Clash at the Coliseum: Watching NASCAR in Los Angeles

View of the temporary track at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for NASCAR's Clash at the Coliseum

If you heard or saw ads for NASCAR’s Clash at the Coliseum, you may have had this thought: 

Cars? Inside a football stadium?

It’s the same thought that intrigued me, so much so that I decided to check out the second edition of the Clash, held at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on a lovely weekend in February.

First off, a few disclaimers: I’m not really a NASCAR fan. But I do like fast cars. And yes, I’m one of those people who got sucked into following F1 because of Netflix’s “Drive to Survive.”

I’m not a NASCAR newbie, though — I once covered the races in Delaware at the signature Monster Mile as a reporter in another life. The idea of watching these cars tool around a very tiny track was intriguing. I mean, those turns are basically U-turns. I knew it could be kinda fun.

And so I brought an actual race fan — my brother, who also happens to know a thing or two about aerodynamics because he’s a rocket engineer.

The pre-race buildup at the Clash

If you’ve ever been to the Coliseum for a USC football game, you’ll be pleased to know that the logistics of going to the NASCAR Clash are pretty similar, but with slightly smaller crowds. The Clash was a two-day event, with qualifying on Saturday, and several heats of racing plus the main event on Sunday. There was a fan fest on the grounds both days. I went on the Sunday only.

There’s a ton of construction at Exposition Park these days, what with the California Science Center expansion and the giant Millenium Falcon (aka the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art) going up next to the Coliseum. So some of the usual walkways into the Coliseum are cordoned off, but there’s plenty of signage so you can get around.

Again, a lot of the logistics were like going to a game day — transit is still recommended because parking is even more of a pain in the neck than it usually is because of construction. Also, it’s expensive. Pay your $1.75 and get out at the Expo/USC station on the Expo line, and take a nice stroll past the Rose Garden. 

The crowds were a lot smaller, but there were still plenty of NASCAR fans around. Part of the fun of attending the Clash at the Coliseum was seeing people wearing vintage racing jackets, especially the ones that still have “Winston Cup” patches from a bygone NASCAR era. It was a neat mix of people.

There were definitely a bunch of USC students too, probably drawn in by the $40 “student section” tickets under the peristyle, or maybe they came to see Wiz Khalifa.

As mentioned, there is a Fan Fest, but it does require a ticket to enter. Essentially, you go through the Coliseum gates and then have your run of the place. The Fan Fest was split into two areas — one section on the Coliseum front lawn (across from the iconic torch) and one section near Gate 23, which is across from the Natural History Museum, and a major entry gate for those coming from the Exposition Boulevard side of the grounds. 

There were distinctly different flavors to both sides of the Fan Fest. The Coliseum lawn is where the more fan-oriented stuff is: Q&As, scanner rental, swag. There were also some cars on display, actual stock cars, with the usual people gawking and taking pictures.

That was really neat to get up close and wonder how people manage to squeeze in and out of the windows of those things.

Display car at the NASCAR Clash at the Coliseum in Los Angeles

The other fan fest was where all the race team merchandise was, plus a stage where some local dance troupes were performing. The neat thing about the other side of the fan fest was that this one had a temporary overhead walkway built above the street so you didn’t have to leave the Coliseum grounds to go what’s essentially the front lawn of the Natural History Museum.

Traffic flow was orderly, and there were lots of people to direct fans. The walkway consists on temporary stairs and what’s essentially a giant shipping container, so I’m also sure they wanted to make sure not too many people were up there at once. But it was neat construction and quite frankly something they should consider doing for football games. 

Besides the fan fest areas, the food stands and food trucks are much the same as what you’d see for football games. There were plenty of people walking around with the Cathy’s Cookies buckets, and all the Coliseum concessions were open.

It’s still $16-18 for a beer, so expect to empty your pockets quite a bit even if you wanted some of that sponsor Busch Light beer (which of course we partook in). There was a Busch booth on the Coliseum lawn that offered Busch Light for $4, but we unfortunately didn’t take advantage of that!

A fan holds up a Busch beer can with the race track at the Clash at the Coliseum in the background

Watching the cars in action

We actually got to the grounds about an hour before the first heat of the day (about 1 p.m.) and it was plenty of time to grab food and wander around. Definitely a very different experience than a football game! We actually managed to grab our cookies just as we heard the first engines rev up for the first heat and got to our seats in time to see the cars to their thing.

Our seats were on the north side of the Coliseum, opposite the press box. The view was nice, but because it was mid-afternoon, it also meant you were seated in full sun. This wasn’t too bad since it was February and not say, a broiling September Saturday, but it was still hot after a while. 

We were seated in what’s usually the football student section, in the middle level. It would probably be around the 20 or 30-yard line if you need a football reference. Tickets were about $90-100 for this section and the sight lines were nice.

You had a nice bird’s-eye view — there honestly isn’t a bad seat in the house for something like this. You still got plenty of burned rubber smell and a good view of all the action and of course, the vroom-vroom-vroom of the cars is unmistakable. It’s actually not as loud as you might think it is inside such a confined space, but it’s still loud, especially after say, 50 laps.

The track itself is a sight to behold. It’s a quarter-mile, basically a very flat donut. It’s neat to think about what it took to build said track inside the Coliseum — it’s fully paved and lined, and the cars drive into it from the tunnel where the football players usually come out. The Clash at the Coliseum might seem like a novelty event, but they’ve got all the safety barriers and fencing too, just like you’d see at any NASCAR track. It’s like seeing a track in miniature, except the cars are still full size!

What’s also neat about this experience is that they can’t have full pits in the infield because of how small the space is. So you get to see all the piles of tires out in the open and all the teams trying to fix the cars during the mid-race break.

You’ll also see them trying to push retired cars off to one side, which is also pretty funny. (Kinda sucks that you can’t stalk off to your paddock and hide like you usually can in the middle of a race since you’re basically trapped in infield until the whole thing finishes.)

The racing itself is pretty fun, even if you’re not a hardcore racing fan. We were there for all four pre-race heats, plus the last-chance qualifying heats.

I definitely recommend you stick around for all the racing, not just show up for the main event. The heats go by fast — it’s only 25 laps, and as you can imagine, it doesn’t take that long for these guys to whip around a quarter-mile track. But it really does give you a feel for what the main event will be like, and there was plenty of bump-and-pass happening to keep the folks entertained. 

I think watching the Clash at the Coliseum also gives you a real appreciation of the driving it takes to succeed, especially if you’re one of those folks who’s like, “but it’s all just left turns in NASCAR!” Because it’s such a tiny track, they’re obviously not going super fast (which probably accounts for the fact that cars aren’t as loud as they usually are).

But it’s fun to see them slingshot through the straights into the turns and bunch up and try not to get spun out, or to see the occasional drive go way too wide in the turn and suddenly lose like, eight spaces. Close-quarter racing can feel repetitive but it’s actually pretty fun. 

The other sight to behold, that you really get to see up close at an event like this, is the reflexes and skill of these drivers. Because they’re not going as fast and because the quarters are so close, you’re not going to get a lot of those spectacular wrecks you’ll see in other races.

But people still spin out, especially in the turns, and it’s wild to see the driver suddenly arrest his spin mid-track and everyone else try to get out of the way when they’ve got a tiny sliver of space to maneuver around him. Then it’s kinda neat to see the guy who spun out look for a break in traffic and just fishtail his car so he’s facing the right direction and just casually join everyone driving around the track during the caution. I mean, I wish I could casually turn around like that without needing to do a five-point turn.

Fireworks go off behind the peristyle at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum

How the Clash was set up for fans

The Clash at the Coliseum race itself was split into two 75-lap sessions, with NASCAR bringing Wiz Khalifa in to perform in between. The first half had a little more pace and flow, while the second half was definitely full of accidents and a little more choppy. Still some good racing at the end.

Martin Truex Jr. won the whole thing, and instead of doing the traditional donuts on the track — there was most definitely not enough space for him to do that! — he basically did a burnout around half the track. That was definitely fun to see and a good capper to a fun night and a good experience overall.

If you were able to somehow snag student section tickets — all it required was a .edu address, so if you know a USC student, you could probably get in for cheap.

But do know that sitting in the peristyle section means sitting on concrete risers with no back support. I’d probably just shell out extra money for regular seats since there isn’t a bad seat in the house. Get a seat on the press box side if you come early and want to get out of the sun.

If you sit in the lower section, do note that they tarp off the first 15 of so rows, so if your ticket happens to say Row 18 or something like that, you’re actually really close to the action. I personally liked my mid-level seats just fine, but if you prefer to get close to the action, go for it! 

You can rent scanners for the day, and I’d say it’s probably not a bad idea to do this if you’re so inclined. It’s really difficult to hear the track announcers during the race itself, and I admittedly am used to watching races on TV with some kind of commentary and chatter. Also, it’s kinda fun to listen to radio traffic and the spotters. I didn’t rent a scanner but I would definitely consider it next time.

If you’re a hardcore racing fan, it’s still a good time. You might even want to shell out extra for some of the track experiences, which include being able to do a walkthrough of the track itself. That actually would have been pretty neat, but I didn’t want to shell out that kind of money.

It’s not clear if NASCAR will hold the Clash at the Coliseum in the future, but if it does, definitely check it out. It’s a unique experience. Is it worth it to see cars zoom around a football stadium? The answer is yes!

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