DPC headed west to cover the NASCAR Cup Series Clash at the Coliseum. Part three of his opus is available here.
It’s a little before 2:00 p.m. on Sunday and qualifying will start soon. For the Clash, NASCAR is using heat races for qualifying and despite this being an exhibition race with no points on the line, the drivers aren’t taking it easy. I was initially a bit surprised, but I quickly reminded myself that these stock car drivers didn’t make it to the NASCAR Cup Series by taking it easy. No days off, or mentally checking out if you want to make it an industry where a lot of folks are waiting to take your job as soon as your performance drop offs. You’re only as good as your last race (or in this case qualifying) and the only way to get some measure of goodwill from your employer is to offset an extended stretch of bad driving by an even longer stretch of great driving.
Of course, goodwill and leeway from your employer can go out the window for any driver, regardless of their resume, when on-track performance drops. Ask Kyle Busch about the cold nature of the sport as he lines up with Richard Childress Racing this season after driving for Joe Gibbs Racing for 15-seasons and winning two Cup Series championships during his tenure.
I guess Dick Trickle was right when he said, “You gotta wanna.” Because you don’t make it to the top of your profession without being competitive and having a willingness to push you and your car to extreme limits.
With the heat and last chance qualifying races complete, I began the countdown to the pre-race Cypress Hill concert. Booking Cypress Hill was a strong departure from the usual NASCAR pre-race concerts and it would be the second time I had seen them in the last few years. My previous Cypress Hill show was at San Diego State University and it’s safe to say that I didn’t foresee them performing at a NASCAR race, but the world changes and sports evolve. It may seem trivial that The Clash at The Coliseum featured Cypress Hill as the opening act and Whiz Khalifa on stage at the halftime break, but to attract a diverse fanbase to a sport largely associated with conservative folks from below the Mason-Dixon Line takes a bold strategy. I’m not sure how this NASCAR initiative worked but I enjoyed Cypress Hill’s set and I wasn’t alone.
I made my way back to the press box after watching the concert from the concourse and texted my mom to thank her for supporting me, never giving up on me and helping me chase my dreams. I will always be grateful for my parents’ support because this knucklehead barely graduated from high school, flunked out of junior college (I had to retake a lot of courses to get back in school) before finding my way at the University of Nevada. It was that unwavering support that ultimately helped get to me the Clash at The Coliseum. I owe my folks a lot, and that is a major understatement.
I’ve mentioned it many times before that I am nowhere without support from the people I love. I am not a self-made person. Any success I have garnered over the last few decades was with some form of help. Yes, I was the one writing all those essays in college but I found strength, confidence and motivation from my parents. You don’t want to let your parents down and when I wavered from my goals my mom would give me pep talk that would make Mike Ditka proud. A text message isn’t enough to thank your parents for their support, but it was the best I could do with a NASCAR race about to start.
From my perch in the L.A. Coliseum, I had a splendid view to take in the sights, sounds and overall vibe of the race. The sun was setting behind the Los Angeles skyline and eventually the Olympic torch was lit. It was an image perfectly concocted by glitz, glamour and appropriately the Hollywood sign was still visible in the background.
Having a stock car race produced by Hollywood seemed like a farfetched notion just five-years ago, and yet here we are with the NASCAR Clash at The Coliseum becoming a franchise, not just a stand alone movie without a sequel. I have no idea if the race has long-term possibilities (going by the eyeball test the Coliseum was about 2/3 filled) but I would like to see it continue.
The Clash at The Coliseum was NASCAR’s effort to embrace all motorsport fans and to introduce new ones to stock car racing. To me, inclusion and acceptance are two of the best qualities a person or an institution can have. This seems like a simple notion, but societal norms and outdated traditions tend to exclude those that want to participate, and NASCAR took the proper step to put together a race event for those of us that don’t fill the mold of a stock car fan. Diversity is a great thing and I love seeing it a racetrack.
Unfortunately, the race itself was not too stellar. The Clash at The Coliseum is 150 laps on a .25 mile track for a total of 37.5 miles. On paper it should be a quick race, but 16 caution flags made the night drag on and the race took one-hour and 43-minutes to complete. Martin Truex Jr. won the race, and I was happy for the guy, but the ending was fairly anticlimactic. The disjointed pace of the race wasn’t fun, or maybe I was bitter that Bubba Wallace finished 22nd after an incident with Austin Dillon.
Ultimately though it was a magnificent event. I had a lot of fun and despite the caution flags (I have no patience and a bunch of caution flags tested this shortcoming) I was on the edge of my seat in the press box during the race. Having a great time at a disappointing game in a historic venue reminded me of my trip to the 2008 Rose Bowl. USC was in command from the kickoff and dominated Illinois, 49-17. The game itself was boring and a bummer (I was born in Evergreen Park, Illinois and felt obligated to root for the Illini) but I was sitting in the Rose Bowl and kept thinking of Keith Jackson saying “the granddaddy of them all” during the game. The sights, sounds and overall essence voided out a boring game in Pasadena and I had a similar vibe 15-years later at the L.A. Coliseum.
About an hour after the race ended I left the Coliseum and attempted to get a Lyft. This was no easy task and I found myself waiting on a sidewalk in L.A. for about 30-minutes before I got a ride back to the hotel. Within an hour of being back at the hotel I was sound asleep and by 10:00 am the next morning I was back on the road to Phoenix. I took it slow on the 10 and was back home by 5:00 p.m. It was a whirlwind trip and I am still gathering my thoughts as I write this.
It is the hope of this scribe that the Clash at The Coliseum becomes an annual tradition. Not out of my own selfish wants to cover the race, but because it is a step in the right direction for NASCAR to diversify its audience and branch out towards different venues. The Clash at The Coliseum showed that it’s a good thing to flip the script and embrace change.
The 2023 NASCAR Cup Series continues with the Daytona 500 airing on Fox at 1:00 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, February 19th.