COLUMN: How and Why NASCAR Got It Right Last Week With The Busch Light Clash at The L.A. Memorial Coliseum

By Jerry Jordan, Editor

NASCAR took its premier stock car racing series to an iconic football stadium last weekend and despite the haters, it was a huge success.

For years, race fans have derided NASCAR for its lack of variety in the schedule and for “losing its direction.” The short-track battlegrounds were transformed into mile-and-a-half tracks where more butts could be packed into seats. That led to more beer and hot dog sales and greater profits, but the racing turned stale after a while. So, NASCAR tried to spice things up with road courses and the ROVAL was born. They raced on the Indianapolis Road Course because, quite frankly, the action on the historic speedway was ho-hum.

 The Daytona Road Course was used during the pandemic and then Speedway Motorsports Inc. decided to lease Circuit of the Americas to see what the racing would be like there. It’s hard to argue that racing at Texas Motor Speedway wasn’t as exciting as it once was but no one wanted to disappoint Texas race fans. NASCAR and SMI also transformed Bristol Motor Speedway into a dirt track and despite a rain delay, the racing was intense.

But during this time, Ben Kennedy, NASCAR’s Sr. Vice President of Strategy and Innovation, was working behind the scenes to develop a way to not only bring back short track racing but to take NASCAR to new markets. It was announced that the two-mile Auto Club Speedway would be transformed (tentatively on hold) into a short track and this year, the Cup Series will race at World Wide Technology Raceway – a 1.3-mile track near St. Louis.

And then, it happened, NASCAR went completely outside the box and built an asphalt track in less than 60-days inside the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. But rather than celebrate, many NASCAR fans complained. Don’t believe me? Just read social media.

After the race, I logged onto Twitter to see what the fans were saying. Many loved it. Then, there were the haters. I will point out something, again, as I did last week about some of those so-called NASCAR fans.

They said they wanted short-track racing. So, when NASCAR gave them short-track racing they complained it wasn’t the “right” short-track racing. They said they wanted action on the track, cars rubbing fenders and more passing but when it actually happened at The Coliseum the so-called fans complained about it. It wasn’t the passing, rubbing or action that they wanted. There was entertainment during a break in the race, but it wasn’t the “right” entertainment and I won’t even go down that rabbit hole except to say some fans need to “check yo’ self before you wreck yo’ self.”

They all seemed to want something different than what NASCAR had given them but they couldn’t tell anyone what it was without just saying, “it sucked.”

The biggest common denominator amongst all the haters was that NASCAR “wasted” money on The Clash. First, it wasn’t their money and I doubt they want someone else telling them how to balance their bank account. Here are a few of the Facebook comments written both before and after The Clash hit record viewership and attendance numbers.

  • Helen Johnson-Ward, “That was a waste of money.. Way to go #Nascar could of spent that money ELSEWHERE.”
  • Leslie Ann Britts Parkinson, “If NASCAR wanted a true short track .416 mile, with Actual Racing fans, and in the South they should have raced at Motor Mile Speedway in Pulaski County Virginia! But NO they’re trying to attract a different fan base and they’re going to run all the true NASCAR fans away! Just my opinion.”
  • Tillmann Siebott, “Nascar Is doing Everything wrong!! Such a waste of Money! They should have take the money and put it into racetracks which Are already there and Make them better and renovate them.”
  • Jeff Glockner, “It just amazes me how today’s NASCAR fan will watch anything that NASCAR throws at them. This makes about much sense as racing Cup cars on dirt. What’s next? Street racing? How about will race the Cup cars on a dirt Rally course!!!!”

Mr. Glockner was a prolific complainer about The Busch Light Clash and can be found ranting on and on about NASCAR but maybe he came up with an unoriginal good idea. Let’s do street racing. Oh wait, that’s already in the works. By the way, Mr. Glockner that dirt race at Bristol was such a huge success they are doing it again this year. Would you like me to send you a free ticket? That said, I will agree that Cup Series cars on a dirt rally course might be taking things too far but the trucks, that would be the shiznit. Not really, just kidding.

For all the negative comments there were plenty of positive ones, as well. I like this one.

James E Strang, “I grew up at short-track in Phoenix. Manzanita. It was torn down a few years ago because of a lot of factors. One of them because # of people that followed short-track racing. It’s usually only family & friends of those racing that night. NASCAR got 4 million people to watch this race. That is how you get people to go check out your hometown track.”

Mr. Strang was right. There were actually more than 4.2 million people who tuned in for The Clash on TV. And around Los Angeles, there were billboards promoting NASCAR or a particular driver and their sponsor. People were talking about NASCAR and there was a buzz about racing that I haven’t seen or felt in years. One team member told me, “I was getting my rental car and there were people in there who were not affiliated with NASCAR and they were talking about us racing at The Coliseum and how we built a track over the football field. I just stood there and listened. Then I thought, you know, I can go buy a bottle of water across the street from Kansas Speedway on race weekend and they don’t even know we are in town. It was a good feeling.”

So, that’s where part of the ROI (return on investment) comes in for the $1 million-plus spent by NASCAR on constructing the track. In reality, that number is probably more than half of what NASCAR spent but it proved to be worth it. People were talking about NASCAR and not just in LA. Even the negative comments on social media helped boost the fact that NASCAR was doing something remarkable.

For those unfamiliar with how TV ratings and money works, the accepted industry standard is that for every single viewer there is $1 dollar of revenue generated by advertising sales. So, in the case of The Busch Light Clash, there was about $4.2 million brought in through ad revenue. There were also about 56,000 people in the grandstands and most of those paid for their tickets, so that is additional revenue and money was also made from souvenir sales and concessions.

So …

You had great promotion, community involvement and media coverage leading into the event …

You had first-time fans in the stands who were excited about what was to come …

You had good racing on the track with passing, battles for the lead and not too many cautions …

Kennedy and his team proved they made the right call and that’s why The Busch Light Clash at The Coliseum was a monumental hit for NASCAR and race fans alike, whether some of them believe it or not. They don’t have to agree with me, just remember, it’s okay for them to be wrong. NASCAR is doing everything it can think of to attract new fans while trying to hold on to the old ones. It’s not easy. Are they always going to get it right? No. But they hit a grand slam last week in Los Angeles.

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The NASCAR logo seemed to fit perfectly in the foreground of the Los Angeles skyline, which served as the backdrop for last week’s Busch Light Clash at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum. Photo by Jerry Jordan/Kickin’ the Tires

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