By admin | February 21, 2010
By Richard Allen
Not even the best political spin doctors in Washington, D.C. could find a way to put Sunday’s attendance, or lack there of, at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California in a positive light.
Ever since this track was given a second date on the NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule the attendance has been disappointing, or rather embarrassing. Sunday’s Auto Club 500 was perhaps the most pathetic showing of all in Southern California.
Less than an hour before the green flag was to fall on the event Fox Network television cameras showed driver Kevin Harvick signing autographs on pit road. In the background the vacant grandstands were visible which caused me to think the footage of Harvick must have been shot earlier. Turns out it was live. The stands were really that empty so close to start time.
Entire sections of seats were obviously empty or nearly so despite Fox’s best efforts to use close up camera angles as cars raced on the front stretch. Pictures posted on twitter and Facebook by various media members further revealed just how poor attendance was.
Of course, track president Gillian Zucker was at the ready with the typical excuses. The economy and potential rain were cited as reasons for the lack of fan patronage. Both, and any other excuses, are ridiculous. This track has what should be a perfect date. It is only one week removed from the Daytona 500, the sport’s marquee event. Coming after that race allows for tremendous publicity as almost every major sports media outlet in the country covers the ‘Great American Race’. The Daytona race is almost always exciting, and pothole withstanding, this year was no different.
When asked if the track would fare better with one date instead of two, Zucker replied, “I really don’t know if selling out one race is better than having two races.”
Seriously, Ms. Zucker?
And to make matters worse, the racing on this facility is awful. 500 miles of eventless parading followed by a contrived finish is all those in markets who actually care about the sport have to look forward to from this two-mile facility.
The bottom line is this track was given a second date which it never deserved. This is a region which is only casually interested in NASCAR at best. Having one race here is plausible because of the sheer size of the market and the fact that having only one race might attract enough people who want to see what racing is all about to make the place not look so empty. Two dates is a joke, or better a folly.
“We’re going to fight tooth and nail to keep our events,” Zucker declared in a mid-race press conference.
Frankly, Ms. Zucker, this is a fight I hope you lose. Last week I wrote that if any track was to lose a date so that Kansas might add another it should be this one. I saw absolutely nothing on Sunday that would cause me to change my mind. One Follywood 500 is plenty for the Los Angeles area.
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Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly columns appear in The Mountain Press and The Knoxville Journal.
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