There are three elements that make a great stock car race. You first need a great track, then great competition. Above all else, you need great fans.
NASCAR fans are the most passionate fans in any form of sports. Sure, college football has its share of great fans. Penn State has gone as far as creating a "town" to honor their student section, known as Paternoville.
But that only gets created a few weekends in the fall. In NASCAR, they have their own town that builds up days prior.
The people come mid-week just to get set up, and party well after the checkered flag falls.
Unfortunately, one track has fallen behind in loyal fans, great competition, and an overall great track. That was seen on Sunday afternoon at the Auto Club Speedway. It was a sight that FOX cameras tried not to show, but couldn't help but be noticed.
Empty seats across the entire front stretch told a story that has become all too familiar with this track. The seating capacity at the speedway is 97,000, but Sunday reports were saying there were around 72,000 fans in attendance.
Where were they getting those figures?
Were they counting the ushers, the food vendors, the media, and the grandstands?
The track hasn't sold out a race since they got two Cup dates in 2004. The track doesn't provide great racing, and let's face it, without good competition, you won't have fans attend.
If California wants to keep just one of it's races, it needs some work. But how much, and where should track management look to for advice?
The answer is simple: look at a track that has a record of holding exciting races year after year. A track that has sold out every event for over a decade. A track that has some of the rowdiest, and most die-hard, fans anywhere in the country.
California needs to take lessons from the Bristol Motor Speedway.
Without question, Bristol is the hardest ticket to get hold of in NASCAR. Even last year with the rough economy, Bristol Motor Speedway sold out both races, keeping their sellout streak intact.
That is possible because of what the track provides for the fans. Bristol was always a one-groove race track, right on the bottom, and it was beating and banging to get position. After, tempers would flare and no one would leave the track unless they saw a fight, whether it was with fists or bumpers.
Since then, the track has been resurfaced, with a progressive banking. But, it still provides the hard-nosed racing that has made the "World's Fastest Half-Mile" the biggest draw for NASCAR fans.
How can Bristol help California? It's all in the banking.
At this moment, the Auto Club Speedway is practically a clone of Michigan. The banking is nearly similar, which provides similar racing.
If this track were to put the progressive banking in the corners, they would improve the multiple groove racing they already have. Bristol went from just one groove of racing to three grooves, something the drivers have praised. It brought more competition, better racing, and gave more options for drivers.
Right now at California there's only a couple drivers you can anticipate being at the front. Jimmie Johnson has this track at his mercy, while Roush-Fenway Racing has the moniker of calling it "The Roush House."
The progressive banking will give the drivers that have struggled at the track a better opportunity to run well—and possibly win.
The better racing will then bring on more fans, and will gave a better chance at filling the grandstands.
The Homestead-Miami Speedway added the progressive banking in 2003, as it was also considered boring, one-grooved, and not exciting. Its 20-degree progressive banking has made the track the ideal place to end the season.
Bristol followed suit a few years later and got similar results.
The progressive banking will improve the racing, which then will increase the competition. Most importantly, it will increase the attendance.
Should California elect to keep the track the way it is, not only is it in danger of losing one date, but possibly both. The fans aren't happy with the racing it puts on every year, and want a major overhaul.
If changes don't come, NASCAR will continue to suffer with each visit to the Auto Club Speedway.