By admin | March 24, 2011
By Richard Allen
Enquiring minds in places such as North Wilkesboro and Rockingham would like to know whether or not the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California should be allowed to keep its date on the NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule if there are scores of empty seats this weekend.
The tracks in the two locales mentioned above lost their place on the NASCAR schedule in 1996 and 2004 respectively. The two primary reasons given for those tracks losing their dates were that they did not attract enough fans and the market in North Carolina and the southeast was oversaturated.
Well, the Auto Club Speedway often seems to have more empty chairs than filled whenever it hosts a Sprint Cup race and its ‘crowds’ for Nationwide Series events would barely rival that of a high school football game.
The argument will often be made that even with the empty seats the Los Angeles area track still hosts more than the two displaced facilities. While that may well be true, I wonder with all the giveaways conducted prior to a Fontana race just how many of those in attendance actually paid to be there?
There may not have been as many fans at North Wilkesboro and Rockingham but they were truly fans of the sport. They did not regard NASCAR as a passing fancy that would quickly fade when the next ‘thing to do’ came along. Those tracks built NASCAR from the ground up and those fans paid for that building process. While the Fontana track proved to be a popular fad for a brief time in trendy Southern California, the interest waned after a relatively short honeymoon.
Interest has waned so much that last year NASCAR finally stripped one of the track’s two dates, leaving it with only this one race. That said, the excuse of two dates are too difficult to sell is now gone. But be prepared to hear, like last week in Bristol, that weather concerns diverted potential walkup customers, as if people just on a whim walkup and pay the amount of a Sprint Cup ticket price.
As for the argument that the Carolinas and the southeast were overly represented on the NASCAR schedule, Southern California resident Charlie Sheen might well some it up like this, “Duh, that’s where the fans are.” Actually, the more appropriate statement would be, “Duh, that’s where the fans were.”
Another side effect of North Wilkesboro and Rockingham being deemed ineligible to host even one NASCAR race was that tracks remaining in the area, particularly Charlotte and Bristol, attempted to take advantage of their status as survivors and have, along with their surrounding merchants, priced themselves out of the reach of the so-called common man.
Not only did NASCAR not win the fans they so dearly coveted in glitzy California, but attendance and television ratings in a region in which stock car racing was once the unquestioned sporting leader has seen a dramatic drop off.
Of course, the answer to the question posed in the title of this piece is that NASCAR will not abandon the Auto Club Speedway, no matter how feeble attendance appears to be on Sunday. The leadership of the sanctioning body seems to believe their form of racing is a viable national sport and must be represented in the lucrative L.A. market. And in regard to Wilkesboro and Rockingham, those tracks will never host another event at the highest level.
Agree with it or not, that is the course NASCAR has taken.
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