When I first heard that NASCAR was holding a race inside of the LA Coliseum on a track built atop of the USC’s football field and all-weather track, I expected carnage—wheels flying in the air, photographers dodging car body parts, and a constant slew of yellow flags and race stoppage. Many had questions, like how would the asphalt would hold up, but the biggest question was how well the city of Angles would take to NASCAR, and whether it would be deemed a success at pulling new fans to the sport. What we got was a great event.
Race day, Sunday started with three heat races. The first two heats advanced drivers into the final race grid, which occurred later in the day. The last heat was the “last chance qualifier” where the losers in the two previous rounds fought it out to earn a spot in the race.
Desperation to make the grid, lead to carnage, as a clean race that was led mostly by Bubba Wallace, turned into a demolition derby as cars would send it on late dive bomb, pushing other cars out of the way trying to get into the lead. Those moves led to retribution and seemingly never-ending yellow flags and safety cars ensued. The last 5 laps seemed to take over 10 minutes to finish.
When the actual race started, it had a title fight-esque moment, with the drivers entering the stadium like boxers entering the arena. They came from the top to flashing lights and cheering crowds as they descended the long staircase to the field.
As the race started, Kyle Busch, the pole sitter, in the M&M’s Toyota Camry, jumped out to a commanding lead. Followed by Joey Logano in the Pennzoil liveried Ford Mustang. The racing was clean. Unexpected since every race before this lasted only 25 laps or around 10 minutes, this race would be 150 laps. The longer duration was a shock to some as they had become used to these quick races throughout the weekend.
The racing was clean as Busch seemed like he would run away with the victory. But every lap Logano got closer and closer, and right before the race’s intermission, it seemed that Logano passed Busch as he made a pass putting his Mustang in front of the Camry, but officials said that Busch remained in the lead when Intermission officially began.
This race had no pit stops, just a break—a half time—where the cars pulled into the center of the track in race order. Ice Cube came out and performed three songs for the crowd. A race with a concert intermission—it was an event.
NASCAR officials and racers kept calling the Clash and event, and stressing that this was more about entertainment, fan engagement in the Southland, and showing the new face of NASCAR as an inclusive sport that can be enjoyed by people everywhere.
The stadium was filled with screaming fans, 70% of which had never been to a NASCAR event. The smell of the Sunoco Green E15 gas and the piercing sound of the engines and blaring music were something that has never been experienced in LA before.
Long ago, California was known to the world as the home of racing, the thoughts of many NASCAR fans, racers, and officials, were of Riverside International Raceway and Ontario Speedway, tracks that NASCAR and other race fans saw as California’s racing ancestral home. They missed them, and this event brought racing back to the people.
As the second half of the race started the two drivers Busch and Logano ran away from the field. As the gap formed between them and the rest of the field, it was obvious that they were in a class of their own on this small track. They tried to push their braking zones to the limit, locking up their front brakes and sliding into the corners—leaving a smoke trail of tire smoke behind them. Out of turn 2, Logano got the edge and passed Busch for the lead. For the remainder of the race, Busch gave it his all, edging closer and closer, and smoking his tires trying to get the most of his Toyota, but unfortunately, his tires were dead. He fell back and Logano cruised the final laps of the race uncontested.
Logano had won, winning the first race at the Coliseum and handing the first win of this Next-Gen era to Ford.
It was an incredible event and one that I hope repeats. Some NASCAR regulars said that if it happened again, it would become stale—I disagree. In a land where racetracks are almost improbable, and the threat of the last remaining track’s closing is always in the headlines, racing at Stadiums turns it into a must-see event for people in Southern California. NASCAR wants to be for everyone, and in this event, they showed how their sport was just about the love of racing. I hope the Clash at the Coliseum is something that we see again.