NASCAR legend’s series moves to ESPN with star-studded lineup

From the moment Superstar Racing Experience was unveiled in 2020, the old International Race of Champions (IROC) series was invoked on a regular basis as both inspiration and aspiration.

It has taken a little bit of time, with both the television partner and scheduling to make it feasible, but SRX now looks very much like the IROC but with a grassroots twist as it was pitched to the industry. The six-race summer weekly television event has now moved to ESPN as part of a revived Thursday Night Thunder series, which allows for even greater participation by active NASCAR Cup Series, IndyCar Series and NHRA competitors.

The main attraction, as has been the case from the past two seasons, is inaugural champion and series co-founder Tony Stewart.

The three-time NASCAR Cup Series champion and 1997 Indy Racing League champion is now a full-timer in the National Hot Rod Association Top Alcohol division, but SRX is where he turns the entirety of his circle track attention these days.

Joining him full-time over the next six weeks will be defending champion Marco Andretti (IndyCar), Hailie Deegan (NASCAR Trucks), Brad Keselowski (NASCAR Cup), Bobby Labonte (NASCAR Hall of Fame), Ryan Newman (NASCAR), Ken Schrader (racing legend) and ex-IndyCar star Paul Tracy.

Each race is comprised of 13 cars, allowing for multiple stars and legends to swap in and out over a part-time basis. Those drivers include Greg Biffle, Clint Bowyer, Kyle Busch, Ron Capps, Helio Castroneves, Austin Dillon, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Kasey Kahne, Tony Kanaan, Matt Kenseth, Josef Newgarden, Kenny Wallace, Ernie Francis Jr. and Daniel Suarez.

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NASCAR legends series: Superstar Racing Experience schedule

superstar racing experience

7/13: Stafford Motor Speedway (paved)
7/20: Thunder Road International SpeedBowl (paved)
7/24: Pulaski County Motorsports Park (paved)
8/3: Berlin Raceway (paved)
8/10: Eldora Speedway (dirt)
8/17: Lucas Oil Missouri (dirt)

As devotees can now attest, these are not NASCAR or IndyCar style facilities, but are amongst the crown jewels in grassroots racing and absolutely worthwhile for a showcase of champions and legends across various disciplines.

These tracks are also all a half-mile or shorter allowing for the door-to-door, fender-bending and paint-trading action the series has become known for over its first two seasons.

“I think for a lot of the Cup guys, we didn’t have this luxury with IROC,” said Stewart. “Whatever venue we were at the Cup Series that weekend, that was also where we ran (an) IROC (race). 

“I think that’s what’s going to be fun about this for these guys is even though they’re full-time racers on the weekends with NASCAR, for them to have the opportunity to come back and go back to their roots and go to a lot of these short tracks, I think that’s something that means a lot to these guys. 

The amount of Cup drivers that raised their hand and said, ‘hey, we want to race. We can’t run all of them, but we want to run these two races or those two races or this one race,’ just the amount of excitement that we had from the current Cup roster was phenomenal … and it shows we’re doing something right.”

Series leadership includes Stewart, veteran television executive Sandy Montag, former NASCAR executive George Pyne and veteran racing everyman Don Hawk as CEO. That’s a healthy infrastructure, who together have inked a new television deal with ESPN after airing on CBS Saturday nights the first two seasons and can now start to look towards the future.

Hawk says 44 tracks have reached out about securing a race in the future, and for now, everyone seems set on the current six-race structure.

“I think very clearly we could go beyond six races at some point,” Pyne said. “As I said, I think there’s a lot of international interest in the product. 

“But I think we’re happy where we’re at, and we’re going to grow prudently and methodically. As Don said, there’s plenty of interest, 44 racetracks. There’s plenty of people that want to see SRX in their market, but we want to be thoughtful with that approach, and we’ll kind of take it one step at a time.”

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The addition of Hawk last year, was especially instrumental towards growing the brand, because he has worked hand-in-hand with all the major sanctioning bodies to make sure they understood this about growing motorsports holistically and not trying to take business away from NASCAR, IndyCar or any short track league.

“I’ve been in direct communication with Jim France, that’s NASCAR, and we’re good,” Hawk said. “I’ve been in direct communication with Roger Penske, that’s INDYCAR, and we’re good. I’ve been in direct communication with Cromwell, NHRA, and we’re good. 

“I tried to make it my business so they could see we’re going to be accretive to the whole racing inventory, the plethora of motorsports in America. All we’re going to do is, like Roger Penske said to me, ‘A high tide lifts all ships, Hawk, sail away.’

“That’s what we’re going to do.”

If Stewart gets his way next year, he really hopes to sail away with two major additions in NASCAR Hall of Famers Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr., who have both expressed a general enthusiasm for the product.  

“I think they both have pretty full plates is the main reason,” Stewart said. “You know, Jeff is obviously very active with Hendrick Motorsports, and Dale Jr. has got his plethora of projects that he’s a part of. 

“That’s why this Thursday thing was so important was because of schedules and how busy everyone’s time is. For those two guys in particular with all the business interests that they have, it made it a little complicated to get them in for six weeks.”

For now, Stewart and his merry band of executives are set to build on a successful first two seasons, a dozen races that averaged a million viewers on Saturday night.

Even though it moving to the Worldwide Leader in Sports, SRX is retaining a production team that has earned praise from both an on-screen talent and presentation standpoint. SRX is keeping its best parts from the past two years while adding to the driver roster.

That’s ‘IROC on steroids’ as Stewart puts it.

Matt Weaver is a Motorsports Insider for Sportsnaut. Follow him on Twitter.

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