Race Weekend Central

2-Headed Monster: Should Auto Club Speedway Be Converted to a Short Track?

With Sunday’s (Feb. 27) NASCAR Cup Series race at Auto Club Speedway, we saw what could be the final race on the track’s original 2-mile configuration. In 2020 it was believed that the track would be turned into a high banked half-mile short track – not unlike Bristol Motor Speedway – by 2023. Last Sunday’s first intermediate track race in the Next Gen car was by all accounts an entertaining weekend from practice, to qualifying, and then the race itself.

Given the initial success of the car at three different tracks to start the season, might it be worth holding off on a reconfiguration for the time being? In this week’s installment of 2-Headed Monster, Vito Pugliese and Clayton Caldwell sort things out.

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Couch Potato Tuesday: Matt Kenseth Shines in FOX Debut at Fontana

Keep 2.0-miles In Style

One of the defining aspects of the 1990s NASCAR explosion was the predominance of intermediate ovals that served as the canvas where the sport would be drawn for the next 20 years. Tri-ovals and ovals between 1.5 and 2.0 miles began to pepper the schedule, with a new track of repetitious design seeming to be proposed or built every year. The reason for it wasn’t necessarily that they provided the best racing, but because they could fit enough seats as they could sell tickets for around a track of that size. Smaller than Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway, but offering the visual of high-speed competition was the best of both worlds, and became the trademark of NASCAR, as well as the newly formed Indy Racing League.

As the years went on, the cars got faster and faster. Engines producing upwards of 900 horsepower, cars making increasing downforce, and tires that could take a beating, coupled with aging surfaces that required repaves of fresh asphalt, conspired to create a self-defeating prophecy: too much speed and an over-dependence on aerodynamics. The introduction of the Car of Tomorrow in 2007 was supposed to help alleviate this, with its front splitter and a rear spoiler that was more at home on an IMSA prototype than a Mooresville missile.

By 2012 at MIS, things began to get a little out of hand. Corner entry speeds of over 225 mph — approaching what once were IndyCar speeds in a 3500 lbs rectangle — on a 2.0-mile track was certainly a sight to behold. I remember standing at the end of pit road and seeing this display — 30 mph faster than when I would go with my dad there less than 20 years earlier. While the speeds during qualifying or the opening lap were impressive, it didn’t exactly make for the most compelling competition. The dreaded aero-push, which become a term five years earlier, was further exacerbated with the increased speeds and aero parity of the cars.

With the Next Gen car we have a completely different animal. Horsepower can be tailored to a desired speed through a tapered spacer (i.e., restrictor plate), and the new underbody aero effects seemed to help provide plenty of passing during Sunday’s race. The new car has also brought about a learning curve and attrition back to the sport. This has been on display for the last two weeks, and we’ve seen some different drivers and teams battling up front competitively — like the No. 43 of Erik Jones and No. 99 of Daniel Suarez — that we haven’t seen at places other than Daytona or Talladega.

Considering we’ve had three races in a row of positive results… can we pump the brakes a bit?

When was the last time we had this kind of momentum to start the season like this? Sure, the Daytona 500 is always a story and something significant will invariably happen, but the super short track race in Los Angeles, then a remarkably interesting race at Auto Club Speedway with another intermediate this weekend at Las Vegas, maybe we keep the bulldozers idle for a bit.

To be clear, NASCAR seemed to be taking a wait and see approach prior the L.A. Coliseum edition of the Busch Light Clash. At the time, NASCAR President Steve Phelps said, “Us adding another half-mile racetrack in a very important marketplace for us, I’ll call it the L.A. (metropolitan area), it’s important.” Track president Dave Allen, when asked if the 2023 race would be the first for Auto Club as a half-mile, seemed to hedge a bit. “Possibly. We don’t know that yet, either. Possibly. We’ll continue to treat it as if it is.”

It would seem to me following the Clash, we have a viable, fan-favorite short track in Los Angeles — an absolute success story not far removed from the 1979 Daytona 500 as far as fan impact and expanding NASCAR’s reach into new markets.

That said, NASCAR has a long, storied history of not acting fast enough when there’s something that isn’t perfect or doesn’t seem to be working. They also have displayed a pattern of beating something to death at the first sign of promise. Remember racing under the lights? Yeah it was great at Bristol Motor Speedway, made sense at Richmond Raceway, helped make The Winston a unique event… then all of a sudden everything had to start at 4 p.m. ET and end under the lights. Did it make racing better? No. Did it alter the plans of many a Saturday night? Unfortunately.

We’ve added additional road course races which is great, but that didn’t necessarily mean we needed to upgrade to sequential transmissions and transaxles. The Camping World Truck Series race at Eldora Speedway was a huge hit… a few years later we’re throwing dirt on Bristol and nobody can see where they’re going.

Making Auto Club a high banked half-mile seems a bit redundant; we already race at Bristol twice and 2-mile Michigan International Speedway has been reduced to one race; do we really need three Bristol races? Let’s be honest, it’s not the same track it was in the 1990s. It can be good, but that doesn’t mean you clone it. Look at Texas Motor Speedway. It looked like Charlotte Motor Speedway when Charlotte was amazing (before they removed the turn 4 Humpy Bumps and ground it down a couple of times), but it never has been anything close to that.

There’s too many new variables in play right now with the new car, parts shortages, inventory concerns, and the general state of the economy – not to mention the absolute global upheaval of the last two years, and 2022 looks to be continuing that trend unabated. Maybe we just let things breathe here for a year or two before we start making the infrastructure changes that cannot be physically undone. – Vito Pugliese.

See also
Stat Sheet: Auto Club Speedway's Comeback Weekend

More Short Tracks Please!

It’s more than just a phrase. After every short-track race we watch “more short tracks please” is spewed all across social media by numerous fans and people in the industry. Everyone is always in agreement that short track racing is what stock car racing was made for.

Since 1997 only three short tracks have been on NASCAR’s schedule and ever since Bristol’s reconfiguration it seems the magic that place once held is no longer there. Nothing would rejuvenate the fans of this sport more than a brand new, nice and shiny short track that restores the beating and banging that helped build NASCAR racing.

Sunday’s Cup race at Auto Club Speedway was a fun; I don’t think anyone is going to dispute that. However, we cannot forget that Auto Club’s abrasive surface is not going to be around forever. When the track gets repaved, it will turn into the same old mundane cookie cutter racetrack it was for a decade-and-a-half prior to the track surface wearing out.

Because of one good race on Sunday, should we forget Auto Club’s history? I sure don’t. Remember, this track once had two dates and NASCAR thought so much of it that they moved the track to the iconic Labor Day weekend slot on the schedule replacing the legendary Darlington Raceway. That was back in 2004. By 2009 the date was moved to Atlanta Motor Speedway and then eventually back to Darlington Raceway, where it has been since 2015.

Had Auto Club put on even a halfway decent show, it would have never been removed from Labor Day Weekend. Instead, NASCAR not only moved the track from that date, but they took a race away from the facility as well. Yet, folks think Auto Club Speedway is suddenly this outstanding facility? How soon we forget.

Plus, look at the numbers. I touched on it earlier, only three tracks on the NASCAR circuit are currently under 1 mile in length, Bristol, Martinsville Speedway and Richmond. Each facility has two dates; however one of Bristol’s dates is now a dirt race, which means there are five actual short tracks on the circuit. Six if you include the L.A. Coliseum for the Clash.

Now let’s count the tracks 1.5 miles and above in length that are considered cookie cutter racetracks. You ready? Atlanta Motor Speedway, Charlotte, Michigan, Texas Motor Speedway, Nashville Superspeedway, Kansas Speedway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway. That’s seven and I am not even including Homestead-Miami Speedway  because of my bias towards that place. Those seven racetracks I mentioned make up 12 races on the schedule, if you include the All-Star Race at Texas Motor Speedway. So that’s 12 of 38 events, a whopping 32% of the schedule consists of cookie cutter racetracks. Tell me again why we have to keep Auto Club Speedway the way it is?

The simple solution is to make it a short track. NASCAR has been very hesitant to add a short track to the schedule. Before the race at the LA Coliseum, the last new short track on the Cup schedule was Meyer Speedway in Houston back in 1971. While we’ve seen NASCAR add diversity to the schedule in recent years, we have yet to see them add a points-paying short track race, something that would go over well with their fan base. Converting Auto Club Speedway would be the perfect long-term solution to adding a short track to the Cup schedule. Sure, the event at the L.A. Coliseum was nice but it’s not a racetrack. It’s a stadium that hosts numerous sports and numerous events. How long can NASCAR plan on running at the facility before it either becomes too expensive to race there or before another sport needs to use the Coliseum and NASCAR is pushed aside?

That wouldn’t happen at Auto Club Speedway because NASCAR would own the facility and racing would be the number one priority. Converting Auto Club to a short track would be the best move not just the next five or so years, but the next 10-15 or even 20-30 years. Let me ask you this. What is the best long-term option for NASCAR to add a short track to their schedule? If the answer isn’t Auto Club, you are fooling yourself. It’s time to make it happen!

Louder this time for the people in the back – “More short tracks please!”  — Clayton Caldwell

About the author

The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.

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Matty

Why are we even discussing Auto Club when a perfectly good Nashville Fairgrounds track is practically ready to race?

John huston

What happened to the drag strip At auto club speedway? Where are the kids going to race?I hope not on the street again.

Kevin in SoCal

If the short-track goes thru, the facility is selling a bunch of the land it doesn’t need anymore. That includes the drag strip. Its our last 1/4 mile drag strip left in SoCal. We lost Pomona due to noise regulations, only the pros can race on it now. I don’t want to lose Fontana too.

john dawd chapman

All Ca, race facilities have a common problem. That’s the insane Ca. land values. That’s what killed other noted tracks, & what will probably lead to changes at ACS.

Shayne

The short track plans at Fontana are on hold.

Have no fear. NASCAR is heading to Chicago to meet with Mayor Bettlejuice about a proposed street circuit.

All is well.

DoninAjax

NA$CAR is saved!!!! Another brilliant idea from the brain trust.

Echo

I think a street race in Chicago is right up there among all the stupidest things Brian ever ” stuporized ” is Ben Brian’s voice.

Bill B

I’m telling you, it won’t be long until there is a figure 8 course.

Jeremy

Those figure 8 guys have balls! Amazing to watch them, even more amazing they don’t wreck more often. It’s definitely a fun show. Not sure it’s where NASCAR needs to be, but then again Daytona and Talladega are essentially the same style of crap shoot just without the crossover in the middle of the track. I’ve obviously never driven in either type of race, but I imagine figure 8 requires MUCH more skill than Daytona/Talladega.

Bill B

Obviously I was joking but there is a viable way to run a figure 8 without the cross-section. A lot of us had race tracks when we were kids and all you need to do is raise one straightaway above the other at the crossover point (this would open up a whole bunch of other issues that would need to be considered).

My overall point is that NASCAR seems to be going for the whole circus mentality of creating a spectacle to attract fans. We need a street course like we need a figure eight (or another hole in our head). What they don’t realize is the fans they attract with these ploys aren’t race fans but fans of hokey spectacles. Meanwhile real fans roll their eyes and wonder why their beloved sport is going down this road.

Last edited 3 months ago by Bill B
Charlie

Sell it to a developer. Take the massive profit to improve Darlington and Martinsville, move Phoenix and Vegas up one week. Have a street race in San Diego since everyone is so enamored with Southern California.

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