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NASCAR Cup stock cars raced in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for the first time on February 5-6. A temporary asphalt quarter-mile oval was placed atop the running track that circles the former NFL and current USC Trojans football field. Pits were on the covered infield grass. A large Sunday crowd, estimated at 50 to 55,000 by experienced news sources, attended the NASCAR Busch Clash inside the historic Coliseum. Seating charts currently show 77,500 seats in the stadium that was built in 1923 and hosted Olympic Games in 1932 and 1984.
Spectators witnessed racing from noon to 5:00 pm. Admission prices were higher than many were prepared to pay. NASCAR surveys estimated that 70% of spectators had never attended a NASCAR race. Racing fans and the merely curious had a viable option in Fox-Television, which televised the NASCAR Coliseum event live nationally for six hours (11 am to 5 pm PT). TV reported drivers competed for close to two million dollars.
Fox brought knowledgeable broadcasters. Host Chris Myers, analysts Larry McReynolds and Jamie McMurray were on air to explain everything. Racing announcer Mike Joy was in the TV booth along with analysts Clint Bowyer and owner/driver Tony Stewart. Pit reporters Jamie Little and Regan Smith were in the infield to cover action there before, during and after the race. Also in Los Angeles were hosts Adam Alexander and Shannon Spake, plus driver Michael Waltrip.
Fox carried a pre-race show for the first hour. Then at noon the first of four 25-lap qualifying races with nine of 36 entrants in each race aired. First four finishers in each heat advanced to the 150-lap main event. P 5-9 went to two 50-lap last chance qualifiers that transferred the top three finishers in each LCQ to the feature. The highest ranked driver in 2021 championship points who did not race into the feature was allowed to start last. Thirteen drivers were finished racing for the day.
Winners of the first six races were interviewed in the infield and related interesting observations about the competition. Pre-race and a lap 75 racing intermission had six minute mini-concerts at the peristyle end of the Coliseum by rappers Pitbull and Ice Cube. Fox also aired both and showed persons dancing in the grandstand.
What did TV viewers at home watch that in-person spectators at the Coliseum did not? They were informed verbally and with professional graphics what racing would follow. They received interviews with many drivers and crew chiefs. They also saw replays of crashes and the frequent fender-bending, bumping and pushing to pass competitors. Camera views from in-car cameras gave fans a drivers eye view and bumper-camera shots were amazing.
Television viewers also could enjoy interviews in the Fox TV booth with retired NASCAR driving champion Jeff Gordon and country music star Blake Shelton, who predicted reigning champion Kyle Larson would win the 150. Viewers also learned that Chase Elliott ran the fastest lap during Saturday practice at 13.45 (66.89 mph). Periodically TV cameras showed the LA skyline, towering downtown skyscrapers, and snow-capped mountains.
Hand-held TV cameras were at the top of the peristyle end of the Coliseum and showed each of the grand marshals as they were introduced. They were Jeff Gordon, Matt Leinert, Reggie Bush, Jim Abbott, Eric Dickerson, Greg Townsend, Misty May Trainor, Dave Roberts, and Kareem Abdul Jabbar. A camera alongside Gordon showed him holding the Olympic torch and symbolically lighting the Coliseum Olympic torch. The TV camera also showed the grand marshals utter the traditional racing command, “Drivers start your engines”.
Television viewers also received an up-close and personal view of the 23 feature race driver introductions. Hand-held TV cameras showed front, back and side views of each driver when introduced individually at the peristyle end. Kyle Larson received the loudest cheers.They followed each driver as he walked down the stairs to the track while shaking hands with fans. Daniel Suarez wore a large sombrero to appeal to Mexican fans. Pre-race in-car conversations on air with selected drivers were informative.
The race started at 3:35 PT and was remarkably racy with two-wide dicing and passing primarily on the inside. It was caution-free for 30 laps before TV aired its first commercial. A camera-equipped drone gave viewers a birds-eye view of competition. In-car cameras gave fans the drivers' perspective. Announcer Joy informed viewers on lap 10 the leader had run laps of 13.64 and 13.65 that were faster than any of 36 drivers had qualified. The time trial record set by Kyle Busch was 13.745 (65.478 mph). The 36th fastest qualifier Saturday ran 14.532 (61.932 mph).
TV cameras showed the first driver lapped--Bubba Wallace. After the first caution flag, an analyst explained why arrows were painted on the front straight pavement. They allowed each driver to choose the inside or outside lane for the ensuing double-file restart. Booth analysts gave important racing information such as: only green flag laps count, race strategy, lapping techniques, tire air pressures equalizing after 30 laps, and cautions breeding cautions, Fox gave important race data such as how many cars were on the lead lap. They explained why a car was able to pass the pace car under caution because the first car a lap down rejoins the lead lap.
Infield reporters interviewed drivers who exited the race about the cause for their exit as soon as they stepped from their cars. They also interviewed drivers (Aric Almirola,Alex Bowman, and Ryan Blaney) who cited another driver after an on-track incident. At the half-time break they reported on tire wear, crew chief concerns and strategy, and gave reasons for all driver dropouts. Spectators at the race had large Coliseum video screens, but they did not hear important audio information. Viewers at home also did not have to endure engine noise and exhaust fumes in the bowl-like stadium.
TV captured the lead changes among three drivers--Kyle Busch, Tyler Reddick and the final leader Joey Logano. It caught Logano's lap 116 pass of Busch by his bump in turn four and inside pass entering turn one. Cameras caught Busch closing in during the final ten laps, but he trailed by three lengths at the finish. The drone camera showed Logano's celebratory smoking “ donuts” at the finish line and climb onto the roof of his Ford.
Fox reported 18 of 23 starters finished with 14 on the lead lap. Fox reporter Little joined Logano promptly and interviewed him at start/finish. She and TV viewers captured his spontaneous positive thoughts about the race. Fox cameras then followed Logano and his crew as they climbed the peristyle stairs to accept his unique Coliseum Peristyle trophy under the still burning Olympic torch atop the Coliseum. Thanks to Fox TV, viewers at home felt as though we were present in the Coliseum to witness this historic first race in person. With a two-year option by NASCAR to run this event, look for the second annual NASCAR Busch Clash Coliseum race in 2023.