Five Ways To Improve the Auto Club 500 Parade

Nathan BitnerSenior Analyst IFebruary 23, 2009

So, I'm still waiting for the Fontana race to start. What I watched last night wasn't a race; it was a parade.

As predicted, five to 10 cars were far superior to the rest of the field and the lack of close racing meant long green-flag runs. This, in turn, led to almost two-thirds of the field being lapped by the time the checkered flag flew...nearly half the field was lapped by the middle of the race.

Clearly, the fans must be clamoring for three-and-a-half hours of prerace filler, because that's what they got. Unfortunately, some of the segments were more exciting than the parade itself.

Of course, if a race happens (sort of) near a forest, and (almost) no one is there to see it (and those watching from home have turned off their television sets because Chris Myers has driven them criminally insane), did it still suck? The answer is yes.

Gillian Zucker (pictured above) says this race is the bee's knees, so maybe I'm just an uninformed, stubborn man who "had to walk to school uphill in the snow - both ways...while living in a matchbox with 18 other family members and breaking big rocks into little rocks 25 hours a day."

Said Zucker of the "official" 78,000 in attendance (the venue seats 92,000), "The turnout was awesome, I'm so thrilled with the crowd. It clearly shows how passionate Southern California is about NASCAR."

Really? First of all, if there were 78,000 people there, I'm pretty sure that there are pigs flying outside of my office window right now. Second of all, I'm not sure anyone has ever suggested that Southern California is "passionate" about NASCAR.

I'm sure that some individuals in the area may be passionate, but certainly not the region as a whole. Talk about putting lipstick on a pig (the attendance numbers, not Ms. Zucker). 

Still, who likes a complainer who doesn't offer up any solutions?

Here are five ways NASCAR could improve this race, outside of "accidentally" blowing up the Speedway and starting over. I'm going to assume that one race must stay in California, regardless of the two million signatures on the petition to have them both removed (no, it doesn't exist, but it could).


1. Add Progressive Banking to the Track

This is not a guarantee of good racing by any means, but it certainly can't make it worse. It significantly improved the racing at Homestead and the Las Vegas version seems to be working there, though it will be more interesting to watch the effects as the new Vegas pavement ages.

Right now, the 14 degree banking in each corner pretty much lends itself to exactly what we've seen each time the current car has raced there—a spread-out field, single-file racing (outside of the first couple laps after a restart), and the ability of a few strong cars to lap most others before the race has barely begun.


2. Change the Start Time and Length of the Race

The first one is a no-brainer. SpeedTV started their coverage at 3 PM. Fox chimed in at 5 PM and the green flag dropped at 6:22 PM. Five whole laps of green-flag racing were squeezed in before Jimmie Johnson led the field through about 20 caution laps while the sprinkles fell. If anyone was still watching at 6:22, you probably lost them by 6:45.

Feel free to tailor the event to the West Coast. After all, the race is in California. But why not start it around 3:00 or 3:30 instead of 6:30? If you want to make it a night race, make it a Saturday night race, though that is not my preference.

I don't see the point of running 225 miles of parade laps followed by 25 laps of racing. I think this is one of the races you can safely shorten to 400 miles without hearing a whole lot of criticism from (all three) ticket-holders. Besides, they can get back to their Hollywood parties sooner.


3. Make Southern Californians Want to Go to This Race

Sorry, but the easiest way to do this is make it a once-yearly event. Right now, the market is over-saturated and not responding to the myriad of marketing ploys that Zucker has attempted to lure more fans. If I lived in the area, I'd rather go to the Vegas race anyway.

It's not just because of the recession, either. This race has never sold out, and no amount of television filtering of the audience or Zucker's massaging of the ticket sales figures will make it so.

Perhaps if the fans had less opportunities to go to the Auto Club Speedway, they would be more likely to take advantage of the one opportunity they do have. It makes financial sense to keep California and Vegas together on the schedule for the race teams (logistics, expenses, etc.).

There are plenty of more deserving and more interesting places to race in the Fall. Kentucky, Iowa, and Darlington all come to mind.

Take the race away and see if California can earn it back by making improvements.


4. Create an Economically-Feasible California/Las Vegas Ticket Package

Look, this is a pie-in-the-sky pipe dream, because Fontana is owned by ISC and Vegas is owned by Bruton Smith (SMI). Cooperation between the two is about as likely as Scott Speed painting Matt Kenseth's fingernails pink.

California lowered some ticket prices this year (the first five rows of the main grandstands were $35, for example), but wouldn't it be nice if the two tracks worked together to boost attendance at both races?

I doubt that LVMS is going to be selling out its 142,000 seats any time soon and fans that attend one generally live close enough to attend the other.

Though it could potentially be a win-win situation, it simply will never happen, which is unfortunate.


5. Have Goodyear Bring Last Year's Indianapolis Tire to the Track

Okay, so this one is a joke. But, hey, I'd almost rather see 12 laps at a time than what I witnessed last night.

Not to mention, it would certainly make for an interesting post-race press conference with Tony Stewart.