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What It’s Like Lapping the Clash at the Coliseum NASCAR Track

It’s one of those ideas that’s simultaneously brilliant and bonkers. What if you staged an automobile race inside a football stadium? Great views from every seat; tight, aggressive racing; tons of race traffic mixing it up. It would be quite a spectacle. NASCAR went and did it in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum last year, and it’s doing so again this weekend. Now, imagine what it would be like from inside the cars. We got a ride in the pace car to find out.

A Different Type of Venue

From a spectator’s standpoint in the stands, a football stadium can look absolutely massive, and the field itself seems huge when you see people simply standing on it. Fill it with barricades and Safer Barriers and race cars, though, and it gets real small, real quick. The track itself is just a quarter mile around, paved right over the top of the grass (with a few protective layers in between), and it’s just three lanes wide with a bit of a shoulder on the inside and only the slightest hint of banking. Talladega, this ain’t.

Less than an eighth of a mile end to end, it doesn’t look any bigger from inside the pace car, a Chevrolet Camaro SS upfitted with racing brake pads. NASCAR Cup Series driver Corey LaJoie nails the throttle out of the track entrance (really just a gap in the barricades at the entrance tunnel), but he’s only on the gas for three to four seconds before we’re already at the shutdown markers and he’s braking to turn us into the first corner.

Clipping the apex at the inside of the oval, he’s hard on the throttle for another three to four seconds until we’re down the back “straight” and braking for the second turn, and just like that, we’ve already completed a lap. At full race pace, a single lap takes as little as 13.4 seconds.

Not So Fast

LaJoie barely hits freeway speeds before he must brake, and even still, he’s not far off the race pace. Last year, the polesitter averaged 66 mph over 10 laps. With all the race traffic and breaks in the action, the average speed on race day was down to just 39 mph. There just isn’t room to go faster, even on an empty track like today. The “straights” are too short and the two 180-degree turns are too tight.

We put “straights” in quotation marks because they’re not actually straight. Unlike other NASCAR ovals, there isn’t a single straight section of track inside the L.A. Coliseum. The driver is always turning left, either slightly so on the longer sections or sharply for the corners at either end.

On a typical oval, you’d also divide the corners up into four, not two, especially somewhere like Indianapolis Motor Speedway where there’s straighter short-chute sections between the corners at either end of the oval. Here, the corners are too tight and too short to bother. And again, you’re never not turning, so it’s all semantics, anyway.

From the passenger seat on an empty track, it doesn’t seem so bad. You’re not going that fast and there’s plenty of room to take a good racing line down to the inside of the track in the corners and back out to the barriers on the straights.

Make No Mistake

More than anything, consistency is the key to driving this track because there’s little margin for error. You’re always turning, getting on and off the throttle and the brakes constantly, and always mindful of pushing too hard and running out of room quickly and tagging the wall—and that’s just when riding around an empty track in a street-legal pace car.

Then you imagine what it would be like with two dozen other cars on the track with you, all of them trying to overtake as quickly as possible to make up positions in the short 25-lap heat races leading up to the 150-lap main event.

At first, everyone’s running two-wide, so passing requires going three-wide during the few seconds you’re on one of the “straights” before forcing your way back in line to make the corner. Then doing it again, over and over, while defending against everyone else trying to do the same to you. It sounds like organized chaos, and it is.

Trying Your Patience

If there are no crashes, the field will begin to spread out and you’ll get cars running single file, at which point it becomes a constant battle of the following cars attempting to divebomb the leading cars into the corners. If it goes on long enough, the race leaders will quickly catch up to the back of the pack and have no choice but to start battling the last place cars to overtake and maintain their lead. Organized. Chaos.

We’ve been around plenty of superspeedway ovals, and it’s an entirely different perspective driving on this tiny football-field track. Sure, you’re trying to take the tiny little racing line, but there’s so much going on, so many overtakes to make, and so many lunges to defend, it’s hard to imagine having much of a strategy beyond every driver for themselves.

NASCAR’s 2023 Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum begins at 2 p.m. PST on Sunday, February 5, with a series of four qualifying-heat races followed by two last-chance qualifying races. The main event begins at 5 p.m. PST. You can watch it live on Fox.

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