by Brody Jones
Race fans are now, at press time, four days removed from fans being disguised in cognito as bleachers at Bristol Motor Speedway. While, by Bristol standards, that week-end was some-what of a snooze-fest, this Sunday at the Auto Club Speedway (formerly California Speedway) is guaranteed to be a cure for race-fans suffering from insomnia. Miserable weather conditions, poor attendance, and boring races (read: fuel-mileage affairs) have made the Auto Club Speedway the equivalent of listen to Ben Stein delivering a speech in his trade-mark mono-tone voice for three hours. Plus, as if things could not be worse for this race week-end, there has been talk of an earthquake hitting California in the coming days in the after-math of the tragic 8.9 magnitude earth-quake in Japan and traces of radiation from the nuclear melt-down in Japan are in the state of California. All of these ingredients have made coming to California a most-unwelcome prospect this week-end.
First, let’s start with the miserable weather conditions. The fall race, which had the most problems with this issue, was usually plagued with weather so hot, even the devil himself would complain about the heat. There also were rain-out issues in the past that would post-pone events, which has perhaps played at least some small-part in the decline in attendance since 2004. It doesn’t help the track’s case that there’s a lot more stuff to do in the area than go to a NASCAR race. Factor in this, along with, despite what the France will lead one to think, the simple fact that people in California simply do not care about NASCAR leads to a whole lot lot of empty-seats on race week-ends.
Then there’s the matter of the attendance. As stated earlier, it has been on the decline since 2004 to the point where NASCAR realized that the track, realistically, is just a one-race market despite being located in the second-largest media market in the country (Los Angeles). Unfortunately, this is not the first track in the area that has suffered woeful attendance issues. Few modern fans will remember the Ontario Motor Speedway in the 1970’s and 1980, which was basically a spawn of the future of super-speedways with many state-of-the-art features. Ontario drew a great crowd their first year in 1971, drawing 80,000 fans, but after that first season, attendance went into a free-fall to the point where only 15,000 fans showed up at the final race there in 1980. And the real koinky-dink of it all is Ontario was located two miles from the current Auto Club Speedway. One has to question the sanity of the France family to give a date to a track in an area that already had a poor history of attendance for races. Oh sure, the first few years went great. But then, when fans saw Fontana for what it really was, a boring fuel-mileage race, they left in droves.
Speaking of boring races, many of the races have lacked drama and gone down to whoever has the most fuel left in their tank. Any NASCAR fan with half a brain-cell can tell other fans that fuel mileage affairs are the worst type of NASCAR races possible. No one wants to watch a driver win by several seconds by default due to others not having enough gas and the fans who prefer beating and banging have no opportunity for such shenanigans at these type of tracks. More often than not, these races become a game of “Follow The Leader” with little to no passing and no one in their right mind wants to see that. That could be a by-product of the rash of glamour-less cookie-cutter tracks, devoid of any type of interesting quirks to them, that have cropped up in NASCAR over the past 15 years, but don’t dare tell NASCAR that no one wants to watch a race at a cookie-cutter!
But all of that pales in comparison to all of the potential circumstances going on right now in the state of California that has to have the France family and Mike Helton concerned at the moment. With the threat of radiation, albeit in trace amounts, from the nuclear disaster out in Japan and the possibility of the state getting hit with an earthquake in the next few days, it’s got to be difficult for NASCAR officials to get any kind of sleep with these concerns. People, whom are more likely to be concerned more about their health and well-being, just might choose to stay away from the Auto Club Speedway this week-end more-so than usual. Although, in all fairness, one cannot, in good conscience, blame NASCAR for a tragedy that is beyond their control for these unfortunate circumstances, one has to wonder how much of a hit will attendance for this race take this year with all these mitigating factors at play? And most of all, could this be the straw that breaks the back of future NASCAR races being held at California? If history in the past several years is to be any kind of indicator, then it very well could be. NASCAR desperately needs for this race to be a success because if not, the free-falling attendance at California will show no signs of leveling off any time soon.
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