Superstar Racing Experience will bring new and nostalgia for NASCAR’s former stars

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·6 min read
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Before he was a NASCAR driver, Michael Waltrip watched his older brother, Darrell, compete in the Cup Series against names like Richard Petty, Bobby Allison and Bill Elliott at Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway, only a few hours from his childhood home in Kentucky.

“That really helped define what I wanted to do in life because of those stars and those heroes,” Waltrip said. “Just getting to see them race each other in that 420-lap race, it was everything to me.”

Waltrip will return to that track this summer as one of the 12 drivers in the lineup for Superstar Racing Experience, the six-race series created by Tony Stewart and Ray Evernham that’s aimed at recreating Waltrip’s experience from nearly 50 years ago for fans but with a new cast. SRX features an all-star lineup of drivers, 10 full-time, from across racing disciplines that will compete in weekly dirt and short track events around the country in a return to the “grassroots side of things,” as Elliott put it.

“I don’t know what my expectations are,” he said. “To go have a good time and let the fans enjoy seeing some of us that they’ve never seen before.”

The two drivers discussed their plans to “get the rust knocked off” — as both are over 10 years deep into their retirement from full-time NASCAR Cup racing — and ribbed each other over past races and their return to the track during the series’ first driver media availability Wednesday.

“Hey Michael, would you mind if I got Kyle Larson to fill in for me for a couple races, like Knoxville and Eldora?” Elliott asked about Larson, known for his dirt racing prowess.

“I know we’re gonna have some ringers,” Waltrip responded. “And I’ve heard names like Greg Biffle and Denny Hamlin. Kyle Larson on dirt; that just wouldn’t be fair for us, Bill.”

“I don’t think so, either,” Elliott said. “That’d be like putting Tony Stewart in one of these cars, wouldn’t it?”

Elliott was referring to the fact that Stewart will be among the drivers in the series, along with Hélio Castroneves, Bobby Labonte, Paul Tracy, Tony Kanaan, Willy T. Ribbs, Mark Webber, Ernie Francis Jr. and Marco Andretti. Four “local legends” — Doug Coby, Brian Brown, Kody Swanson, Bobby Santos III as well as the 2021 Slinger Nationals Champion — will also be featured in races at their tracks to highlight hometown winners.

While full-time Cup drivers like Hamlin, Larson and defending NASCAR champion Chase Elliott (Bill Elliott’s son) have NASCAR obligations that might make it difficult to enter an SRX event, other driver announcements are expected to be released in the coming weeks. Rising NASCAR star and full-time Truck Series driver Hailie Deegan has teased her connection to the series on social media and Waltrip mentioned her Wednesday. At 19, Deegan would be the youngest driver in the field if she competes. Francis Jr., 23, is the next youngest of the regular competitors, while Waltrip, 58, and Elliott, 65, are among the oldest after Ribbs, 66.

Elliott said he entered some vintage car events a couple years ago with Historic Sportscar Racing and the Sportscar Vintage Racing Association, but hasn’t been racing during the pandemic. Waltrip, a NASCAR analyst on FOX, said it’s been a few years since he raced competitively and that he plans to use Hamlin’s simulator rig and glean knowledge from others for the tracks he doesn’t know as well, such as Stafford Motor Speedway, where the Saturday night series kicks off on CBS on June 12. Waltrip tipped Elliott off to the advice he received from Cup driver and Stafford winner Ryan Preece, who said to enter and exit on the apron.

“If 12 cars go into turn one, riddle me this:” Elliott responded. “How many do you think are going to come off of turn two?”

His comment highlighted what could be some messy racing based on the diversity experience on short and dirt tracks, but Waltrip and Elliott said they expected the events to turn serious when the green flag waves since they know it’s a competitive group that has nearly 300 wins combined across circuits.

In addition to new tracks for many of the drivers, the challenge will come in the form of brand new equipment. The race cars have been specifically designed for the series. Evernham described the car as “a road-course car first, a pretty good dirt car, and just an OK paved oval car.”

“That takes the advantage away from the stock-car guys who run ovals all the time,” Evernham said in a release. “We’ve tried to take the car out of the equation and force these guys to use the skills that we pay to see — how to figure out a new surface, how to figure out a new racetrack, how can they make this car go around using the old-school tools of the steering wheel, the gas pedal and the brake pedal.”

Waltrip said he expects viewership, fan interest at the tracks and good racing to all be metrics of success for the series in its first year. SRX is already planning for a second year, with sponsors, such as recently announced car and home insurance partner Progressive, committed to multi-year contracts. Waltrip and Elliott expressed anxiety around the first race, but said they expect to quickly settle in and are ultimately are looking forward to helping create the same hype at local tracks that once inspired Waltrip to race.

“Like Bill, I’ve raced for 100 years and I’ve got to experience so many special moments that I treasure today to be able just to reflect on and think, ‘That was pretty cool,’ ” Waltrip said. “And now (I’m looking) forward to something that’s gonna create those same type of memories for me.”

Elliott said he was also drawn to the idea of being part of something new.

“I still love competing,” Elliott said. “I’m like Michael, I hope I do OK at it. You wanna go run well, but when you go into the first race, I don’t know what my expectations are; to go have a good time and let the fans enjoy seeing some of us that they’ve never seen before, meet some of us that they’ve never met before.”

SRX 2021 SCHEDULE

  • June 12, 8 PM, ET – Stafford Motor Speedway (Stafford Springs, Conn.)

  • June 19, 8 PM, ET – Knoxville Raceway (Knoxville, Iowa)

  • June 26, 8 PM, ET – Eldora Speedway (New Weston, Ohio)

  • July 3, 8 PM, ET – Lucas Oil Raceway (Brownsburg, Ind.)

  • July 10, 8 PM, ET – Slinger Speedway (Slinger, Wis.)

  • July 17, 8 PM, ET – Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway (Nashville, Tenn.)