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Both Formula 1 and NASCAR debuted ambitious races this year. Both series built their spectacles on hallowed ground, too: an American football stadium. NASCAR converted the Los Angeles Coliseum into a quarter-mile short track. The preseason race chased crowds where NASCAR has rarely gone, in the heart of one of our country’s largest cities. F1 took a different approach. It built a campus for expensive luxury experiences around Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, more than a half hour from Miami’s city center. Looking at either race, you see exactly where each series dreams of being in ten years.
NASCAR’s chasing growth. The series has been trying to break into Los Angeles for most of its history, often through races at inland empire tracks Riverside and Fontana, with little lasting success. IndyCar has long since broken into that market with its street race in Long Beach, by taking racing where the fans actually live, making the spectacle unavoidable and accessible. NASCAR replicated IndyCar’s strategy, but also dug into its own archives (remember when it raced in Soldier Field?). The result was an instant hit, a high watermark for excitement around the Next Gen car which NASCAR launched that weekend.
F1, by contrast, used its race in Miami to take advantage of a successful growth strategy already in place, led by Drive to Survive, which has already created massive American interest in the sport. The series leveraged existing buzz; F1 knew it could create a headline event anywhere in the country. They chose the Hard Rock Stadium campus at Miami Gardens. Against the wishes of some members of that community, a semi-permanent track was built into the parking lot around the stadium. The track’s construction allowed the walls, grandstands, and event activations to be torn down and rebuilt before every race weekend. The resulting Autodrome is a luxury product of its own, a more limited experience than Austin’s COTA, with a wide variety of upscale options aimed at wealthy fans and corporate clients.
Both events were successful. More than that, both were successful blueprints. For NASCAR, that means potential dates in other stadiums around the country (and maybe even the world) as a way to bring stock car racing to cities without existing ovals or quick access to racing venues. For F1, it means we’ll see more events like the upcoming Las Vegas Grand Prix, where Liberty (F1’s promoter) will see if the US can stomach a third GP in the same season. But despite how different these events were, iterating on that success carries risk.
Even after the triumph of the race in LA, NASCAR still does not actually have a permanent foothold in the city. The expected 2023 event is not yet confirmed, even if it seems incredibly likely to continue. A race at Fontana, the former home of NASCAR in Southern California, more than an hour from the Coliseum, drew a better crowd than usual a month after the race. But it didn’t sell out. Even if that foothold does get established in Los Angeles, holding a permanent race at the Coliseum raises the question: What is actual goal is here? The Coliseum was an outreach event, paid for out of NASCAR’s own pocket, rather than a pilot program. If the race stays, it cannot help the sport grow in other cities. If it moves, that foothold in Los Angeles might fade away. If NASCAR tries to have its cake and eat it too, by hosting more novelty events without closing the Coliseum race, it could kill both.
The same is true of Las Vegas and Miami. Right now, Miami and Monaco create two pillars of the F1-as-luxury experience. Until now, Monaco has served as the pinnacle of that type of F1 race, a global source of the sport’s magnetic glamor. Miami brought some of that appeal to another city, then served it shaken and with an American twist. Las Vegas, however, carries the same appeals to (mostly) the same customers, in the same country. Can Miami still feel special if Las Vegas is competing against it? If Miami isn’t special anymore, what good are all of those kitschy American gimmicks? Once this is no longer the newest thing on the American F1 calendar, who’s buying those five figure suite and experience passes?
It’s a variant of the same question. Both series successfully revitalized their schedules with a strong dose of good old American spectacle. But in doing so, NASCAR and F1 proved their own worst enemies. On the ground, both races felt special in a way the average auto race does not. But that was accomplished by expensive activations and star power (Pitbull performed at the NASCAR race! Pitbull!). Can either series afford to keep either event feeling special, let alone to replicate that success?
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