NASCAR celebrates before the radical race at the LA Coliseum

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Kevin Harvick has twice driven a stock car through the streets of Los Angeles. He watched Mickey Thompson’s Super Trucks on TV as they raced inside the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

But the Bakersfield native had never seen the Colosseum in person, not until Saturday when NASCAR started its engines for the 2022 season and he drove his Ford past the USC locker room and through the same tunnel as the horses. of Troy use match days.

Harvick made his way over the asphalt that now covers the famous pitch. Then he did laps on the temporary quarter-mile track built inside one of the sport’s holiest sites.

“It’s over the top and looks great,” Harvick said. “I don’t think you can screw it up at this point. The event is here. The race track did not fly away. The training went well. The cars all took turns. People passed each other. You can’t mess it all up at this point. You can not. I tell you. The race doesn’t even matter.

No, the Busch Light Clash scheduled for Sunday night is not your grandfather’s race.

But it’s not your grandfather’s old NASCAR either.

The series has taken a fresh approach to its regular lineup and cookie-cutter leads, its latest bet this special made-for-television event at the Colosseum. A collaboration between NASCAR and Fox Sports, the project ran over its budget by $1 million but guaranteed NASCAR six hours of live programming and another attempt to build momentum ahead of the February 21 Daytona 500 season opener. .

The industry has the energy of the first day of school and the teams seem genuinely motivated to perform on Sunday evening. NASCAR, saying it is happy with ticket sales, and said earlier this week that 70% of people who purchased seats identified themselves as first-time NASCAR attendees.

“We talk about it all the time – the Los Angeles market is huge for us,” said Ben Kennedy, the 30-year-old great-grandson of NASCAR’s founder and current senior vice president of strategy and development. ‘innovation.

“It’s a huge opportunity for us to come to Los Angeles and do it in a different way than we’ve ever done before,” he added, “But to do it two weeks before our most big event of the year, the Daytona 500? You think of ‘new’, ‘innovative’ and ‘bold’…the kind of words that are starting to take root in our culture.”

A concert stage for a pre-race Pit Bull show and a ‘half-time’ Ice Cube performance was built along Peristyle Square. Their sets will be performed under the torch of the Olympic cauldron built for the 1932 Summer Games.

The torch is lit for special events at the Colosseum.

It shone on Saturday, the day before NASCAR’s pricey show. The Clash has been held at Daytona every year since its inception in 1979 and had been the unofficial season opener for the past 40 years.

“It’s the type of event you need to blow it out of the water at the start of the season to get the eyeballs,” Harvick said. “We live in different times and trying new things and having the courage to do it is sometimes hard to do, but the rewards are pretty big on the other side when it works.”

The Clash has always been an exhibition appetizer for the Daytona 500 and generally a preview of “The Great American Race.” But its prestige had waned, NASCAR last year moved the race to the Daytona road course, and The Clash stopped feeling special years ago.

“This race was kind of on, I feel like continuing,” said defending Cup champion Kyle Larson. “It added a week to Daytona…all that for what?”

That energy changed as soon as NASCAR reached the race deal at the Coliseum, the centerpiece of the 1932 and 1984 Summer Games and the site of some of the greatest sporting moments in history. The Colosseum will become in 2028 the first site to host three Summer Games.

“When this was first written, I’m sure there were a lot of people who probably didn’t think it was possible,” Larson said. “It added a lot of excitement. It gave our TV partners something to promote differently than just being at Daytona for another week. This gives us the opportunity to not only have more eyes on this event… but also to be able to promote the Daytona 500 through this event.

Chase Elliott was fastest in Saturday’s practice; NASCAR divided the 36 cars into three groups of 12, and each group was on track for three eight-minute sessions. Single-car qualifying later on Saturday set the line-ups for the heat races to be held before The Clash on Sunday.

The heat races will determine the 23 cars that advance in The Clash, a 150-lap race that will be stopped halfway for the Ice Cube concert. Winning the race does not count for the championship, the driver and the team only receive a trophy and a share of the purse.

But with the new site came renewed enthusiasm to win the race.

“I think it would be super cool to be the first person to win this race,” Elliott said. “If you stand on top of the mountain at the end of the day for something like this, this type of place and this type of event, I think it’s special and it should be for whoever wins .”


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