Last Saturday night, the inaugural season of the Camping World SRX Series kicked off at Stafford Motor Speedway. While five more races remain on the summer schedule to learn more about the new series, Saturday’s race offered our first chance to see the new cars and driver lineup in action. Here are five takeaways from the inaugural race for the Superstar Racing Experience.
Racing is fun again
While any first-time series or event will have its hitches and growing pains, one thing was very clear from the start – the Camping World SRX Series is going to be fun. The cars were challenging to drive, the fans at Stafford created an electric and enthusiastic atmosphere and drivers didn’t shy away from contact. The action intensified over the course of the night, from an opening heat where many drivers seemed content to save tires and get a feel for the new cars to the main event when everything was on the line.
The driving challenge should still very much be a factor for the second race of the season, as SRX will have its first dirt race at Knoxville Raceway. We’ll see which drivers will be able to take the same car that raced on the Stafford bullring last Saturday and make it work at the Sprint Car Capital of the World.
Local all-stars are going to be tough to beat
Not many people outside the short-track bubble would have considered Doug Coby a favorite against the likes of Tony Stewart, Greg Biffle, Helio Castroneves and Bill Elliott for Saturday’s season opener. However, the six-time NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion flexed his muscle all night long, gaining 10 positions between the two heats and then leading 80 of 100 laps in the main event.
You can’t question the resumes of the full-time drivers on the SRX roster, but Coby proved the drivers of the “Balboa” car will be no slouch, either. This weekend, it will be up to four-time Knoxville 410 Sprint Car track champion Brian Brown to carry the torch for the hometown heroes.
Drivers will not be afraid to lean on each other
In the build-up to the season opener, there was plenty of trash talk and conversation among SRX drivers on the beating and banging they expected during the short track series. However, it’s one thing to talk the talk and another to walk the walk.
It did not take long for drivers to prove they were more than willing to get physical during the season opener, as Michael Waltrip and Paul Tracy collided to bring out the first caution in heat one. There was plenty of door-banging, fender-rubbing and contact throughout the night, as well as bold moves like Marco Andretti’s three-wide dive to take the lead in the main event.
Fans are hungry for a product like SRX
Preliminary reports indicate 1.33 million viewers tuned in to Saturday night’s CBS broadcast of the SRX opener at Stafford. Those viewers saw a sellout crowd pack the stands at Stafford Motor Speedway to witness the series’ first race, and that crowd was on its feet most of the night and chanting Doug Coby’s name as he celebrated on the frontstretch after his win.
Whether it’s the profile of the drivers participating, the national spotlight on short tracks like Stafford, or just curiosity of the unknowns going into the first race, people were clearly intrigued by the debut event. Time will tell if those viewership levels will remain steady over the course of six weeks. However, there was clearly an itch that fans who watched or attended hoped SRX would scratch, and now it will be up to the series to provide that for the rest of the summer.
Short tracks can provide major-league excitement on a national stage
Many of those million-plus viewers who watched on Saturday night may have never heard of Doug Coby or Stafford Motor Speedway. Those are the names and places that have often been left behind over the years in the push towards larger markets and younger drivers, and there are plenty others like them. Anyone reading this can name a local hero or hometown track that doesn’t get enough recognition.
For a little more than two hours Saturday night, however, Stafford played host to a major racing event on national broadcast television, an event which carried the same gravitas on television as other major sporting events that took place over the weekend. Saturday night proved short tracks like Stafford can put on big-time drama and excitement.
-Story by: Zach Evans, Speed51 Content Supervisor – Twitter: @ztevans
-Photo credit: Speed51 Photo