Color us surprised. On Tuesday (Sept. 8), Jeff Gluck and Jordan Bianchi of The Athletic reported that NASCAR plans to reconfigure the 2-mile Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California into a half-mile short track.
There had been talks in the past about reconfiguring Auto Club Speedway, but it was nothing serious. This time, though, a plan has been submitted to the local government for review and approval. It’s an interesting move because a lot of people feel Auto Club Speedway is a track that puts on some of the best racing in NASCAR tracks 1.5 miles or more in length.
That has led to a lot of debate in the NASCAR world about whether or not it was the right decision to reconfigure Auto Club Speedway into a short track. Is NASCAR making the right call by taking a big swing – with a wrecking ball – to one of the fastest tracks on the circuit? This week, Clayton Caldwell and Vito Pugliese debate the coming changes to one of the most recognizable tracks on the NASCAR docket.
Where Do I Sign?
It’s finally happening! A new short track will be added to the NASCAR Cup Series schedule. Excluding Richmond’s 1988 reconfiguration, the last short track added was done so in 1971. The renovation to a half-mile short track at the Auto Club Speedway is scheduled for completion in 2022, and it’s a step in the right direction for a sport that has gotten very far away from its short track roots.
Sure, it’s not perfect. I would much rather see NASCAR use the money to save a track like Myrtle Beach Speedway, a track that puts on good racing but does admittedly need renovation.
The land surrounding Auto Club Speedway being is valuable since the track is just an hour outside Los Angeles, California. That means NASCAR, which owns Auto Club Speedway after merging with International Speedway Corporation (ISC), can sell the surrounding land for a profit large enough to cover the cost of renovation. The track could still keep its race date and start turning profits from the event itself. And, of course, we’ll have another short track on the schedule. From that financial perspective, there is no other track where this could work.
I know some folks liked the racing the 2-mile Auto Club Speedway layout provided, but there are other tracks that produce far worse racing. The Cup Series schedule features an insane number of tracks 1.5 miles or more in length – Auto Club Speedway’s current configuration included. Removing a track from that category and adding a short track is a good move.
If NASCAR is willing to foot the bill for the cost to renovate the track, then I am all for it. It’s about time they made a move that may cost them some money in the short term but will have a great effect on the long-term success of NASCAR.
I wrote a piece in July about how NASCAR has basically abandoned short track racing. My biggest fear was that if Iowa was no longer a part of the fold, there was no short track remotely close to be added to the Cup schedule. Now, it appears we are just two years away from it happening.
There’s no question that the situation could be better, that there are better racetracks NASCAR could go to that would produce good racing. However, this is the fastest way to get a short track on the schedule.
While there are some questions about whether the configuration will even work, at the end of the day, I am sold at the words “short track.” I would have given up a date at any track over a mile in length (aside from Darlington) if it meant having a short track added to the schedule. Losing a race at the 2-mile Auto Club Speedway in exchange for a unique short track? That’s a trade I can get behind! – Clayton Caldwell
Break Off Another Cookie Cutter – Leave Auto Club Alone
Auto Club Speedway’s planned reconfiguration has been well received by fans. After all, what’s not to like about adding a West Coast Martinsville to the schedule? It’s apparent that the transition from a schedule full of intermediate tracks to road courses and superspeedways is well underway. But I have to ask: Is Auto Club Speedway the right track, and is now the right time?
If there’s one thing this year has shown us, big tracks offer a lot to offer in terms of flexibility and options in a state of crisis. The 2-mile oval in Fontana offers a lot of real estate with which to work. But why Auto Club Speedway? Of all the 1.5- or 2-mile tracks on the circuit, this is the one that has matured over the last decade and has consistently produced some of the best big-track racing we’ve seen. So much so that it was time to consider returning for a second date or even a playoff date.
Reducing the number of large high-speed oval seems to be the right thing to do from both a competition and attendance standpoint. Pleas for more short tracks and road courses have been a common refrain from fans in recent years, and that seems to be the road we’re continuing down.
But if we’re going to dig up a tri-oval, shouldn’t Texas Motor Speedway be on the list? What about Las Vegas? And doesn’t something desperately need to be done with Kentucky if it’s going to continue as a long-term fixture on the schedule?
The other question it raises is one of scheduling. Do we need to run two Martinsville-style races within a month of each other, 2,000 miles apart? Auto Club is essentially owned by the sanctioning body, so they’re free to do with it as they see fit, but the change is ironically reminiscent of the intermediate track boom that ran wild in the mid-1990s. Unfortunately, it doesn’t sound like the initial plans would include leaving the rest of the track intact due to the value of the surrounding property.
Keeping both configurations could help frame the return of the California track to a two-event schedule using one of each layout. NASCAR seems entrenched in the notion of attracting celebrities and others in the entertainment industry in the Los Angles area to the track. And with new manufacturer’s poised to enter the sport, being in the largest market in the United States is kind of mandatory.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m all for changing things up a bit, and opening the taps on the motors to make more steam than you can buy off the showroom floor with a 50,000-mile powertrain warranty. I’d just like to see it done first at tracks like Kentucky, Texas or Las Vegas. Considering what happened to another great Southern Californian track the last time a bulldozer was involved, I wouldn’t be so quick to start tearing down another. – Vito Pugliese
About the author
Vito is one of the longest-tenured writers at Frontstretch, joining the staff in 2007. With his column Voice of Vito (monthly, Fridays) he’s a contributor to several other outlets, including Athlon Sports and Popular Speed in addition to making radio appearances. He forever has a soft-spot in his heart for old Mopars and presumably oil-soaked cardboard in his garage.