The Superstar Racing Experience, a stock car short track racing series designed by Tony Stewart, made its debut last night at Stafford Motor Speedway. And it was incredible, if only because the broadcast alone showed off what a racing broadcast could be.
If you haven’t heard, SRX was developed as a way to pit iconic racers like Hélio Castroneves and Willy T. Ribbs up against each other in fairly standard cars that focus on the racing, not the rulebook. There are some fairly basic rules: two heats precede the main event, with the finishing order of the first heat inverted to start the second. But it was pretty simple to follow, and it was a lot of fun.
A lot of that came down to the broadcast on CBS. Alan Bestwick and Danica Patrick composed the commentary booth, and the two had a fairly fun rapport. Bestwick has the history and experience while Patrick brought a star name, a sense of humor, and an opportunity to really delve into the structure of the series.
I think the main thing that impressed everyone, though, were the lack of commercial breaks. If there was any on-track racing, the broadcast went side-by-side with commercials, but otherwise, all commercials were squished into between-heat breaks. That’s probably because of the terms of the SRX-CBS deal, which aren’t totally clear. But as my husband put it, the SRX broadcast is filling an empty summer programming slot, and it’s probably paying for the privilege. That makes it a little easier to avoid the obnoxious commercial breaks that seem to plague race broadcasts for series like IndyCar or NASCAR.
On top of that, the short track allowed for easy filming of the 12-car field, including some exceptional drone camera footage. I only recalled one instance where some form of on-track action was missed, and it was when the car the broadcast was riding on board with went into the wall. The broadcast cut away in the middle of the action—but I’ll allow that that may have come down to an effort not to show a potentially dangerous crash from a driver’s perspective until it was clear he was okay. Other than that, you could see all the action, all the fun, and all the interviews.
I think part of the fun comes down to the more philosophical components of SRX, though. Drivers are encouraged to have big, boisterous personalities (though these competing drivers have all generally come from an era where those personalities were encouraged). The cars are stock, yes, but it provides an equal playing field for drivers of different disciplines to compete on equal terms. The short tracks alternate between paved and dirt to provide a more comprehensive overall experience. Crew chiefs switch drivers every weekend to keep everyone on their toes. Cars are selected at random for drivers each week.
And then there’s the so-called “Rocky Balboa car.”
One of the cars each weekend is reserved for a local short-track driver who may not be a superstar but who can take an opportunity to challenge big-name drivers on his or her home turf. At Stafford, the Balboa car was piloted by six-time NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion Doug Coby, who went on to win the second heat and also the main feature. It was a lot of fun to watch—the crowd was stoked, and I think many of the viewers at home were also excited to see it.
Yes, Coby had the benefit of competing on a regular basis at tracks like Stafford whereas the full-time drivers are all either retired or only racing on part-time schedules. But that didn’t really matter, because it was fun. It was wonderful to see a local driver kick some superstar ass—and the broadcast handled it beautifully.