With the third edition of the Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum fresh in the rearview mirror, the focus now turns to what becomes of it next.
Los Angeles has served its purpose as the host of the exhibition race. A city of bright lights and big stars has welcomed NASCAR’s own stars for the past three seasons as a preseason warmup for the garage while, most importantly, being the ultimate hype event for the industry looking to drive attention toward a new season and its biggest race.
It’s been fun, energetic, unique and different. How could it not be when its setting is the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum? As a venue, it stands amongst the most prestigious in the country while the racing – which isn’t necessarily the purpose of The Clash – got better each year, with Saturday night’s offering perhaps the best showing of its three editions.
Those big stars that were mentioned were a part of the agenda, too. NASCAR incorporated some of the most recognizable celebrities and athletes into its race weekend, which drew in a portion of those respective fan bases while giving its established fanbase something new and exciting with pre-race and mid-race entertainment.
L.A. essentially hosted a big NASCAR party with a side of short-track racing. Not that there was anything wrong with that. But NASCAR is now at the end of its three-year deal to hold The Clash in L.A. and it hasn’t taken long for the conversation to shift to whether it should return, move elsewhere, or if The Clash is even needed.
“I think it was a success,” Denny Hamlin said. “Certainly, you can’t argue it from a viewership standpoint. I certainly think that it’s got merit in going different places, but I think L.A. was very good to us, and I think we were good for this community, as well. If you look around at the stands, it’s more diverse than what you’ll see at most racetracks. I think it was a win for everyone.”
L.A. was proof of concept that if NASCAR wanted to take its product anywhere, there’s no reason it’s not possible. However, what made L.A. an ideal location is the glitz, glamour, and presence in an important market.
As reigning series champion Ryan Blaney said, “It’s a different demographic … just a neat area to do it in.”
NASCAR has a Southern California problem that needs to be a part of the conversation as it pertains to the future of The Clash. L.A. fills the void left by Auto Club Speedway, which is under construction for the foreseeable future. The foreseeable future is about as detailed as that will get because while the plan remains to turn the facility into a short-track, there is no timetable on when that will happen. Given its current state of destruction, it’s doubtful NASCAR will return there anytime soon.
“If it has run its course, I applaud NASCAR,” said Kyle Larson. “I think they’ve pulled this off in a great way. I would have never expected the first year that it would have been as legit as it is and the atmosphere is great. I was not expecting the atmosphere to even be this cool (Saturday night). There’s definitely a place for this style of event, I think, in our sport for The Clash or whatever if it moves around to different states or countries or whatever.
“They’ve proven they can do it. They’ve proven that they can get a crowd. It’s a very diverse crowd out there. … Having the Mexico Series here also is a great thing, too. I hope they can take this kind of model and move it around and grow it and try and broaden our fan base some.”
If the Busch Light Clash were to move, it couldn’t just be anywhere. At least not if it will continue to be presented as the opening act of a new NASCAR season, which is how it should be. The location needs to have the same energy and draw as L.A., and the same interest for big names to be involved.
Moving the race away from Daytona helps, and so does moving its date into early February. The Clash becomes must-see TV for race fans itching for action after nearly three months without a car on the racetrack. So, it draws people in with a taste of racing before things really kick off in Daytona a week and a half later with Daytona 500 media day and qualifying for the front row.
When teams and drivers arrive in Daytona, the focus should solely be on the year’s biggest race. The Clash might have been born in Daytona but it outgrew there, and as the schedule went from Speedweeks to basically Speed Days over the last few years, it seems nonsensical to cram in preparing for The Clash (which usually ends with a torn-up race car) and the Daytona 500 in the same garage.
Given NASCAR’s shift in mentality about its schedule, all options about the future of The Clash have to be on the table. And while an answer shouldn’t be expected soon, the first thing NASCAR should do is realize that it has a good thing going with its place on the calendar and should lean more into its identity as a fun, one-off promo ahead of a new season.