Friday, March 25, 2011

California Speedway: Disaster Track in Fontana

No track in the past decade has been widely criticized in motorsports than 2-mile California Speedway at Fontana. What was a dream for NASCAR expansion turned into a giant nightmare. Many NASCAR fans, current and former, point to this track as one of many reasons NASCAR is on a downside. It wasn't used to be that way. When Roger Penske opened this track in 1997 it was welcome arms for open-wheel racing and stock cars. While open wheel cars put on a show at the track it was different for NASCAR as they proceed to bore the audience. Then came the following moves that not only effected the track but entire American auto racing.

International Speedway Corporation, owned by NASCAR France family, bought the track including all of Roger Penske owned tracks in 1999. Later in the year track was rocked with a deadly crash of CART driver Greg Moore. Some of the audience, whom watched in the stands or on TV, got turned off by the track due the death of talented driver. It went downhill as they spent five years trying to force feed NASCAR to the Southern California market while slowly cutting open wheel racing from CART to Indycar who still put on amazing show and drawing a crowd over NASCAR. It was evident when estimate 90,000 still show up on a MONDAY to watch CART race after it was postponed for rain. It finally came when California got their second NASCAR date for 2005 season taking away one of Darlington races, a crown jewel in NASCAR. Not only that it kicked out all of open wheel racing from the track after 2004 season. It was the move that broke the straw of the back. NASCAR fans, especially hardcore ones, got fed up and stop following the sport. It also added another open wound to American open wheel racing who still having trouble drawing fans to the track despite blowing NASCAR away on ISC tracks due to the split. Despite two NASCAR races at the track they have hard time bringing fans in even giving the track a "playoff" race (which also took away one of Atlanta races). The crowd attendance each season in heavily saturated SoCal market declined. Last year spring race they drew 70,000 instead claim 100,000. The year before it was around 80,000.

Another problem they spent the time trying cater "rich Hollywood elite" instead the working class where 95% of the fanbase are. For ISC management they manage to dismiss complaints acting like there are no problems where there are problems from high prices (tickets to food) to souvenir booths moved from outside to inside track requiring to buy a ticket (which is high). ISC management refused to make changes even during California economic crisis which is still going on to this day.

Despite now having one NASCAR date the track is still a black eye to the fans and entire American auto racing landscape. NASCAR races are still boring on a track built for open wheel cars with crowd likely around 80,000 instead what ISC claim. As for American auto racing landscape how bad did it screwed up? Indycar CEO Randy Bernard decide to cut all ISC tracks from 2011 schedule which is a shame since produce far better action than NASCAR. Despite the better action ISC did little or no promoting of Indycar races (in act of jealousy and sabotage business decision) on their tracks thus having few ten thousands attend an Indycar race. Amazing how one ISC move single-handingly made fans turn their back on a series and an open wheel series giving them a big "FU."

There are times I wish Roger Penske never sold his tracks to ISC because most of the tracks were core to open wheel racing instead NASCAR like Fontana and Michigan. Now wish they close and tear Fontana down or move up north to Bakersfield for that short track. Fontana track wasn't a Hollywood dream; it's a Hollywood disaster.