Future of the Clash: After three years at the L.A. Coliseum, what might be next?

Like so many Hollywood dreamers, NASCAR headed to Los Angeles two years ago optimistic that it had the goods to leave an imprint. For NASCAR, it was through the idea of building a short track inside the L.A. Memorial Coliseum.

The concept was unheard of in NASCAR’s modern era, a dramatic departure from the usual facilities — purposely-built, closed-circuit ovals and road courses — for NASCAR’s premier Cup Series. Such tracks often are on the outskirts of metropolitan areas, not in the heart of them, and certainly not in the United States’ second-largest city.

Skepticism followed. Could NASCAR successfully pull this off? Could it build a functional quarter-mile track inside the same stadium where the USC Trojans play football?

After two editions of the exhibition Clash at the Coliseum, NASCAR has more than demonstrated it can do so without major issues. This weekend, NASCAR returns to the Coliseum for the third time, fulfilling a three-year agreement (the final two years were option years held by NASCAR) with the University of Southern California, which manages the stadium.

As NASCAR prepares to open its 2024 season on Sunday, two frequently asked questions throughout the industry are whether NASCAR will return for a fourth edition at the Coliseum and, if not, where the Clash will be held next year.

There is no clear answer to either question, though conversations with eight people within the industry offer some indications.

No decision has yet been made, but it is considered unlikely that NASCAR will be back at the Coliseum in 2025. Among industry sources reached by The Athletic, the consensus is that it’s in the sport’s best interest to explore options elsewhere, hopefully in a new market, to maintain the event’s uniqueness.

That NASCAR could be three-and-done at the Coliseum makes sense. After three years of the same spectacle, selling tickets can become more challenging and casual fans may lose interest in watching it on television. Bristol Motor Speedway, for example, this season is ending its three-year experiment of having its spring race take place on dirt rather than its customary concrete surface as the setup received mixed reviews.

Clash at the Coliseum

An overhead shot of the track for Sunday’s Clash at the Coliseum. After three years at the L.A. Coliseum, a change of venue for the event might be coming in 2025. (Kirby Lee / Getty Images)

One complicating factor: If NASCAR moves the Clash outside of Southern California, it would be vacating the Los Angeles market for at least one year. California Speedway in nearby Fontana, 51 miles east of the Coliseum, shut down after its spring 2024 race, and the future of that track is unknown.

Leaving a market the size of Los Angeles is suboptimal, according to one team executive granted anonymity to speak freely about the situation, describing the market as “one sponsors want to be associated with.” But the same executive also said leaving Los Angeles for a short period is not a “deal-breaker,” especially since NASCAR is steadfast that it wants to maintain a heavy presence in Southern California. Pausing for a year or two, then returning for a race somewhere in the area — at the Coliseum, Fontana or elsewhere — would be acceptable because, as the executive said, “it’s not like we race in New York City.”

The Clash will not go away entirely. Just as it’s been since 1979, the exhibition race will continue to be a fixture on the Cup schedule. It’s included in the new media rights deal that takes effect in 2025 as part of the portion Fox Sports is televising — meaning the Clash likely will remain in its current early February slot.

Where then, if not Los Angeles, could the Clash go?

By successfully taking the Clash to the Coliseum, NASCAR has opened the door to new possibilities. Going somewhere where there is a permanent track is no longer a requirement, and a stadium with a large enough field to build a track can now be considered.

As NASCAR determines its next course of action, it has proof of concept to show prospective cities that building a temporary track in a stadium can work. After seeing the success of the Clash at the Coliseum, multiple cities have contacted NASCAR to explore potential opportunities, according to industry sources.

The race would have to be held somewhere warm. Based on the time of the year, any outdoor stadium or track in a cold climate can be ruled out. As the team executive remarked, “Why couldn’t this be NASCAR’s version of the Winter Classic? Let’s move it around to different places, say Dallas, New Orleans, Miami, anywhere, where it would have a big-event feel. How cool would it be to see this in Mexico City?”

NASCAR’s leadership has thought about this, too. Taking the Clash to Mexico City or Guadalajara is on their radar, perhaps as soon as next year, according to industry sources. There are plenty of positives to this possibility: It would create new buzz about the race, similar to 2022 when it debuted in Los Angeles; it would add a new destination NASCAR doesn’t already visit; it would reach new fans; and it would fulfill NASCAR’s publicly stated goal of having at least one international event on its 38-race schedule.

Nothing, though, is finalized. If more ambitious plans don’t materialize, industry sources say, even a return to Daytona International Speedway, where the event was held from 1979-2021, is possible.

In a few years, the Clash has transformed from being a mere appetizer to the Daytona 500, to an entry point into untapped markets in which NASCAR is seeking to establish a foothold. Where that foothold will be come 2025 is still unknown.



NASCAR’s L.A. Coliseum dream: How they built a racetrack on a football field

(Top photo of action from 2023 Clash at the Coliseum: Chris Graythen / Getty Images)

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