sales and matching that data to current ticket buyers for the Busch Light Clash, there are around 70 percent of the fans who have never purchased a NASCAR ticket in the past. He said that is a promising indication that the gamble is paying off and that NASCAR is reaching more and more new fans.
So, how did it all come together? Furin said he was like a little kid with Matchbox cars after going over NASCAR’s proposal more than two years ago. He said he was at the L.A. Coliseum in the 1980s when the Mickey Thompson off-road trucks would race there, adding that it is one thing to cover the field with dirt but he was fascinated with how NASCAR built an asphalt racetrack. And, he admitted to having trepidations early in the process.
“Two things – from a business perspective, I was here when we did Mickey Thompson off-road in the 80s and 90s, so I am familiar with flipping the football field. So, the answer was if you (NASCAR) can engineer it we would love to host it. I was like a kid at Christmas with a whole box of matchbox cars. You can just picture it, the horsepower, the colors, the speed, the sound and all of that taking place here in The Coliseum. I was blown away. It was not a concept you would think about. I don’t know how to build a racetrack or what is acceptable but if they could engineer it I knew it could work.
“I don’t want to say there weren’t any worries. We get this outside-of-the-box stuff, and someone says they want to cover the field. Yes, there is hesitation. But with two years noodling this with NASCAR, they brought in experts and officials and any concerns we had were diminished. With that trust and understanding, I knew they would take care of the facility as much as we do. And, you know, it’s one thing two months ago to say ‘don’t worry’ but in practice when you see what is going on, it makes you proud.”
Playing host to the Olympics in 1932 and 1984, the L.A. Coliseum will again host the Olympics in 2028. Declared a National Historic Landmark in 1984, it is home to the USC Trojans and has held NFL games, MLB games, a World Series, Major League Soccer events, rugby events and was the site of President John F. Kennedy’s acceptance speech during the 1960 Democratic National Convention. It even played host to the Monster of Rock Festival with Van Halen, Metallica and Dokken, to name a few, in 1988.
“I am proud of the legacy of The Coliseum and I will be down there for the race,” Furin said. “As you and I talked and how you’ve never been here, we always love first-time visitors. We have 100 years behind us and a legacy that is unbeatable with the iconic events we have had. We are absolutely thrilled to have visitors come for the first time for this event and, I think they are in for one spectacular show. You have Pitbull and Ice Cube performing. This is more than just a race. This will be a star-studded L.A. happening and people will see that.”