By: Brian Metzler
The hottest event company in triathlon is thinking outside the box again, and the endurance sports world should take notice.
The organization formerly known as Challenge North America, which launched the Challenge Daytona triathlon in 2018 and quickly turned it into a top-tier event with a big prize purse and exceptional TV coverage, announced this week it has rebranded under the name CLASH and is planning to expand its racetrack-based triathlon series to four venues in 2021-2022. It is also adding mountain biking, trail running and running relays within a family-friendly festival atmosphere bolstered by camping, live music, kids’ events and wine tastings.
The goal seems to be reinvigorating the sport of triathlon while also inspiring a wider range of recreational athletes and weekend warriors at a time when industry insiders are expecting a huge, post-Covid-19 spike in endurance sports participation. The new, fierce-sounding name will mirror its aggressive expansion plans while also trying to capture the attention of CrossFit, Spartan Race and trail running participants.
"We are rebranding as CLASH, due to endurance sports being the ultimate CLASH of mind and body,” CEO Bill Christy said in a press conference this week. “The fierce competitions push athletes to finish and succeed while the body is ready to quit, a clear CLASH of desires every athlete faces. What began as a vision to provide world-class triathlons at speedways has blossomed into something bigger that will give all endurance athletes an entertaining and rewarding experience at top-rate facilities."
The CLASH news comes a few weeks after the announcement of Ironman’s partnership with the French organization behind the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc to form a new global trail running series and a month after Super League Triathlon’s announcement of its first U.S. race in conjunction with the Sept. 25-26 Malibu Triathlon. But it also comes at a time when triathlon race directors are scrambling to get events up and running for summer season and Ironman’s notable challenges at getting back on track in some markets.
At its core, CLASH is intimately tied to NASCAR, which is why the racetrack-style event concept emerged originally. Christy’s wife, Lesa France Kennedy, is the executive vice chair of NASCAR and the granddaughter of NASCAR founder Bill France, Sr. Her son, Ben Kennedy, is a former NASCAR driver and current VP of Racing Development. With those connections, Christy has been able to tap into the NASCAR production team and utilize their TV knowledge, experience and innovations to take triathlon into a new realm.
The organization had originally partnered with the Challenge Family brand to launch the Challenge Daytona event three years ago in what was supposed to be a middle-distance triathlon with adjacent endurance events — including a sprint tri, an aquathlon, duathlon and 10K, and 5K runs. But when inclement weather forced a race-day changes (the pro race was shortened and held entirely within the confines of the Daytona International Speedway) the vision of a new brand started to emerge. The spectator-friendly event earned rave reviews from pros that day as well as the age-groupers who stuck around to watch the races unfold.
Amid the pandemic 2020, the Daytona event last December attracted a deep pro field with a large prize purse (thanks to a partnership with the Professional Triathletes Organization) and a huge audience via both livestream and TV coverage, making it the hottest thing in triathlon, if not the entire endurance sports world.
Now it’s banking on its connections to NASCAR to expand on the concept. It’s a big bet, but the TV component is a critical part of the strategy. The livestream of the 2020 Challenge Daytona had about 500,000 viewers, and the TV highlights show that aired on NBC and NBC Sports Network attracted 1.4 million viewers. The debut of a similar event in Miami in March — which garnered another 160,000 sustained viewers on NBC Sports Network — proved the concept could be expanded.
By incorporating camping, wine festivals and additional family-oriented events and activities, the new series seems to be an evolution of the original Wildflower Triathlon crossed with the some of the excitement of the Super League Triathlon in a made-for-TV production aimed at inspiring a wide range of recreational endurance athletes.
The CLASH series will now include events at iconic race tracks in Daytona (Dec. 3-5, 2021), Miami (March 11-13, 2022), Watkins Glen, N.Y. (July 8-10, 2022) and Atlanta (Nov. 12-13, 2022), plus two additional venues in 2023. Registration is already open for the CLASH Daytona event, while Miami and Watkins Glen are expected to open on June 9.
“We’re never going to give up on our roots from triathlon,” Christy told Triathlete.com, “but we needed to be something other than a triathlon company.