NASCAR’s “Most Ambitious” Documentary Series is set to premiere this week.
“Race For The Championship,” a new unwritten series about the drivers and teams of the NASCAR Cup Series, will be broadcast live. USA Network at 10 p.m. Thursday. The project gives fans an unhurried (and possibly fresh) look at what it’s like to be Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson, Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski and other stars on and off the track. The project also opens the door for potential fans to experience the action, exercise, intergenerational competitions and weekly drama.
“When I think of wrestlers, NASCAR drivers go the same way,” says one of the drivers in the trailer for the documentary series.
Why now? And what inspired NASCAR to put this together? Alex Zitlow of the Charlotte Observer spoke with Matt Summers, NASCAR’s managing director of entertainment marketing as well as the show’s executive producer, for more insight.
Here’s the interview, edited for clarity and brevity.
What do you know about the “race for the championship”
Zitlo: What was the most enjoyable part of your experience producing this?
the summer: Well I guess this will happen at 10 PM (Thursday).
Zitlo: (Laugh). Ok, so the entire endeavor has been miserable so far, right?
the summer: No, no, not at all. (Laugh). The most exciting thing is to see other people enjoy it, and to really get close to it. And when you become a part of it, it is really satisfying. But no, it was a really fun ride to the production schedule. And by working closely with our friends at NBC Universal, it has given us plenty of opportunities to tell some great stories.
when you Look at the season that was NASCAR’s, literally couldn’t have written it better from a TV series perspective, considering all the different things that happened. We are so excited and really lucky to document this moment, this season in NASCAR history, and to really delve into and tell the story in a meaningful way.
Zitlo: What inspired NASCAR to put this production on? Did the popularity of Formula 1’s “Drive to Survive” have anything to do with it?
the summer: Well, this is not the first documentary, full-access series that NASCAR has done. (The show is about Austin Dillon and his family, “Austin Dillon’s life in Fastlane,” on USA Network earlier this year, for example.) We’ve done quite a few of them before, on different platforms. This is, by far, the most ambitious and, in some ways, the most important documentary series we’ve ever done. And doing so with our broadcast partner makes it even more so.
But you know, we always want to be able to take our sport to new audiences in addition to our core fans, and telling them behind-the-scenes stories is a really good way to do that.
Zitlo: When you say “most ambitious”, what do you mean?
the summer: Here’s the fun part: We started filming this in January. It will be shown for the first time on Thursday. Over the next 10 weeks, the “Race For The Championship” TV series will catch up on the trophy series schedule in real time. So the final episode airs right before our championship race, covering the race that happened four days ago, on Sunday, and it’s going to be a literal cliffhanger that makes up the championship race on NBC. So this schedule, as it gets tighter and tighter from a production standpoint, is ambitious. But it really increases the importance of the storytelling we do.
It starts with Clash at the beginning of the season, but then ends in real time, just a few days ago, which is really exciting, but also quite a challenge. It’s something we are happy to do.
Zitlo: I didn’t realize it. that’s awesome. Was this always the plan?
the summer: I mean, the format has changed, the creative stuff can always change, it’s flexible. But what we’ve always been proud of at NASCAR Studios is being able to do fast production, getting our brand content very quickly about things that happened. We always want to be as relevant as possible, in terms of what happens in the season.
Zitlo: What made it ideal to broadcast this on the USA Network, rather than go to another broadcasting platform or channel?
summer: NBC and the US are the home of NASCAR all summer and through the playoffs through the fall. And so it made a lot of sense for us to be on such a huge platform in the USA, but to be able to tap into the collective resources of NBC Universal across all of their platforms.
Zitlo: I don’t want to force you to give up anything, but are there any big surprises? Is there anything you learned during this? As someone intimately familiar with NASCAR, have you ever liked, “Oh, I didn’t realize that was a thing.”
the summer: This is a good question. I think what we are all learning is more about the next generation car. It is unknown to everyone except those who work closely with him, and go into the season. And I think the success of the next generation car’s performance on the track and what has been done to make the season so amazing is a really interesting thing to watch.
Zitlo: Who is the best interviewer? Which driver?
the summer: Oh, I don’t know. This is very difficult to answer. (Laugh). …it’s like choosing between my children.
Zitlo: What do you want to communicate to your potential new audience in this docu series?
the summer: I guess what we want to show is the sport itself, right? How dynamic it is, how excited it is, how challenging it is for athletes who drive, how much team sport. So really behind the scenes with the pit crew, the crew chief and all the different people they need to get a car on the racetrack.
Next, we also want to show the drivers off the track. and people who support drivers in their “normal lives”. I think it makes them very relevant and accessible, and it’s really exciting to see them. We have some good players in this sport. They are good drivers, good family guys and it’s really nice to see them away from their day jobs, if you will.
How to watch the NASCAR Documentary Series “Race for the Championship”
When: 10 p.m. EST
any channel? USA Network
more: Each of the 10 episodes will be shown weekly on Thursdays. The final will take place just days before the Cup Series Championship race at Phoenix Raceway on November 5-6.