Superstar Racing Series signs up big-name drivers

By James Essex

Tony Stewart and Ray Evernham’s new racing series, Superstar Racing Experience, released its 2021 schedule Monday that will bring star power to dirt and short tracks for six races in June and July.

The races, which will include Stewart, Bill Elliott, Bobby Labonte, Tony Kanaan and Helio Castroneves, among others, will be broadcast at 8 p.m. on CBS.

Four pavement tracks of Stafford, Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis, Slinger and the Nashville Fairgrounds are featured on the schedule, along with the dirt tracks of Eldora and Knoxville. One mission is to create the excitement of the old IROC championships.

“All (tracks) demand respect, and each forces drivers to adapt,” Stewart said. “What works at one track won’t necessarily transfer to another. These venues have seen some of the best racers in the country, but this will be the first time drivers from so many different disciplines will be racing on these historic tracks all at the same time.”

Stewart, a NASCAR team owner and three-time Cup champion driver, and Evernham, Jeff Gordon’s former crew chief, teamed up to launch the series that features top drivers across a variety of racing disciplines, including those with prominent histories in NASCAR, IndyCar and Formula One.

“SRX is a series where the cars will be so evenly matched that talent instead of equipment will win the race,” Stewart said. “The competition will be intense, and thanks to the vision of such strong leaders in the sports and entertainment industry, millions will be able to watch live and in prime time on CBS.”

Stewart is a co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing in the NASCAR Cup Series and owns Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio. The track is one of the most famous dirt tracks in the country.

Evernham was Gordon’s crew chief throughout the 1990s, and the two formed one of the most prolific driver-crew chief pairings in modern NASCAR. He transitioned to the ownership side of NASCAR when Dodge entered NASCAR in 2001, and his Evernham Motorsports team was folded into another team during the 2007 season.

Stewart compared SRX to the now-defunct IROC (International Race of Champions) Series, which ran from 1974 to 2006, when he was the last champion. Other participants in that series included Dale Earnhardt, Mario Andretti, Mark Martin, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr.

“I always liked the IROC Series back in the day, and even before I was old enough to be a professional race car driver, I looked at that as the cream of the crop,” Stewart said. “When I got invited to run IROC, it was a huge honor. You were part of an elite group of drivers that got the opportunity to race each other. I always took that really seriously.”

The idea of a modern-day IROC held great appeal for him.

“When the series went away, I think it left a big hole,” Stewart said. “It didn’t need to be filled then, but we have an opening now that gives an opportunity for guys like myself and a lot of the guys who will be invited who can still drive race cars, still have the ability, still want to race to come back. Hopefully, they will feel the way I did, like it’s a cool opportunity to take seriously and be looked up to as the best out there.”

CBS welcomes the partnership.

“We are looking forward to teaming with Superstar Racing Experience to bring this exciting new auto racing series to CBS in prime time,” said CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus. “This innovative racing series will feature great drivers competing on short tracks and will provide viewers with unique, behind-the-scenes access, bringing fans closer to the action.

“With the backing from legends in the racing industry, the quality of the drivers and competition and the atmosphere that short tracks will help to create, the Superstar Racing Experience is a great addition to our live summer sports programming that racing fans will embrace,” he said.

Elliott, a NASCAR Hall of Famer, will be a part of the inaugural season. The two-time Daytona 500 winner and 1988 NASCAR Cup Series champion was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2015 and was voted NASCAR’s most popular driver 16 times. His son, Chase, has received the honor the past two years.

Elliott closed his full-time Cup career driving for Evernham’s Dodge team from 2001 to 2003, winning the 2002 Brickyard 400.

“I am excited to reunite with Ray Evernham and some of the great legends of our sport,” said Elliott, who joins Stewart and Labonte as NASCAR Hall of Famers in the SRX. “I look forward to racing at some of the most historic American racing destinations and putting on an awesome show for the fans. We have a special driver field, and it will be fun competing with some of the greatest drivers of all time.”

Labonte said he is excited to be a part of the new series.

“After talking to Ray over the past few years and knowing how he operates, it’s going to be nothing but first class,” Labonte said. “Knowing that he’s behind it and so involved in it, I think that’s going to be really great.”

Labonte, owner of 21 career NASCAR Cup victories, said he has known Evernham had a vision to form a series like SRX for a couple of years, mentioning it off and on when running into the driver at the racetrack.

But when it was clear it was going to happen, it was a no-brainer for Labonte to join as a driver. He has still been running about a dozen races per year.

“We always just talk, and he said he was working on it, working on it, hoping to get something done,” Labonte said.

Labonte reacted positively when the idea took shape.

“I said, ‘OK, that sounds awesome,’” he said. “I had done the IROC series before. He mentioned it would be similar to that. Anyway, he said, ‘I’ll keep you in mind. I’ll let you know what’s going on.’

“I knew they were getting closer and heard through the grapevine they were getting pretty close, so I reached out and said, ‘Did you get your deal done?’ just asking the question because I knew he was working on something. He said, ‘Yeah, absolutely. Do you want to be in?’ I said, ‘Yeah, sure.’ Long story short, it didn’t take long from him to say, ‘Hey, do you want to be in?’ for me to say yes.”

Nine drivers have been announced: Stewart, Elliott, Labonte, Castroneves, Paul Tracy, Kanaan, Willy T. Ribbs, Mark Webber and Ernie Francis Jr. with three more driver announcements expected.

Stewart and Evernham have said the series is not meant to compete with NASCAR and is intended to highlight horsepower and driver talent rather than aerodynamics. Drivers will compete in a specialized car designed by Evernham.

Evernham said he’s looking to build a full-body car that relies on existing safety advances, fits within a budget and “is a car that the racing public can relate to, as well.” He has had talks with at least one tire maker and is seeking manufacturer support.

“We envision a hybrid of all different series. We don’t see it looking like a crazy dune buggyish-type car,” Evernham said. “To me, it’s got to be a really cool looking car that also puts it back in the driver’s hands mechanically-wise and allows it to be more affected by the pedals.”

2021 SRX schedule

Stafford Motor Speedway — June 12

Knoxville Raceway — June 19

Eldora Speedway — June 26

Lucas Oil Raceway — July 3

Slinger Speedway — July 10

Nashville Fairgrounds — July 17