They’re calling it Superstar Saturday Night on CBS.
There will be a stock car race Saturday night, live on over-the-air CBS from Stafford Motor Speedway in Connecticut, featuring Tony Stewart, Greg Biffle, Tony Kanaan, Marco Andretti, Paul Tracy, Willy T. Ribbs, Bill Elliott and reigning Indianapolis 500 winner Hélio Castroneves.
For good measure, the series will take a local legend from each venue and pit them against the national legends to create a sort of Rocky Balboa dynamic.
If that doesn’t sound like an experiment of epic proportions, what else in motorsports does?
Ultimately, Superstar Racing Experience is about fun, and that’s what co-founders Stewart, Ray Evernham, former NASCAR executive George Pyne and television executive Sandy Montag intend to deliver over the next six weeks.
It’s IROC with a grassroots twist.
SRX essentially takes a dozen of the most iconic names in modern day motorsports and places them in identically prepared cars to race across six of the most venerable dirt tracks and pavement bullrings in the United States.
For CBS, the mini-series is a low commitment, high-ceiling live sporting event that fills the network television void that is Saturday nights — while also providing another IP for its Paramount+ streaming platform.
“Streaming is a huge priority of this company,” says CBS sports chairman Sean McManus. “Paramount+ is growing substantially every month and to have really good content that skews towards a younger and more diverse audience is what we’re striving for.
“So, this series fits in the wheelhouse for both streaming and CBS prime time … It’s a great vehicle for us from a subscription standpoint and I think it’s going to drive viewers to our network.”
WHAT’S THE POINT?
In addition to giving CBS Saturday night sporting content for six consecutive weeks during the summer, Superstar Racing Experience also intends to deliver on several philosophical motorsport concepts.
What if there was a racing series with big personalities that wasn’t stifled by corporate sponsorship with cars that were identically prepared to emphasize driving talent on some of the most action-packed tracks in America.
The ever-outspoken Paul Tracy said modern motorsports lacked showmen who entertained both on the track and then off it — a reputation the Canadian established during his IndyCar tenure in the 90s and 2000s.
“One of the things that’s lost guys in today’s motorsports is the personality, and guys like Willy and myself, Tommy Kendall, who delivered a show on and off the racetrack,” Tracy said. “I think things are pretty sterile.
“This group that we have assembled with SRX and Tony, there’s a lot of personalities and a lot of guys who like to get into conflicts so that’s going to create a lot of excitement.”
Stewart endorses that argument.
“I agree with Paul a thousand percent,” Stewart said. “That’s what motorsports is lacking. It has gotten so good under the thumb of corporate America, where you have to do the right thing and say the right thing.
“This is what’s great about SRX. You have personalities. You have Paul, myself, Willy T., Bill Elliott, Bobby Labonte and Michael Waltrip. I don’t how you get more personality than that.
“But then you get these guys in equal cars, and that’s going to be a lot of fun. The personalities are going to come out and (CBS) is going to tell these stories. That’s going to create a ton of excitement, mark my words.”
This initial slate of tracks was carefully selected as representing the most action packed and prestigious grassroot events in the country — Stafford, Knoxville Raceway, Eldora Speedway, Lucas Oil Raceway, Slinger Speedway and Nashville Fairgrounds.
The creators want door-slamming and fender banging short track excitement.
“I think with personalities that we have, it’s very unrealistic to expect to not tear someone’s panels up in the process, especially on short tracks,” Stewart said. “Even the best short trackers in the world, the guys who do this every Saturday night tear cars up. It’s unrealistic to think that we’re going to have 12 cars finish the race the way they started.”
But the cars are also selected at random each week, meaning that a driver could end up behind the wheel of a car he destroyed the week before, so that’s part of the calculus too.
“I don’t think it’s going to be a demo derby either,” Stewart said. “I think everybody understands that we have to put on a good product as well. … I think the guys are going to race hard, but race with a lot of respect, too.”
WHAT IF ROCKY BALBOA WINS?
Over the next six weeks, the 10 full-time drivers will have to compete against a local legend representing that week’s home turf.
At Stafford, the legends will have six-time NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion Doug Coby awaiting them, a future Hall of Famer himself. At Knoxville Raceway, the Rocky Balboa car will be driven by two-time 410 Sprint Car champion Brian Brown.
The winner of the Slinger Nationals Super Late Model race will earn entry into the SRX Race at Slinger. USAC ace Kody Swanson and open-wheel standout Bobby Santos III will represent the weekend warriors at Lucas Oil Raceway and Eldora Speedway respectively.
Would it be a bad thing if the younger short track superstars upstage the aging veterans on national television?
“From the CBS standpoint I think that’s a great story,” McManus said. “That’s Rocky Balboa if that turns out to be the story and some of the great legends in the history of motor racing are being bested by the local hero. That’s a pretty darned good story.”
Kanaan agrees with that sentiment, too.
“I love that they’re giving the opportunity to local guys to race against us and those guys will probably beat us because it’s just the nature of the thing,” said the 2013 Indianapolis 500 winner.
Evernham says that’s part of the point of Superstar Racing Experience — building superstars who can make the case they should be racing at Daytona and Indianapolis right now.
CBS will also tell their stories and where fans can watch them race after SRX ends that week.
“We wanted to add to the drama and excitement SRX will bring fans by adding a Rocky Balboa or Cinderella story to each week’s race,” Evernham said. “Our amateur all-stars will have the opportunity to prove they’re more than just the hero at their home track – that they, in fact, have what it takes to get up on the wheel against the best in the world.”
Coby, 41, was selected for Stafford because it’s his home track and the genesis of his own legend.
The Milford, Connecticut native has 30 career wins in the NASCAR Modified Tour and 12 have come at Stafford Springs. He also has 30 overall wins at Stafford in SK Modifieds, Late Models and Pro Stocks. He has two weekly championships at the half-mile, one in Late Models and the other in Pro Stocks.
Coby is Stafford.
“I’m in a video game.. And I think that’s pretty cool,” Coby said. “This is a big deal for the short-track industry, for the tracks and drivers to be featured… that’s why I wanted to be part of this. It will be a fun, but challenging experience. …
“The fact that SRX could have gone in any direction and they chose to stick to short-tracks and getting millions of eyes on these facilities. … It’s cool. Hopefully this produces more attendance and social media following for other events. It’s good for the business. We have to find a good balance to keep the short-tracks alive and this is injecting a lot of life into Stafford and other tracks.”
WHAT WILL MAKE SRX SUCCESSFUL?
For starters, a successful opening weekend for Superstar Racing Experience comes down to the forecast on Saturday night, which looks delightful.
“We currently have a forecast of 68 degrees and zero percent chance of rain,” Montag said. “So, if that holds up, it’s a success.”
Beyond that, Stafford is already sold out of tickets, and the other venues are expected to come close to sell-outs. Superstar Racing Experience is already a success. A month ahead of the debut event, Camping World signed on as entitlement sponsor for the full six-race slate.
McManus and Montag say CBS has already received positive engagement from its advertisers. Everyone is convinced the first race will draw a large television number too.
“We know CBS does well in prime time,” Montag said. “It’s America’s most watched network. We know we’re going to do reasonably well there.”
The series already has a video game and it has a lengthy list of official partners. In short, the series is doing good business before its first green flag lap.
The nature of the spec car racing platform is that R&D will not escalate costs out of control as has been the case in NASCAR over the past two decades. SRX owns all the cars and no one is spending to make them faster.
The company has to pay the drivers, crew chiefs and officials, but everything else is consistent.
“The concept from a business standpoint is that the car, while proprietary, is very favorable,” Pyne said. “So, having everything under a single entity allows us to deliver a great product with great drivers on network television.
“The primary revenue stream is sponsorship. We’re very pleased with the video game … The game by the way is a total hit and it’s a hard game to play if you’re a gamer. The game plays with our partnerships. So, I think financially, we have a very interesting model that’s primarily sponsorship driver, some licensing, some track revenues, but it’s our cost structure that gives us long term viability.”
SRX and CBS have a multi-year agreement too, so assuming the television and streaming ratings deliver, it’s a safe bet that IROC with a grassroots twist is here to stay.
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