Car chases and bumper-to-bumper traffic don’t normally come to mind when one ponders the positives of life in California. But when NASCAR rolls into town, thousands of racing enthusiasts couldn’t be anymore pleased.
The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series is set to invade Southern California this weekend for the 20th annual Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway. And if the past is any indication of what we can expect in the future, then we should be in for a wild race on Sunday.
It is no secret that the Fontana-based track has undergone a complete 180 in the past few years. What was once one of the most unbearable races of the season, bogged down by boring racing and low attendance, has quickly turned into one of the most anticipated and well-liked. Four of the last six events at Auto Club Speedway have resulted in a last-lap pass for the win. Each of those races have displayed fantastic racing, with drivers taking their cars wherever they want on the 75-foot wide track. Seeing four and five-wide action has become the norm on restarts there. Speed, handling, drafting, horsepower, and tire wear all come into play when the drivers tackle the Southern California track.
While other venues; including NASCAR’s home track Charlotte Motor Speedway, continue to tear down seats due to declining interest in the quality of racing provided, Auto Club Speedway continues to stand strong. Two of the last three events have been sellouts, with fans packed into the stands like cans of sardines. Sunday’s race will be no different, with infield camping already sold out and large attendance figures expected for the grandstands.
“We are expecting a great crowd this year once again,” said track president Dave Allen on Tuesday.
Fontana does have an ace up their sleeve however – the track surface. In 20 years of racing, the dreaded word “repave” has never needed to come into play. The drivers are still competing on the same surface that was laid down when the track opened in 1997.
“The track has aged like fine wine,” said Allen earlier this week. “After Atlanta and Texas repaves, we will be the oldest surface on the NASCAR racing circuit. The drivers love it and we’re maintaining the track surface as long as we can.”
Not only do the drivers love it, but the fans do as well. Older racing surfaces force teams to make more strategy calls due to the fact that the tires wear out faster and the handling goes away quicker. With his track getting ready to take the reigns on having the oldest pavement on the NASCAR schedule, Allen couldn’t be more excited.
“It’s a good feeling. We are also one of the fastest tracks on the NASCAR circuit. Our drivers put on a good show and our fans love it. They are here to watch flat-out and five-wide racing. With the lower downforce package the racing will be even better.”
With the recent success the speedway has experienced, Allen and his team haven’t shied away from enhancing the at-track experience in order to give back to the fans whom he claims deserve the credit for their recent resurgence.
“Our fans, they are the ones that are passing on the passion of racing,” Allen exclaimed. “This is the only time NASCAR comes to Southern California and the racing here has been tremendous. The drivers look forward to coming here and having fun on this fast 2 mile oval. It’s going to be a great race.”
This weekend’s race is the 20th year anniversary event for Auto Club Speedway. The track staff has been working hard to stack up a great weekend of entertainment for race fans, including two pre-race concerts and a large list of celebrity appearances.
In addition, Monster Energy will also be out in full force this weekend. The new title sponsor of NASCAR’s premier series is headquartered only about 20 miles away from the racetrack, meaning Allen and his racetrack have now also taken the reigns as Monster’s home track.
“The track is just a few miles north of Monster’s corporate offices in Corona and we have worked with them over the past couple of years,” stated Allen. “Monster Energy has a hospitality area just inside the tunnel into the infield, a major display footprint. This year, Monster Energy will also have a large display in the Fan Zone with a motorcycle “ball of death” and special motorsport exhibits.”
One other edge Auto Club Speedway has on other tracks is the great level of diversity amongst fans who come to enjoy NASCAR racing. The Latino fanbase is arguably stronger here than any other location on the circuit, and the racetrack has evolved recently to be more accommodating – with more Latino-based entertainment and activities being offered in the track’s FanZone. The racetrack even put out a Spanish commercial to help promote the race for the Latino community.
So while most other venues are scrambling to try to figure out how to get fans back in the stands, Auto Club Speedway continues to surf the waves of success. Ten years ago if you asked anyone in NASCAR if they were looking forward to an upcoming race at Fontana they would most likely laugh in your face. But nowadays, there’s a sense of relief in heading out to the West Coast.
It seems as if NASCAR finally started California Dreamin’.