24 Nov 2021 | 08:47
While race fans far and wide have always been drawn to the sound and sight of fast and cutting-edge cars, what took auto racing from an automotive technology showcase to a true spectator sport with mass appeal was the character of the men behind the wheel — Whether they were gentlemen racers to be admired, or the sort of rebellious, ornery, hell-raising ass-kickers that shaped the image of “racers” and made fans either cheer or boo them.
The draw of larger than life characters is something that promoters have long relied upon to sell tickets and stage races, and the new Superstar Racing Experience is no different. The Camping World SRX Series, which begins Saturday night on CBS and Paramount+ from Stafford Motor Speedway in Connecticut, is comprised of some of the most iconic drivers in North American auto racing over the past 40 years.
The group of characters featured in SRX is headlined by none other than NASCAR Hall of Famer Tony Stewart, a racing icon who is continuing his legacy as the co-founder of SRX. As a promoter, Stewart knows full well the value of personality in racing, and his new series offers that very element in spades.
“What’s great about SRX is that you have personalities — you’ve got Paul Tracy, myself, Willy T. Ribbs. You’ve got guys like Bill Elliott, Bobby Labonte, Michael Waltrip. I don’t know how you get much more in the personality category than that,” Stewart said. “You’ll see the personalities we all have. You think of guys like Rick Mears, you saw his personality. And AJ Foyt driving IndyCars. You saw Dale [Earnhardt] Sr. and Rusty Wallace’s personalities in stockcars.
“You see the personalities in their driving styles, and I think that’s going to show up really well.”
The SRX Series has taken that collection of personalities and is sending them to some of the most iconic speedways in all of American grassroots racing. The six-race schedule presents a collection of famous asphalt and dirt short tracks alike, beginning at Stafford before the series moves to Knoxville Raceway, Eldora Speedway, Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis, Slinger Speedway, and the historic Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway.
Such racetracks have almost as much characters as the drivers themselves, largely thanks to the famous races they hold: The Knoxville Nationals, The Kings Royal at Eldora, the Slinger Nationals, and the All-American 400 at Nashville among them. And these sorts of tracks have also served as the starting points from where many racing legends have spawned.
“What we wanted to do was find historic tracks that have not just a difficulty factor, but really a great following, a great DNA in motorsports,” said Ray Evernham, a NASCAR Hall of Fame crew chief and the co-founder of SRX alongside Stewart. “If you look at Stafford Springs, Connecticut, and the open-wheel modified division there, it has sent many people up the ladder to stock car racing, like the Bodines, the Bouchards, Richie Evans, people like that. And then people like the Andrettis and Gordon Johncock, guys that have gone off to Indy.”
The field of drivers for SRX requires little introduction, as the names in the series are instantly recognizable and come armed with remarkable careers: Stewart, Elliott, Labonte, and Waltrip are among those from the NASCAR ranks. IndyCar greats like Helio Castroneves, Tony Kanaan, and Paul Tracy are also in the mix.
But in racing, there are superstars whose racing legends are contained to a certain region. And knowing that, SRX is giving several local racing heroes their chance to step into the national spotlight and put their mastery of certain circuits to the test against the series regulars. That begins at Stafford this weekend, when Connecticut racing great and six-time NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion Doug Coby competes in SRX’s opening race.
“You talk about grassroots, short-track racing, and those people have a fantasy of getting up to the big leagues — the big game, if you will. The Daytona, the Indianapolis, the things like that,” explained Evernham. “Well, not only are we taking the big show to the fans, we’re giving them an opportunity to participate. We’re not just taking our superstar drivers there, we’re giving their superstar driver, their local driver, a chance to compete.”
With the close-quarters nature of the tracks they’re racing on, and the willingness of the drivers have always shown to push their cars to their limit, Stewart set expectations that SRX will be a series where paint is traded and feathers are ruffled — “it’s very unrealistic that we’re not going to tear some body panels up in the process,” he said. And with an all-star team of broadcasters and a variety of cameras, ranging from onboards to drone shots, CBS Sports is set to present SRX in a way befitting of a new auto racing concept.
“What you’re going to see is access like you’ve never seen before,” said CBS Sports SRX Producer Pam Miller. “We’re going to be in the cockpits of the cars. We’re going to be showing the drivers’ personalities behind the wheel and also away from the track. There’s going to be some views from the car that people haven’t seen before.
“We have two onboard cameras in every car, and also drone action. We’ll be having a drone that will have full access. I think the race fans are going to see personality and also some great racing with some new angles for television they haven’t seen.”
The Camping World SRX Series begins June 12 at 8 p.m. ET, with live broadcast coverage on the CBS Television Network and streaming live on Paramount+. CBS will carry the entire six-race SRX schedule, with each event featuring two 15-minute heat races before a 100 lap feature (Except at Slinger Speedway, where the feature will be 150 laps). Points earned in both heats and the feature will count toward the season-ending championship.