Why NASCAR’s Clash at the Coliseum Should Never Be a Points Race

By most standards, the inaugural Clash at the Coliseum was an unmitigated success. 

All the entertaining short-track racing silenced the doubters.

The streams of attention NASCAR created in a large, under-exposed market muted the critics. 

If stock car racing returns to Los Angeles, aficionados should hope it remains an exhibition. 

The Clash would be panned as a points race.

The track size of NASCAR’s Clash at the Coliseum is too small for a full field

NASCAR Cup Series drivers crews prepare to race in the Busch Light Clash At The Coliseum on Feb. 6, 2022 Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum | |Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

The quarter-mile track at the Las Angeles Memorial Coliseum could not handle a full barrage of 37-40 cars.

Decades ago, NASCAR officials experimented with larger fields at short tracks.

The results? Inconclusive, but there’s a reason why 23 machines started the Clash. The unussual, yet high-level of racing fans witnessed could disappear, and the action may develop into a typical LA traffic jam if officials add cars.

Take Hickory Speedway, for example. The short track in Hickory, North Carolina, hosted 35 Grand National Division/Winston Cup races from 1953-71. Early in its history, the track’s length was .40 miles, but in 1970 executives ordered it to be reconfigured to .363 miles.

The size of NASCAR’s starting fields often varied, but 20-23 cars were common. In the late 1960s, the site experimented with more machines, 26 in 1966 and 33 in 1967. The following year, it was back to 23.

Live and learn, right?

Well, not always.

Now known as Hickory Motor Speedway, it hosted 42 Busch (Xfinity) Series events until 1998. During most of its final eight events, the racing field was set at 30. Talk about hard driving.

If the Clash returns to LA, here’s hoping Cup officials do not get greedy and add more machines to the field.

NASCAR stumbled on gimmick that works, combining grit and glidder  

NASCAR marketing officials nailed the inaugural Clash at the Coliseum. It had the right mix of grit for old-school racing fans and glidder for curious on-lookers. The crash-and-bang racing at a track half the size of the next smallest on the 2022 Cup schedule proved compelling. It was enough for borderline fans to remain tuned in. 

Sports Media Watch predicted the Clash’s novelty could more than double the television ratings for an event that has stagnated since the early 2000s. Viewership last year was about 1.58 million.  

With gimmicks-galore, the Clash sprinkled in Hollywood personalities, with professional athletes, musicians, and DJs. There was something for everyone. 

Major League Baseball, when its owners and players are not engaged in financial infighting, typically opens seasons with six weeks (or so) of Spring Training. 

NASCAR needs only one weekend. 

The Clash could become the Super Bowl of preseason contests.

NASCAR should not mess with a good thing

Several NASCAR insiders remained skeptical in the weeks leading up to the Clash.

Here were a few of the concerns:

  • New, extremely short track.
  • New venue.
  • New market.
  • New sideline entertainment.
  • New Next Gen cars.

Fox Sports analyst and former driver Tony Stewart recently ran tire tests at a quarter-mile track in North Carolina. He spun out. He was openly concerned, but by the end of his broadcast, he shed his impartiality and sounded like the event’s biggest fan.

The looseness of the exhibition helped create additional on-track drama. If the race involved points, fans probably wouldn’t have had a chance to watch Ty Dillon bulldoze his way to the front of the second last-chance qualifying event.

NASCAR discovered a template for sustained success. On the Sunday before the Super Bowl, the Clash could gain a greater foothold at one of the world’s vital entertainment hubs.

The Clash at the Coliseum just needs to stay fresh and fun, like one of Hollywood’s movie premieres. If it were a points race, the curtain would fall.

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