SRX: A Season in the Books
With its first full season completed, what does the future hold for the Superstar Racing Experience?
A Season Summary
On June 12th, 2021, the SRX officially launched with its first-ever race, held at Stafford Motor Speedway in Connecticut. Over the course of the next five Saturday nights, the spiritual successor to the International Race of Champions (IROC) would occupy some of the nation's most historic short tracks in a primetime slot on CBS. The schedule would consist of six races, four on asphalt and two on dirt, with the finale being staged at the iconic Nashville Fairgrounds. Stafford's heat races would be won by former NASCAR Cup Series regular, Greg Biffle, and local star Doug Coby. The feature race win would also be captured by the young Coby. The next two feature races at Knoxville and Eldora, respectively, would be won by series patriarch Tony Stewart. The second half of the season would see a greater variety of feature race winners, including Trans-Am star Ernie Francis Jr, former Indycar regular Marco Andretti, and defending NASCAR Cup Series champion, Chase Elliot. The points championship would be secured by Tony Stewart early on in the final round at Nashville. So, what are the takeaways from the Superstar Racing Experience's first season? What were the highs and the lows? Well, let's take a look!
Highs: The Tracks and the Cars
The cars lineup before the start of the first heat race at Slinger Speedway in Wisconsin. Photo from SRX.
One of the main selling points of the SRX was its unique schedule and custom-made racing machines. With NASCAR stepping away from some of the short tracks that helped build it to the success that it is today, SRX would take national stock car racing back to its roots. Some of the tracks on the schedule had never been seen by a national television audience, including a track that I would call the MVT (Most Valuable Track) of the SRX's inaugural season, Slinger Speedway. With the length of a paperclip and the banking of a superspeedway, it is truly one of the most unique ovals I have seen. The crowd drawn by the SRX to the small track actually doubled the town's population for a single night. Of course, you can't have a racing series without the cars. Each of the cars was created by legendary former NASCAR crew chief and owner Ray Evernham. They were specifically designed to tackle the tricky, old, and rough surfaces found at most of these small-town speedways and dirt tracks. Besides a few minor hiccups with the cars' setups during the first couple of races, the racing was fierce and constant throughout the season. Most of the time, the racing was clean, so crashes were rather minimal. Enter Paul Tracy. Paul embraced being the bad guy of the SRX, as he has in other series as well. He was really the only one to cause incidents where bodywork went flying. Overall, the tracks and cars were some of the biggest stars of the series. However, a racing series isn't a racing series without the drivers.
Highs: The Drivers (Including Paul Tracy)
The class of 2021. Photo from SRX.
When you bring in names like Helio Castroneves, Bill Elliot, Tony Stewart, and Tony Kanaan, big things will certainly be expected of you. Now, whilst some of them did underperform, either due to being out of their element or just having a bad car, some shined above the rest. I'd say the MVP of the first year of the SRX wasn't the champion Tony Stewart, but a little known racing driver from Florida by the name of Ernie Francis Jr. If you don't know, and I sure didn't before watching the series, but this seemingly random kid was actually one of the greatest Trans-Am drivers in history. At the age of just 23, he was won seven consecutive Trans-Am series championships. Even though his natural racing environment wasn't on ovals, he fit right in with the SRX, always running near the top drivers. As mentioned before, he would take one feature race win during the six-race season at Lucas Oil Raceway (formerly Indianapolis Raceway Park). This series truly put him on the map for many fans, especially after getting involved in multiple incidents with the series's main troublemaker, Paul Tracy. Even though he was a constant menace on track, I think Paul Tracy was one of the biggest bright spots of the entire season. He might be a massive jerk on the track (and off), but he is self-aware and plays up to his role perfectly. Each of them gave their all, and it provided some of the best stock car racing that I have seen in quite some time.
Highs: TV Coverage and Crew
The CBS broadcast team for Knoxville. Photo from Allen Bestwick's Twitter.
When the broadcast team was announced for the first season of the SRX, it caused a good deal of hype. Long-time racing broadcaster for NASCAR and Indycar, Allen Bestwick would lead the main commentary team. Joining him in the two-person booth would be a driver analyst. Former Indycar winner (let's just pretend she did nothing else after that) Danica Patrick would be present at the first two races, with four-time Indycar champion Dario Franchitti taking over for a single race. The main co-broadcaster for the rest of the races would be Indycar regular James Hinchcliffe, who did an excellent job and had great chemistry with Bestwick and the drivers. Of course, the weakest link was the two appearances by Patrick. She did not mesh well with the much more experienced Bestwick and was rather sloppy during flag to flag coverage. The pit reporters, on the other hand, were easily the second best thing about the crew. Specifically, former NBA player and partial team owner Brad Daugherty. He had done some broadcasting work in the past, but for some, this was their first exposure to him. He was absolutely golden during interviews, especially with class clown Michael Waltrip. His 7-foot tall height also made him quite recognizable in the paddock. The coverage of the races was also rather unique. One of the best shots all season was their constant use of a drone that would follow the cars around the track, sometimes getting within feet of the thundering machines. All in all, the presentation for the television product was well done, and I look forward to seeing them continue with this crew for years to come!
Tony Stewart tips his cap to the fans at Slinger Speedway. Photo from SRX.
Judging from the current racing product and the ratings the SRX drew on a weekly basis, I believe this series is here to stay. I think with a slightly longer schedule, a few more drivers, and no Danica Patrick in the booth, the SRX can truly become a worthy IROC successor. The drama on track also has not lacked, as Paul Tracy remains the top troublemaker in the series. With a driver you can root against, and tons you can root for, the series has a perfect mix currently. The local stars are a unique gimmick and give nationally unknown drivers the spotlight they deserve. The "fun flag" rule can use some work, as I think it kind of disrupts the flow of the heat races a bit. Aside from that, I believe that the racing is some of the best out of any oval racing series.
So, what do you guys think? Has the SRX proven itself as a series that is here to stay, or will it be just a flash in the pan? Let me know down in the comments below! As always, thank you all for reading, bumping, and following, and I will see you down the road!