The 2020 SPEED Energy Stadium Super Trucks season has been stuck in limbo since the first race weekend at the Adelaide 500 in February. During a conversation with Dale Earnhardt Jr.‘s Dale Jr. Download podcast, series head Robby Gordon broke down the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the trucks, explained the series’ marketing aspect, and discussed the importance of Australian fans to what began as an American series.
“COVID has been very interesting. It basically put Stadium Super Trucks in park,” Gordon said. “We haven’t raced a Stadium Super Truck in eight months except for the first race that we kicked off in Adelaide, Australia with the trucks that Paul Morris has over there. […]
“2020, we had a really killer program put together. We had eight races with V8 Supercars, so we were gonna run eight rounds of V8 Supercar with those trucks. Five of those rounds would be the World Championship, three of those would be an additional championship over in Australia. Here in America we had Long Beach, we had five IndyCar and two NASCAR. So we had a really strong schedule to fire off the season, and unfortunately, after Round 1, it all just popped into neutral.”
After the Adelaide 500, the 2020 slate was thrown into chaos by the pandemic. The Grand Prix of Long Beach, which had hosted the trucks since 2013, was cancelled in March. July’s Honda Indy Toronto was also called off.
In Australia, the new Boost Mobile Super Trucks‘ spring support rounds with the Supercars Championship – the Tasmania Super400, Auckland Super400, and Perth SuperNight – fell victim to postponements. The Supercars has since restarted its season on a revised schedule, though the trucks have yet to return for the new dates.
The series is set to return at Road America on 7–8 August alongside the NASCAR Xfinity Series, the first action in six months. When asked by Earnhardt about how the season will resume, Gordon noted the pandemic “changed everything from television to sponsor commitments with drivers.” The two and co-host Mike Davis later joked about inviting Earnhardt to participate, eventually quipping that the decision comes down to Earnhardt’s wife.
“The nice thing is that the trucks are very, very safe. We don’t go very fast. We only go about 160,” Gordon responded, to the others’ laughter.
Gordon delved into SST’s background as a spec series and how motorsports marketing played a role in its growth. During the later years of his NASCAR tenure, he was as an owner/driver for his Robby Gordon Motorsports team. To support RGM, Gordon formed SPEED Energy in 2011 with inspiration from his of energy drink sponsorships throughout his time in NASCAR. The two-time SST champion has since branched out his portfolio to include the Speed UTV company and the SPEED RC Cars remote-controlled truck brand.
“If you look back (when) I originally started [SST], it was based off of the IROC series, except for the teams were franchise teams,” he explained. Franchises generally cost $250,000 for ten races. “So a driver, sponsor would come in, they would lease a truck for a year, and then obviously, we would provide the whole platform for them.
“Throughout my NASCAR career, I learned of things that we needed to do to be able to make decisions fast, to be able to make good decisions where we can market and promote. In the merchandise and license side of things, if we had all the trucks and all the stuff, it really opened up an easy game for us. You know how hard it is to get 30 or 43 drivers or owners to work together and be able to figure out marketing programs since everybody is trying to position themselves just a little ahead of the next.
“It’s really hard to do that, so when I started Stadium Super Trucks, I just kinda reinvented the whole package all the way down to the cars. NASCAR’s talking about coming out with a modular car. Well, that’s nothing new. In 2013, these stadium trucks are completely modular, so the guys that build the cars for us, that’s the same group technique we designed and then they did the CNC, bending, and notching for us.”
He credited IROC (International Race of Champions) with helping him form the mold for SST’s racing product. He raced in the series, which pitted drivers against one another in identically-prepared stock cars, in 1996 and 1997, finishing second in points in both seasons. Likewise, all stadium trucks are built by the series and given to drivers, who are only permitted to make minor adjustments to suit their driving styles. Drivers are also allowed to switch trucks with their peers if they are unsatisfied with the setup, with the only change required being a body swap.
“It really comes into a driver game instead of an engineering/car game,” he described before bringing up Sheldon Creed as a prime example. Creed, who currently races in the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series, is the winningest driver in SST history and has been Gordon’s protégé since the inaugural season in 2013.
The discussion also shifted to Tony Stewart‘s IROC-style Superstar Racing Experience series, which will begin in summer 2021, with Gordon acknowledging a “common denominator” between SST, SRX, and IROC. However, he added the truck market is far larger than its car counterpart.
“[SST in 2013 was] doing a lot of things that a lot of motorsports are doing today,” Gordon said. “Modular chassis, just competitive racing, bringing the cost down and putting the control in the driver’s hands and that’s something we’ve been focusing on for a long time as well as competitive races.”
Another focal talking point was the relationship between SST and Australian motorsport, even after the series’ clashes with now-Motorsport Australia that resulted in brief bans from racing in the country, and its popularity with fans in the region.
“The V8 Supercar television guys are probably some of the best in the business that I have ever seen, from all my forms of motorsport,” Gordon began. “Their camera angle, their content, their in-car cameras, they do a wonderful job. And the races over there are epic. […]
“At Adelaide this year, we had 230,000 people at the event. I think that’s double, maybe 3x the Daytona 500. They’re passionate about their motorsport because they’re not oversaturated. Here in this country, motorsport gets oversatured really easy. […]
“The (American racing) fan is still the same amount of fan (as in Australia), but he has a choice. Does he want to go to a NASCAR race? Does he want to go to a IndyCar race? Does he want to go to an off-road race that weekend? Does he want to go to a drag race that weekend? Does he want to go to a Superbike or Formula One when they’re in town? There’s only 52 weekends.”
While talking about the Australian races, the DJD raised an incident from the 2017 Darwin race weekend in which Gordon was charged by the local government for hooning in Matt Brabham‘s SST outside a local nightclub. The podcast had discussed the matter with 2017 champion Paul Morris in an earlier episode.
“The series, which was CAMS (Confederation of Australian Motor Sport, now Motorsport Australia) at the time, they said, ‘You’ve exposed us.’ It all came down to what we always talk about: followers and views. If we didn’t get a million views (on video of the hooning), we never would have gotten to this position,” he explained before adding that the main reason for SST’s ban stemmed from Matt Nolan‘s wheel coming off during the 2018 Perth weekend. The restriction lasted until summer 2019, with the series finally making its return to Australia—with redeveloped wheels—for that year’s season finale at the Gold Coast 600.
“The doughnut and the wheels were the two things that got us kicked out, but everybody obviously focuses on the doughnuts[…]
“The other side was Stadium Super Trucks was in the position that we were a little league stealing the fans at the same time. When Stadium Super Trucks went away for the wheels, their attendance went down, and their fans were rebelling: ‘Bring Stadium Super Trucks back’. So between the fans cheering for us and us remanufacturing the wheels, we fired back up at Adelaide this year and had one of the biggest crowds in 2020, so that was a good deal.”
Earnhardt also asked if SST races were “choreographed”, though in a sense of restraining on-track behaviour to avoid costs for damage. However, although Gordon noted drivers may not immediately attempt to overtake and can only do so after clearing the first turn, there are no charges for crash damage and all actions are overseen by USAC or Motorsport Australia.
“Imagine it when I started it in 2013. I started it as franchises. There’s a whole business side to this whole thing that was put together as well, where a race team or a sponsor doesn’t have to worry about the race truck because at the end of the day, nobody cares about anything but what happens on that race track. It’s true: the most exciting thing happens on the race track.
“Unfortunately, all of motorsport seems to be focusing on something different and that hardcore fan wants to watch what’s happening on that race track.”
He added SST “will teach a driver the best form of car control he could ever have. It teaches him drafting, it teaches him throttle control because there’s no traction control.”
The full, audio-only interview is available on the Dirty Mo Media website, while an abbreviated video version focusing on SST is on YouTube.