Superstar Racing Experience
Bubba Pollard Racing for the Super Late Model Community at SRX
Jun 17, 2022
The inaugural Superstar Racing Experience season averaged just over a million viewers across six consecutive weeks on CBS Prime Time with a format that was effectively the International Race Of Champions but with legends on short and dirt tracks across the United States.
It worked, but how does Tony Stewart, the Montag Group and new CEO Donald Hawk plan to transform a novelty act into an annual summer fixture?
For one, Stewart has returned to defend his season one championship but will once again be joined by universal nemesis Paul Tracy and comedic element Michael Waltrip -- all important factors for a television show that attempts to provide a little bit of everything to everyone.
That sort of diversity is reflected in the cast of characters racing over the next six weeks with NASCAR veterans Ryan Newman, Bobby Labonte and Greg Biffle. They’re joined by IndyCar vets Tracy, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti.
Part-time entrants include Hélio Castroneves, Matt Kenseth, Bill Elliott and Tony Kanaan. Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney are set for a one-off appearance at the season finale at Dave Blaney’s Sharon Speedway in Ohio alongside the boss himself.
But the question then becomes, after that successful first campaign, do people want to run it back? And what can the leadership group that includes Hawk, Sandy Montag and George Pyne do to keep the fun times rolling?
Just like last year, when SRX made changes based on fan feedback in the middle of the season, Stewart says the league will continue to innovate and listen to its audience.
"We pushed the entire industry if you think about it," Stewart said. "You see drones flying around everywhere now, but that didn't start until we did that last year. So, we're really pioneers in how we produce these six races from a TV standpoint.
"That's something that we take a lot of pride in."
Pyne is a long-time sports marketing executive with previous stints as COO of NASCAR and president of IMG International.
"I thought last year the product was very good, a lot of lead changes, the racing was great, we had different winners," Pyne said. "If you take the racing out of it, it’s a series where Michael Jordan can play against LeBron James and in a fair setup. It’s a little easier in the second year because when we started, no one knew what SRX was, and I think we’ve done a good job and want to keep building on it."
Compared to last year, the next six weeks actually features weaker sports and television competition on Saturday nights and Montag believes that will lead to continued growth.
"Last year, heat of the pandemic, we had major sports go into the summer months like NBA Finals, NHL Finals so I think from a TV standpoint, we were the second most watched motorsports product and that was amazing," Montag said. "CBS did an amazing job and provided a lot of technology that hadn't been seen before.
"We want to build on that, a slow build, we have sold out tracks this summer and we expect strong numbers given the competition being over before we start."
If Tracy leaned into his reputation as a black hat motorsports villain, what does that mean for Newman, who never shied away from his stature as the hardest driver to pass in modern NASCAR history?
"I’m not usually selective in my defense," Newman said. "I’ll try to be equal across the board."
Hunter-Reay, who transitioned from a full-time IndyCar Series ride to an IMSA career has never competed in anything like short tracks, and says he has only just started to wrap his brain around the contact that is commonplace in a de facto Late Model series.
There was also a fun factor involved.
"It was really just a big opportunity to try something completely different, and something that really looked fun," said Hunter-Reay. "I watched the races last year and it seemed like the drivers were genuinely enjoying it, and when you see the names crossing the ticker, you know it is a superstar lineup and I wanted to be part of this."
From the onset, Superstar Racing Experience never took itself too seriously.
Sure, once the feature race goes green, the 12 drivers each wanted to take the checkered flag. Before that, each of them recognized they were entertainers on this platform first and foremost. It’s an identity Montag fully embraces.
"Sports really is entertainment, and with everything going on in the world and all the negative things are happening, people are turning us on, on Saturday nights to be entertained, and we can’t forget that," Montag said. "I think we’re serving our fans and if we get some good, unvarnished advice, we’re not too egotistical not to take something like that and turn it into something."