NC racing experience, SRX, hopes for another summer of success
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Ryan Newman doesn’t want to be the hero or the villain or anything else in the six-race Superstar Racing Experience. He plans to be himself on the Saturday night summer series that mixes grassroots racing with big personalities clinging to their time in the spotlight.
“I’m the ‘hard guy to get past,’ so I guess I’ll continue that role,” Newman said. “I don’t know what anyone else plans to be.”
Tony Stewart’s star series was a surprise hit over six Saturday nights last summer, when CBS seized a dead period for live programming and filled it with SRX. Around 1 million viewers tuned in each week to watch the stars race on classic local tracks against ringers and guest drivers.
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The storylines developed from the very first event – SRX reviewed viewer feedback and made visual changes to the broadcast for better viewing – and every rule and regulation was open for evaluation. The show was unscripted programming and legitimate racing, but most pilots certainly paid attention to Paul Tracy’s one-sided feud with Hailie Deegan.
So if Newman stays true to form on Saturday night when SRX opens at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Fla., then the Daytona 500 winner could be next in Tracy’s sights. Deegan, as it happens, isn’t in the field until the third race.
“I’m usually not selective in my defense,” Newman said of who might struggle to pass him on the track. “I will try to be equal on all levels.”
SRX in its second season welcomes both Newman and Indianapolis 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay, who jumped at the chance after watching former IndyCar teammate Marco Andretti thrive in a relaxed environment. Short tracks are new to most drivers in the field and the open-wheel stars have never driven cars like the ones Ray Evernham designed for SRX, so every week is a learning experience.
“It was really just a great opportunity to try something completely different and something that looked really fun,” Hunter-Reay said. “I watched the races last year and it looked like the drivers were really enjoying him, and when you see the names go through the ticker you know he’s a superstar and I wanted to be a part of that.”
Next month, SRX will host Nashville native and two-time IndyCar champion Josef Newgarden at the Nashville Fairgrounds, and the July 23 finale at Sharon Speedway in Ohio will pit NASCAR star Ryan Blaney against his father, Dave, on their home track.
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The ingredients are there for a successful second summer for SRX, which has parted ways with co-founder Evernham. The championship-winning NASCAR crew chief brainstormed the series with Stewart, then created the race cars and maintained them all last summer. He is now just an investor in SRX.
In January, SRX’s board named industry executive Don Hawk as its first chief executive. The series is strongly supported by Montag Group CEO Sandy Montag and Bruin Capital CEO George Pyne who wants to continue to build on the success of the inaugural season.
“I thought last year the product was very good, lots of lead changes, the racing was great, we had different winners,” Pyne said. “If you take the race out, it’s a series where Michael Jordan can play against LeBron James and in a fair setup. It’s a little bit easier the second year because when we started nobody knew what it was. the SRX, and I think we’ve done a good job and want to keep developing it.
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Montag acknowledged that there’s a fine line between giving viewers the dramatic spectacle they expect — and asking on social media — while staying true to the ride.
“Sports really is entertainment, and with everything going on in the world and all the negative things going on, people turn us on on Saturday nights to entertain us, and we can’t forget that,” said Mount. “I think we serve our fans and if we get good, unvarnished advice, we’re not being too selfish not to take something like that and turn it into something.”