It’s time again to play in the California sun. NASCAR goes back, for its fourth week of the Chase, to the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana.
For the first time NASCAR visits the west coast in October.
From a spectators standpoint Fontana is beautiful. From the other side of a television, it may be just another race. In person it’s a completely different experience.
In the past the midway was a wonderful place. The lines of merchandise haulers and other booths created a big county fair atmosphere and a great feeling, beautiful to see and lots of fun watching people. In recent years things have been redone and haulers and the main midway are in side of the “Fan Zone” the center point of which is Emeril’s restaurant.
This week’s guest spotter sat down with me on a wet Sunday morning a few weeks ago in Dover, to share his view of the Auto Club Speedway from the Spotter stand.
Joey Meier, spotter for the Earnhardt-Ganassi No. 1 team of Martin Truex Jr. spared no detail.
“It’s one of the largest tracks we go to; it’s well over two miles,” starts Joey Meier, about racing at the Auto Club Speedway in California.
“The unique thing about California, and especially the race we are going to, is it starts in the day and ends at night. It’s actually very taxing from our viewpoint because turns three and four are shadowed but we (the spotters) are staring into the sun. It creates this black hole that as the drivers are going down the backstretch there is this hole while you are trying to get your eyes to adapt. It obviously doesn’t happen for the whole race.”
Meier will be high above the speedway on Sunday; guiding the No.1 of Martin Truex Jr. as they team attempts to capture their first victory of the 2009 season. In order to do that, they’ll not only have to fight 42 other drivers, but the changing track conditions.
“But, where the race start in broad daylight and end at night so there is a transition period of about 35 to 45 minutes that we are looking at a dark hole because the sun is in our eyes but the track itself is shaded,” Meier said.
As a spotter he has a different viewpoint of the speedway than those sitting in the grandstands or watching at home. He needs to be able to make himself comfortable for long days, and nights work. The Auto Club Speedway has its good and bad sides.
“California has a decent spotter stand, it may not be one of ‘the best’, there are two or three tracks that have really good stands, but it is a good spotter stand,” he says.
“We have a lot of room to move around. Most of the guys will use binoculars because it’s one of the lower spotter stands. If you were to compare to Daytona or Talladega this is definitely one of the lower stands and the backstretch is farthest away from us. Because we are so low we have to look over the top of all the infield trailers to see the backstretch and it is very, cluttered and very narrow from our stand point. “
Having a spotter with obstructed vision is not something that will help the driver, who puts their trust in their eyes in the sky to guide them through anything in front of them. Meier explains how he goes about getting the job done when that happens.
“You have to air on the side of safety, especially when clearing cars or paying attention to wrecks. Most wrecks happen off of turn two and the cars sort of disappear as they spin off to the left and down to the inside,” he tells us. “We’re trying to look over the campers, and at the bottom of the backstretch it can be almost impossible to see them.”
This Sunday the two-mile oval plays host to the third race in the 2009 Chase. Cars can run around the speedway at two or three wide in great racing for the spectators. In February it was a day race but coming back for a second time this weekend will consist of 500 miles of going from day-time and ending under the lights.
Night race is a favorite among most spectators, enjoying how fast the cars look as they shine under the lights. For Meier he enjoys night racing for a different reason.
“Night racing, to me, is really an advantage. Because, then the smoke from a wreck shows up really fast (in the lights) and it gives you an indication of what’s going on,” he reveals.
“It’s obviously a very fast track. Most of the incidents happen of turns two and four. Great pit road. Getting on and off pit road is really a wonder. It’s not like Dover. At Fontana, you don’t have to worry about it as much as the other tracks we do.”
Last weekend in Kansas the race looked like it could be decided on fuel mileage. California this weekend might turn out to be who gets the most Sunoco fuel in their tank, spectators are used to seeing California races have long green flag runs, and something Meier wouldn’t be surprised to see again.
“The racing grove is so wide; you can count on doing a lot of green flag pit stops. You don’t have time to count on a caution flag like other tracks. At some other tracks the team can lay out ten or eleven sets of tires, counting on a certain number of cautions. At Fontana, they may lay out seven or eight sets and only use six or seven because of all the green flag stops.”
And because of that, “It’s another one of those gas mileage places, that you’ll start the race and run it backwards to see when you are done pitting,” he says.
Which means Meier and the No.1 team will want to position them at the end of the race to be contention for the win. “The track is so fast, and the cars are so equal, track position at Fontana is huge. If you are out front with clean air you are gonna run ten times better than if you are back in 20th or 25th.”
“Pit road is pretty irrelevant at this place, which is really unique. It’s one of the few (tracks) that pit road really doesn’t come into play. Whether you have pit stall number 43 or number one, they are all humongous boxes and pit road is really wide, so getting on or getting off there is really no advantage to any pit stall,” Meier added. This small fact too many, proves a great one on the race track. After all, it was only this past week in Kansas that a call on pit road decided the race.
Good and bad come with every race and every track. So I hit up Meier for his most and least favorite aspects of going to California.
“The travel time, you know, going out there Thursday morning on a normal schedule is not too bad there. But Sunday night into Monday morning, because it’s a night race, you just get home so late. That is probably the least favorite thing of mine for this track.”
“My most Favorite, the California area, the environment, the hotel, the food, everything else out there is really nice. I spend a lot of time at the race track, because I spot for other teams as well. So I’m there every day no matter what race is running. I get to do very little sightseeing.”
“So least favorite is the travel, going home rather than going out. We fly in fantastic air planes. (He should know he’s also the pilot.) EGR still operates two, 50 seat regional jets. We are one of the few race teams that still have regional jets. And we are probably one of the only teams that have two. So our guys travel in really good style. And, we’ll make it home in probably four hours. So it’s not that bad. Because it’s a night race however, four hours still means we’ll be getting home between four and six in the morning.”
“The weather is really good out there which is a plus. If you look back over this season for 2009, I’d be willing to bet there haven’t been five races we haven’t had rain on at least one of the days we’re on the track.”
“Normally at California you can count on the weather being pretty decent. I was born and raised in southern Florida, I love the heat. So, California is right up my alley.”
Featured Spotter Bio:
Full Name: Joseph Richard Meier, but nobody really knows my middle name and very few people know my last name. I’m either Joey “the pilot”, or Joey “the spotter”. Or “JTP” short for Joey the pilot.
Team spotter since: I’ve been spotting for Martin (Truex Jr.) since he came to DEI in late 2003.
Favorite Movie: Anything with Chris Farley in it.
Favorite Music: 80’s or 90’s favorite song um anything by Kiss.
Favorite Sport (other than racing): Bowling, and wake boarding.
Favorite off-track activity: I love to Bowl, Always said if anything ever happened to my Flying I would bowl full time to support my racing.
You can find Meier on Face book: http://www.facebook.com/home.php?ref=home#/joey.meier