NASCAR made the announcement late Tuesday that they will move the season opening exhibition Clash to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in February of 2022. The Central California market is one NASCAR has courted for years and next February all eyes will be turned West.
The season opening Clash has traditionally been held at Daytona International Speedway in the run-up to the Daytona 500 in Feb. The non-points race normally features a smaller field consisting of pole winners from the previous season as well as past winners of the race.
The Clash, scheduled for Feb. 6, 2022, will be the first NASCAR race held inside the historic Los Angeles stadium since it opened in 1923. It will also mark the debut of NASCAR’s Next Gen car; a debut delayed a year by COVID.
“We’ve been discussing the Clash for a while, and we’ve had it at the (Daytona) oval for a number of years,” said Ben Kennedy, NASCAR senior vice president of strategy and innovation. “We moved it to the road course this year, but really wanted to think outside the box as we thought about the Clash in the future — and seeing that it’s an exhibition event, we looked at a number of different places and locations that we could host it at, and ultimately narrowed it down to the L.A. Coliseum.
“The large fan base that we have here in Los Angeles is the largest that we actually have in the nation; paired with exciting racing and being here in the downtown Los Angeles market I think will be really special.”
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Kennedy told NASCAR.com that talks with Coliseum officials started two years ago but were delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“They actually came about by us going to their website, finding their contact page and reaching out to them,” Kennedy says. “So, we started that in 2019, I had a few conversations, obviously with COVID put things on pause, but resurfaced and I would say early on this year, I’ve had a ton of dialogue. Over summer, we put a team together a couple of months ago, and really we’re off to the races and running now.”
In NASCAR’s early days, Soldier Field in Chicago, now home to the NFL’s Chicago Bears held auto racing on a cinder track. There were several configurations inside the stadium held races for “Hot Rods” and Midget Cars.
NASCAR started racing in 1950 at Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston Salem, North Carolina. The track still hosts wildly popular weekly races. The 0.25-mile track at the football stadium hosted 29 Cup Series races from 1958 to 1971. The Cup race at Bowman Gray on Aug. 6, 1971, is the last time the Cup series competed on a 0.25-mile track.
“Racing at the LA Coliseum is going to be intense,” driver Ryan Blaney Tweeted. “You look at the history of our sport and its roots in flat, small tracks. Bowman Gray Stadium comes to mind. To race in a venue that hosted the first Super Bowl, the Olympics twice and now NASCAR is huge. It’s a big moment in our sport’s history and speaks to how bright our future is.”
The Clash announcement comes just ahead of NASCAR’s reveal of the 2022 Cup schedule with changes that include shifts in the Playoff races and the addition of a Cup race at World Wide Technology Raceway/Gateway in St. Louis.
NASCAR has raced at Auto Club Speedway near Los Angeles since 1997. It was taken off the schedule this season due to COVID restrictions but will be on the 2022 calendar along with the road course at Sonoma Raceway in Northern California.
“I know a lot of our fans have been itching to get back to NASCAR racing,” Kennedy said. “And what better way to bring it back with the Coliseum and Fontana again.”
The sport has always tried to keep a foot in the LA market with mixed success. The races at Fontana have seen a decline in fans, and this season none at all of course thanks to the pandemic. The Auto Club Speedway at Fontana is expected to be reconfigured from a 2.0-mile track to one that is shorter in the future, a move as bold as racing in the Coliseum. If the Clash is a hit with fans and the media, it could help fill seats at Auto Club Speedway a few weeks later and keep NASCAR in LA for many years to come.