Experiencing motorsports in person has always been a tough sell for me. I certainly have a type because I love watching Formula Drift in person, but I will only go to a road course if I’m driving it. When NASCAR decided to pave the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, home to the USC Trojans football team, and put a show on, I knew I had to go and check it out. For diehard racing fans, this might seem obvious, but the quality and fun I had was shockingly good.
It’s been about 15 years since I last attended a NASCAR event in Southern California, and it was at Auto Club Speedway, known as California Speedway when I attended, in Fontana, California. Even to my much younger and impressionable mind, the event wasn’t particularly memorable beyond the sounds of the cars screaming past the grandstands. I don’t even remember seeing the cars on track, which is the primary issue with any large circuit like Auto Club’s two-mile superspeedway. Even when I made visits in the past year for non-NASCAR reasons, cars are visible for just a short portion of track.
By contrast, the absurd temporary track that NASCAR erected for the so-called Busch Light Clash at the L.A. Coliseum is a short quarter of a mile. This track length combined with the Coliseum’s excellent seating arrangement made for possibly the most visible and audible racing event ever.
Then there is the resolute culture clash of hearing those 8,000 rpm V8s echo from the historic football stadium and concert venue bouncing off of the A-12 Blackbird on display in Exposition Park with the L.A. skyline to my back. As I walked with my cabal of motorsport enthusiasts toward the gates, old-fashioned NASCAR fans mixed in with college students looking for a party and Melrose fashion hipsters wearing vintage Jeff Gordon jackets.
More of the same people existed in the grandstands, and the blended crowd offered an interesting experience as races got underway. What struck me most is the sheer volume of the cars in the small stadium and how it rumbled in my chest. Ear protection is mandatory, I’d say.
What made the event so enjoyable, however, was the format and quality of the show-running. There was never too much of a break from the action, the races were kept rolling at all costs, and the track challenged the cars and drivers enough to develop clear competitive patterns and driving styles. Some drivers would aggressively rotate on the throttle from the apex, some would take the inner curbing, others would keep it clean on the normal line, and plenty were struggling to brake effectively into the tight-radius bends.
Best of all, the racing was close and full contact. These drivers, in their brightly colored and highly recognizable cars, bumped and bruised for position, unafraid of using another driver for a gentle brake assist or light door-to-door tapping. As they say, rubbing is racing. I love that.
I also love the folk hero vibe assigned to some of the drivers, decked out in cars and driving suits with so much corporate sponsorship that it feels like a parody. I would be more annoyed if the liveries and color schemes weren’t so pretty and the Next Gen cars weren’t so cool looking.
The service of the show is fully to the fans. Often, motorsports can become a bit infatuated with itself and gatekeep people from watching. What I love about NASCAR is that it does indeed sacrifice elements of “true” motorsport in the name of the show. The yellow flag formation lap rules seemed nonsensical, but it always means drivers are side-by-side in the first few laps of racing.
The mission was understood: Entertain attendees. I was pretty entertained and I walked away with a desire to attend more events, even NASCAR. I haven’t wanted to willingly go to Auto Club Speedway in a decade, and now my friends and I are plotting to make the trek to see the new cars at a superspeedway.
Good work, NASCAR. You converted a stout at-home racing fan. Exhibition events like this can have some magic dust, and the L.A. Coliseum certainly had plenty to go around. Being engrossed in the good old boy vibes then walking out to the bustle of Los Angeles sweetened the deal greatly for me. Bring the show to the fans and not the fans to the show.
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