LOS ANGELES (AP) — The first time Eric Garcetti learned NASCAR was hoping to open the year at the Coliseum one week ahead of the Super Bowl, the Los Angeles Mayor couldn’t grasp the idea.
“I was like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me. Where? Like, outside the Coliseum?’” Garcetti told The Associated Press on Thursday after he’d toured the iconic stadium. “My first thought, it was going to be around the Coliseum. Now when you see it, you realize they pulled off a miracle.”
The Coliseum on Sunday night will host the exhibition Busch Clash Light on a temporary quarter-mile track built over USC’s football field. The idea seemed outrageous when NASCAR first floated the event, maybe even impossible.
The Clash has been held at Daytona International Speedway every year since its 1979 inception, a made-for-TV event considered a tune-up for the season-opening Daytona 500. But Ben Kennedy, the 30-year-old great-grandson of NASCAR’s founder, is now the senior vice president of strategy and innovation, and he’s unafraid to break from the same old way his family has always run the show.
The idea came with a hefty price tag; $1 million was initially budgeted for the project, but NASCAR ultimately spent “significantly more” to stage the two-day event, said Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer.
“It’s been a significant investment by NASCAR,” said Steve O’Donnell. “We made a big bet on this, but we think it’s the right thing to do for the industry. When you look at investments, particularly from our standpoint, we’re going to be bold and aggressive if we feel like that’s a way toward future growth.”
Activity begins Saturday with morning practice and an afternoon qualifying session on the shortest track on the NASCAR schedule. Sunday opens with heat races to set the field along with eliminations that will prevent 13 drivers from advancing to the main event.
Reigning Cup Series champion Kyle Larson is the only driver guaranteed to make the field of 23. The Clash is 150 laps, caution laps won’t count, and Ice Cube will play during a break at the halfway point.
NASCAR is hoping to piggyback on the hoopla surrounding the Super Bowl, scheduled a week from Sunday at Sofi Stadium, less than 10 miles away. The hometown Rams will play for the NFL championship in a whirlwind week of sports for the city.
Los Angeles has continued to see high levels of COVID-19 infections and Garcetti was under scrutiny recently for not wearing a mask at the NFC title game. Under a Los Angeles County health order, masks are required at all times, with limited exceptions, and Clash fans over the the age of 5 will need to provide proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test.
Garcetti noted that the Coliseum will be used for the men’s World Cup tournament in 2026, and the famed facility will be the first to host three Summer Olympics when the Games are in L.A. in 2028.
“Los Angeles is the sports capital of the world, and it really feels like it this week. We can (host) NASCAR one Sunday and have the Super Bowl the next Sunday, all while the NBA and NHL are continuing,” Garcetti said. “We’re preparing for what really will be a golden decade.”