INSIGHT: Why Evernham feels the time is right for a modern reimagining of IROC

Kim/Motorsport Images

INSIGHT: Why Evernham feels the time is right for a modern reimagining of IROC


INSIGHT: Why Evernham feels the time is right for a modern reimagining of IROC


Not only is the development of the Superstar Racing Experience (SRX) going “fantastic,” according to Ray Evernham, but he hasn’t seen anything like this since he helped bring Dodge back into NASCAR.

“It really reminds me of that, with so many people calling us that want to be part of it, from drivers to sponsors, to product suppliers… a lot of the people that I deal with on my level,” Evernham told RACER. “It’s honestly been incredible, and something that we didn’t really have back then was the social media response, which has just been incredible with this thing.”

Evernham was the mastermind behind creating the series that now involves Tony Stewart, Bruin Sports Capital founder George Payne, and Sandy Montag, a friend of Payne’s and chairman of The Montag Group. Between Evernham’s love of what was the IROC Series and conversations between he and Payne about the current state of motorsports, the time felt right for what Evernham describes as a true form of motorsports entertainment.

“Something that is a real race, a real competition,” reiterates Evernham. “But then it takes the fans behind the scenes and gives them an inside pass, lets them see superstars compete, taking out the technical part where it’s all about the car and rules and whatnot, like the old IROC Series. We took basically what was good about the IROC Series and talked about a lot of things that hurt IROC eventually, and really felt that the 21st-century motorsports fan, the TV motorsports fan, or even a fan in person, will be ready for another version of that.”

In the summer of 2021, a group of 12 drivers will compete with legendary crew chiefs in six races with identically-prepared race cars. The races will run primarily on half-mile dirt and pavement tracks, and “a custom right/left brake track.” Seven of those drivers have already been announced: Stewart, Tony Kanaan, Helio Castroneves, Willy T. Ribbs, Paul Tracy, Bobby Labonte and the most recent confirmation, Mark Webber.

Races will be approximately 90-minutes with a two-hour television window. CBS will air them on Saturday nights in prime time.

Webber is a long-time fan of short track racing, but SRX will allow him to test his skills against an all-star cast ranging from Tony Stewart to Tony Kanaan. Hone/Motorsport Images

What Evernham and Stewart have been clear about since the beginning is that the SRX is not in competition with NASCAR, or anyone else. Evernham sees the SRX as a complement to other forms of motor racing, and a way to give fans what they have been asking for, whereas other series are beholden to rules and regulations.

“We saw a space in the market, and we want to make sure that we fill that space,” Evernham says. “I think if we do a good job bringing in these drivers and people from different countries, different backgrounds, it helps all of motorsports, which if you look at the old IROC Series, it certainly did a lot of that. We’re in a market that’s very unique with this program, so I don’t see it as competing against the other series.”

Tracks have not yet been announced, which is by design. Wanting to avoid any kind of conflict with other racing series, the SRX is waiting to see NASCAR and IndyCar get their 2021 schedules sorted out. But the SRX knows it has six prime time Saturday nights in July and August, and at some point, will have to lock in their venues.

Why short tracks? Evernham has a twofold strategic reason behind that as well.

“I believe that short track racing will keep the cars closer together,” he says. “It takes us to the heartlands of where many of these superstars grew up and became superstars, and hopefully, we can take that connection back to future superstars. I think short tracks in some ways are more difficult to drive than the superspeedways for some of these guys. We’re going to keep the speeds down; I want the cars at a safe speed for our drivers. And I think driver skill is more of a premium than it is at some of the superspeedways.”

The car is still a work in progress. There have been renderings posted on the SRX social media pages, but Evernham is still hard at work. He’s changed the nose of the car up a bit because he didn’t like it or the hood. Plus, it wasn’t ideal for a dirt track.

Evernham sees SRX filling a number of gaps in the current motorsport landscape. Kinrade/Motorsport Images

“It’s going to have the wing, I’m keeping the damn wing,” says Evernham. “I got rid of the splitter, but I’m keeping the wing because I just think that wing is cool. We want to put our LED lights up there. So, we are pretty far along on a prototype chassis, and we expect to be able to announce the chassis builder in the next two or three weeks. We’re working closely with that, and we’re also working with an engine builder. So, in fairness to the car, the prototype car is pretty far along and could hit the track possibly by the end of 2020. But if not, no later than January ’21 testing.

“There will be a lot of testing, but all in all, we’re not trying to reinvent the wheel. We’re taking a lot of things that have worked well in different forms of racing throughout my career. I’ve been involved in just about every type … so we’re taking that knowledge that I’ve learned over the past 40 years and combining it into one car that I really think the fans are going to like the way this thing looks. And I think the drivers are going to like the way it drives.”

It’s easy to understand why Evernham is excited to provide fans with an entertainment platform. But he and everyone involved in the SRX also want to make sure it is successful for themselves and CBS. No talk of technology, which driver is bringing money, simulation, or rules.

“This is a pure battle between racing superstars, much like when they used to have the competitions where they bring football and baseball players to see who could run the fastest, jump the highest,” says Evernham. “We’re going to find out: what is the driver’s talent level? And I really believe that with the response that we’re getting by the number of drivers that want to be in this, these are the same questions that the drivers want to know.

“Am I good enough to race against that guy? Or what would it be like? Because again, our cars are going to be very different than any other form of race car that’s out there, and they’re going to run on different track shapes and different surfaces. It’s going to be that true challenge of driver to driver.”