NASCAR confirmed the 2022 Clash at the Los Angeles Coliseum will be an invitational format that is open to all Cup Series teams.
In a Wednesday interview, NASCAR executive senior vice president and chief racing development officer Steve O’Donnell told SiriusXM host Dave Moody that the process for determining the field still was being finalized, but that it likely would involve heat races to set the lineup of a main event that would feature “probably 20 to 25 cars max” on the temporary quarter-mile oval.
“When we discussed this with teams, we could have just gone with, ‘Hey if you’re eligible for the Clash, that’s it,” but I think a number of teams have looked at this and said this could be a really cool event not only for our organization but our sponsors, and we’d like the ability to come out to the event,” O’Donnell said. “So we’re going to make it an invitational.
“Certainly, anyone qualified for the Clash will be in the main event. But we want to make it realistic for other teams to come out, have enough time on the racetrack, on TV, in front of the fans to make it worth their while as well. That’s the ongoing discussion in the industry: What makes this something you want to go out there and race and showcase your sponsor in the L.A. market.”
NASCAR has yet to determine the eligibility parameters that will lock a driver into the main event of the L.A. Clash, but the exhibition race historically has been open at least to the previous season’s pole winners and past winners of the Clash.
The 2021 Clash had a field of 21 cars that was open to 2020 pole winners; past Clash winners; Daytona 500 winners and Daytona 500 pole winners who ran full time; 2020 Cup Series playoff drivers, 2020 Cup Series winners and 2020 Cup Series stage winners.
Another enticing aspect for teams attempting to make the Clash would be the debut of the Next Gen car, which O’Donnell said stirred some debate within NASCAR.
The Clash will take place in February on a purpose-built track inside the stadium that's hosted two Olympic Games, and will host a third in 2028. pic.twitter.com/IMgzgQnJhs
— NASCAR on NBC (@NASCARonNBC) September 14, 2021
“There was (debate) and probably still is in the industry,” he told Moody. “We just felt it’s an opportunity to learn some things around the Clash, a non-points event, and possibly apply those learnings to Daytona as well. Certainly, a lot of work will go into this with the race teams going through the format and making sure teams are good to go with the format. That’ll be a collaborative effort. And how the car plays into that. Do we need backup cars? What’s practice look like? All those discussions are taking place now.”
O’Donnell said moving the Clash to Los Angeles was an idea that began two years ago with NASCAR originally looking at a famous Chicago venue that its premier series raced at in 1956.
“We went up at one point to Soldier Field,” he said. “We used to race at Soldier Field a long, long time ago, and we thought this was a possibility. As we got there, (it was) really, really small. Even more so than the Coliseum. That sparked some other ideas around the Chicago marketplace, but we looked at what are some other potential venues, particularly around L.A. and New York.
“And the Coliseum became something that’s certainly unbelievably iconic in all of sports with Super Bowls and the Olympics. After we went over there, we started the ‘What if’ conversations, and then it became, ‘Could we build a track?’ The answer was yes, then it became could we actually put an event together. When we look at what might be available to take the Clash and reinvent that a little bit. Add some excitement to the start of the season, it seemed a natural fit. Certainly some risk, but I think the industry is ready and we’ll put together a great event.”
If it’s successful, the Feb. 6, 2022 exhibition at the L.A. Coliseum could be proof of concept for bringing NASCAR to new markets such as New York that currently don’t have permanent big-league racetracks but might have stadiums that could play host to events.
NASCAR vice president of strategic initiatives Ben Kennedy told NBC Sports that while many NFL stadiums lack the interior footprint for a racetrack, there are “a ton of soccer stadiums across the world” that could provide options.
Kennedy said the L.A. Coliseum layout will mimic Bowman Gray Stadium, which has played host to stock-car racing for decades in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. There were 27 K&N East Series cars that started a June 4, 2011 race at Bowman Gray.
O’Donnell said NASCAR hopes to feature the same brand of racing in L.A., which he said was NASCAR’s top fan base in volume.
“We wanted to bring a race to where fans who hadn’t been exposed to the sport could come out and see it and try something new for hard-core fans as well,” O’Donnell said. “The Bowman Grays of the world (are) hugely popular with our fan base. We want to replicate that as much as possible in LA and who knows what we can do in the future at other shorter tracks as well.”