USC

Is the West Coast the best coast for NASCAR’s 2022 ‘Clash at the Coliseum’?

The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum will transform to host a NASCAR exhibition race for the first time in February, but fans aren’t sure about the competition’s location.

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The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum is set to host The Clash, a racing exhibition of top NASCAR drivers, on February 6, NASCAR announced last month. The event will be the first NASCAR race held at the stadium since its opening in 1923 and will mark the first time that NASCAR’s precursor to the Daytona 500 will take place somewhere other than the Daytona International Speedway in Florida.

The purpose of The Clash is to promote viewership for the Daytona 500, NASCAR’s biggest event of the season. In order to compete, racers must have qualified by earning a high ranking in eligibility opportunities such as past NASCAR races or competing in three to four heats prior to The Clash.

“It’s just an opportunity for our biggest stars to get on the track and put on a show,” said Patrick Rodgers, NASCAR’s Vice President of Marketing Services. “There’s really no points on the line. It’s all about bragging rights, and it can really get people excited about the start of our season.”

As for the change in location, the Coliseum underwent renovations back in 2018 that helped make it a contender for the event. The university spent $315 million to replace general seating, add luxury boxes and club-level seats and ultimately give the facility a facelift. This modernization opened the door for the conversation in which NASCAR requested that The Clash be held at the famous stadium, according to Joe Furin, general manager of the Coliseum.

“We just couldn’t pass up on the opportunity to be in this historic venue,” Rodgers said, “to be in this market, to be in front of our avid fans that are in that market and potentially new fans that are in that market all over the world.”

But some racing fans don’t think moving The Clash to the West Coast was a smart decision.

“The Coliseum holds half the amount of spectators as most NASCAR arena’s hold,” Mason Smaaladen, an employee at Bryant Racing Incorporated in Anaheim, wrote in an email to Annenberg Media. “It seems like the only upside is getting to say they’re holding a race at the LA Coliseum.”

Los Angeles is actually a top market for NASCAR, according to the organization’s Director of Track Communications, Matt Humphrey, making the decision to host this particular race on the West Coast an exciting one for NASCAR executives. Compared with other U.S. metro areas like New York City, L.A. also has a reputation for being a car hub in general where the primary form of transportation is driving.

“I feel like they really knocked it out of the park with the choice to hold this race at the Coliseum,” said Amani Ghonim, a quality assurance lead and crew chief for the USC Racing team. “They have all the people that love cars and all the people that are on social media here, so it works out perfectly.”

Ghonim, a USC senior majoring in mechanical engineering, possesses background knowledge on race car design and engineering that she believes will give her a unique outlook on the race itself, for which she already purchased front row tickets.

“I feel like when I go to the race in February and I see the cars on the track, I will be thinking, ‘oh, wow, that’s super cool, I wonder what engine is in the car, you know, I wonder how much CFD they did on their aero package,’” Ghonim said. “It’ll be giving me that perspective.”

As the first of its kind, this preseason race poses a unique challenge: NASCAR will have to construct a racing track inside the Coliseum, a stadium traditionally designed to host football games.

A new impermanent quarter-mile track will be built around the Coliseum’s football field. As of now, NASCAR’s plan to install the track is to create a protective barrier over the field, layer dirt on top and pave over the layer of dirt. Additionally, about eight to 10 noncompetitive pit stalls will be constructed to assist racers throughout the competition.

Construction is scheduled to begin in January 2022 and will take about four weeks to complete.

January and February are usually “lighter” months for the Coliseum in terms of events, according to Furin, who said construction will not impact any previously scheduled events.

An application called iRacing is assisting track designers with the project. The program allows users to create online models of various track configurations to determine which will be the safest and most successful for drivers, according to NASCAR.

While NASCAR and Coliseum executives are confident that this track installation will be successful, some others who contribute to the race’s functioning have raised dissent.

“Building an asphalt track and putting up necessary safety precautions like metal railings to protect spectators from crashed vehicles, immediately after football season ends seems like a bit of a time crunch,” Smaaladen, whose employer makes a part used in certain stock cars, said. “It is definitely something that can be pulled off, but that doesn’t account for the concerns of what the track would actually end up looking like.”

Smaaladen also has concerns about the fan experience at the Coliseum. He mentioned that with such a short track, cars will be rushing past fans at almost every minute of the race.

“The signature feeling of wind and rumble as the pack passes you will be replaced by a constant drone-like noise,” he said. “Very unpleasant for anyone not wearing ear protection.”

For Jonathan Laifman, president of the USC Racing team, this prediction is disappointing.

“I think people never get that visceral response to cars that I do and the sound of NASCAR motors is probably one of the best things currently being produced,” he said, “so not hearing that would impact the experience.”

Either way, the event will be a significant one, not only because of the up close way in which the race will be perceived by fans, but also because NASCAR intends to debut its new Next Gen car at The Clash.

The new design aims to closely resemble regular cars on the road, and officials hope they will be used more in future competitions. Each will be equipped with cameras that will deliver real-time data to fans during races to promote additional audience engagement, Humphrey said.

Debuting these new cars at The Clash will also give NASCAR officials a chance to see how they drive at an actual race, rather than in simulated tests, before they’ll be driven in the Daytona 500 the following week, Rodgers said.

“I’ve been reading up a little bit about the new evolution, the new generation of NASCAR, and they’re always trying to make them a bit faster, a little safer,” Leifman said. “It’ll be awesome to see the car before it’s actually run in competition.”

NASCAR and Coliseum representatives are also planning to discuss ways in which The Clash can involve USC students, like Leifman and Ghonim, who have a demonstrated interest in racing or engineering.

“I think we’re literally throwing a lot of different ideas up against the wall, really to engage the student and the academic community to take advantage of obviously being so close together,” Furin said. “NASCAR is always interested in attracting younger fans.”

Ghonim believes that gaining input from NASCAR on her projects with the USC Racing team would be extremely beneficial.

“Being able to talk to them a little bit about what we do and have them support us and what we do, whether that’s financially or by giving us advice, that would be super helpful,” she said.

As for the race itself, specifics such as eligibility, number of cars and the length of the race have not yet been decided, according to NASCAR officials.

Tickets went on sale September 16, with starting prices of $65 for adults and $10 for children.

“We’re really looking forward to delivering something that’s going to be special not only for the industry, but for our fans, our casual fans, and really introduce our sport and all the great things about it to a potential new fan,” Rodgers said. “I’m just excited about the opportunity.”