by Crystal Clay
NASCAR went the extra-mile in its production of premier sports entertainment in the city of Los Angeles one week shy of Super Bowl LVI.
The inaugural exhibition of The Busch Light Clash, hosted on a 0.25-mile purpose built asphalt oval inside of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum continues to make false prophets out of anyone calling for the sanctioning body’s end of days.
With an estimated 70% of tickets sold to first-time race attendees, The Clash trended over the NFL Pro Bowl on Twitter, had 4.283 million viewers (168% up from 2021), an event best since the 2016 season. NASCAR EVP of Strategy & Innovation-Ben Kennedy and NASCAR EVP Chief and Racing Development Officer-Steve O’Donnell in the post-race press conference, gave praise to The Clash’s immediate success.
The success of this event is attributed to the focus on identity within the city of Los Angeles, something that Dave Allen, Auto Club Speedway President is highly perceptive of. His connection to the fanbase, deep knowledge of the motorsports industry in Los Angeles, and familiarity with both the Inland Empire/L.A. markets is not only paramount to his strategy at Auto Club but also took center-stage over this past weekend in reaching the Los Angeles audience. That L.A. audience often excludes the city of Fontana and San Bernardino County as the Inland Empire, recognizing it as a separate market of its own.
Kyle Busch, Las Vegas native and driver of the #18 Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing, offered his commendations. However, he was critical of a question on NASCAR’s entry into the market by emphasizing Auto Club Speedway’s presence in the greater L.A. area since 1997. His response showed that although The Clash at The Coliseum was a triumph, there is still quite a way to go in embracing Los Angeles and other non-traditional markets.
Asked what he thought about NASCAR coming into the L.A. market, Busch pushed back
“I’m going to argue the question here. We’ve been in L.A. since 1997. I think that gets forgotten about.
I love California Speedway. Fontana is a great racetrack. It’s a little outside of town, a little spread out with the two-mile racetrack. Us drivers enjoy going out there and racing at higher speeds like that.
Let’s not forget that, please.
Coming into L.A., if that’s how you want to term it, I felt like it was a huge success. I thought it was a huge chance, Ben Kennedy and the guys at NASCAR, if this didn’t work, it was going to be ugly.
I’m sure they’re taking a huge sigh of relief and a big high-five because it was a big success."
In a pre-race news conference on the update of Auto Club’s planned reconstruction to a short track, Allen answered a similar question on his thoughts of coming into The Coliseum.
“Obviously I think over the years we’ve done a good job of talking to Los Angeles but, let’s face it: sometimes it’s difficult for people to get from here to Fontana. So, bringing this sport to fans and exposing this sport in an exhibition way like this, is something that I couldn’t have thought we would—actually, I didn’t think we would get to that point. I would have never thought this a couple of years ago.”
The sanctioning body is currently within a 90-day period to reach an agreement that will allow The Clash to be hosted through 2024 at The L.A. Memorial Coliseum. Ben Kennedy emphasized how significant the Los Angeles market is for NASCAR while acknowledging the two year hiatus from holding competitions in Southern California.
While no further information has been released by NASCAR or its affiliates, Kennedy did express his optimism in consideration of a return to the historic venue.
"I think we'll have a lot of data coming out of this. I think there is certainly potentially a future here. We'll probably try to make a decision on that sooner than later."
Old thinking dies hard, whether it’s Fontana not being L.A. or NASCAR being open to an audience it hasn’t traditionally courted. We can’t expect one event to fix everything but, the positive feedback from those who watched and experienced this season's Clash validates the belief that we can remain hopeful for the future of the sport at the dawning of a new era.