CALIFORNIA DREAMIN’ on the Ropes -- by John R. Andres/SMM Editor-in-Chief 
Saturday, February 27, 2010, 03:06 PM
Posted by Administrator
It seems that it was only a matter of time before someone caught on that something was awry in Fontana. Regardless of the media spin that blamed the economy, the boring racing and the rotten weather for the poor attendance, Auto Club Speedway now finds itself clearly in NASCAR’s crosshairs and it doesn’t seem to have a clue what to do. No one in the front office really wanted to consider messing with the status quo but it’s time to get real before things get any worse.

Rumor has it that the Fontana February race date will be given to another track, presumably Kansas Speedway, by as early as next year. It’s been a long time coming and at this point appeals from ACS will not be met with much enthusiasm from the powers that be. No one can quite put a finger on how things got to this point but one thing is clear, two NASCAR races in Southern California is one too many.

I began covering the Fontana races in 2004 and the stands for both races were packed year in and year out until 2007. You could cut the excitement then with a knife. During that time, the community got behind the events by staging downtown parties that rivaled the one offered in downtown Charlotte. The City of Ontario did the same and it was clear to all that NASCAR coming to town was a big deal. Somehow somewhere things changed and these events went by the wayside. In some ways it seemed ACS began to focus upon a demographic that had nothing to do with the core group that supported these races in the past. Subsequent track improvements included a fan zone that featured a Wolfgang Puck restaurant, park landscaping and a stage providing those with a need to party a place to go but something was missing. It isn’t clear what Puck has to do with NASCAR or any other form of racing but someone at ACS must have thought the track was going to be primarily serving the IndyCar crowd. An In/Out Burger stand would have been more widely accepted than standard West Hollywood wine and cheese cuisine. Within a year the place took on a corporate feel that lacked the verve and the roughness that Fontana has always been secretly proud of and the people that were once willing to put their hard earned cash up for grabs to prove it found other ways to spend their Sundays.

I don’t want to completely disregard the fact that discretionary cash for most NASCAR devotees is less available and that overall the TV ratings and attendance has suffered at other tracks as well. I also don’t want to leave the impression that one restaurant is the cause for poor attendance. It’s a combination of factors that Track President Gillian Zucker and her staff haven’t been able to figure out yet. Maybe someday they’ll find the key that opens the door but until that happens, the first race of the season will likely remain a thing of the past.

Sunset at Auto Club Speedway

2004 POP SECRET 500

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Putting the Fans First -- by John R. Andres/SMM Editor-in-Chief 
Sunday, January 24, 2010, 02:42 AM
Posted by Administrator
The winds of change have finally reached the place they should have a long time ago. For years, this writer has been hoping that the low pressure weather patterns would have relented and allowed clear skies and clear minds to prevail but now that they have finally arrived, who’s going to complain?

NASCAR announced this week at the Sprint Cup Series Media Tour in Charlotte that they have embarked upon a new way of looking and doing things, one that takes into account the suggestions the fans have been screaming for - better competition, racing rule changes, greater driver accessibility, and a willingness on behalf of the powers that be to listen to the people who spend their hard earned dollars to walk through the turnstiles across the country each and every weekend.

It would be easy to speculate why NASCAR has decided to make these changes now but what matters most is that the individuals who make this sport what it is finally have a voice that is being listened to.

I remember having a conversation with a track official two years ago, asking why NASCAR couldn’t adopt a mindset like the NHRA (see SMM editorial “A Weekend of Observations” in the “Antron Brown Sweeps the West” article), an organization that learned long ago the importance of spectator input and involvement. He looked at me like I had alligators coming out of my ears, citing security concerns and this and that. I tried to make my point with him in spite of the rebuffs but it was clear that my idea was heresy at the very least.

It will be interesting to see if this new found openness is a one-time shot or a trend. NASCAR and its fans have a rare opportunity to work collectively to improve the welfare and the grass roots relevance of stock car racing. It will be up to them to determine whether it will once again become a sport by and for the people.

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Stretchin’ the Truth along the Backstretch -- by Ira Ostenheimer 
Friday, January 15, 2010, 12:28 AM
Posted by Administrator
XM Sirius NASCAR Radio, the 24-hour a day source of information for all things NASCAR ... it's a place to hear and be heard, moderated by the likes of Dave Moody, Claire B. Lang, Chocolate Myers, Buddy Baker and Suzy Q. Their popular call-in format serves as a soapbox for the multitudes who make use of the opportunity to voice their opinions and share their thoughts about this driver or that rule change. It’s not serious drama but it is entertaining -- much of the time. For the most part, the announcers are spot on, well informed and outwardly tolerant of opinions that differ from their own. They try to chart an even course between fact and fiction but sometimes they drift into the land of make-believe.

Such was the case of Jerry Bonkowski, the host of “Backstretch”. This past Sunday evening's topic was, “What is it about NASCAR that sets it apart from all of the other sports in terms of its clean image and its ability to steer away from the scandals that other sports have experienced?” He cited the prevalence of steroid usage, gambling, infidelity, guns in locker rooms, drug busts, and on and on, so seemingly prevalent in other sports, never wavering and always pointing out in great detail how squeaky clean by comparison NASCAR is from top to bottom and everywhere in between. His comments would lead one to believe that they had found the moral high ground, leaving basketball, baseball, football and golf in the dust, lesser entities who continue to search for a way to right the alleged wrongs they have perpetrated upon their faithful followers, the fans.

I would like to think he’s right but I know better. I didn’t hear the entire broadcast but I heard enough to come away thinking that no sport, including NASCAR, holds the monopoly on clean living. Glaringly absent were the recent events in Daytona Beach that involved one of the sport's royalty, little mention of the ongoing drug issue involving a well known driver who claims his innocence following a dirty test, the lab that tested the specimen, or the periodic suspensions that occur within the rank and file for drug-related rule infractions.

We all want to think the best about the sport we love but the tendency of some members of the media to sugar-coat reality has become apparent to others, too. Shawn Courchesne (, in his January 8, 2010 blog, went into great detail about “Sweetened Tales Help Make Sure Some in the NASCAR Media Don’t Hurt Any Feelings”. In his comments, Courchesne made repeated reference to the lack of objectivity some media sources have demonstrated and their tendency to accept things without analysis or question.

Objectivity appears to be on the wane and much of this can be attributed to the demise of traditional coverage sources, the ones who made a point of making sure they reported the news as it truly existed, the ones who didn’t accept things on face value, the ones who thought before they spoke, the ones who knew what they were talking about, and the ones who didn’t use Twitter to promote their own viewpoint.

Perhaps Bonkowski was just trying to encourage conversation on his show. Most, if not all, of the callers I listened to seemed to agree with him. Maybe I’m the one who’s not being objective this time.

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Cars and Craps -- by SMM Chief Editorial Writer, Ira Ostenheimer 
Saturday, December 5, 2009, 04:04 PM
Posted by Administrator
It was only a matter of time before someone got the idea of building the ultimate adult playground consisting of a NASCAR facility and a casino all under one roof. I wish I would have thought of it first because I’d love to take credit for it myself but the folks at Kansas Speedway and Penn National Gaming Inc. beat me to the punch and now it appears there will be a Hollywood themed casino opening in 2012, overlooking Kansas Speedway’s Turn 2, which will include a 100,000 square foot casino with capacity for 2,300 slot machines and 86 game tables, a lounge, and a variety of dining and entertainment venues. Future phases include a hotel, expanded gaming space, a spa, a convention center and an entertainment retail district. WOW! It sounds like a combination of Disneyland and the Mall of America for gearheads.

It seems that International Speedway Corp. has been looking to enhance its present offerings to the NASCAR Nation by taking a giant step into the world of casino gambling, hoping that by doing so they’d also be able to score another race date in the “Land of Dorothy”. At this point, it’s unclear what Auntie Em thinks about all of this and whether she’d approve of such truck is still up for discussion. One thing is certain, her neighbors at the Kansas Lottery Facility Gaming Review Board think it’s a good idea and they voted 7-0 in favor just to prove it.

Talk about stacking the deck. Kansas has been lusting after a second race date for years and it appears that ISC has hit on something. The only problem is where is the extra race going to come from? Martinsville, Richmond, Fontana, Dover or Talladega, your guess is as good as mine.

It doesn’t matter which town you choose because the fans who attend the races in that area will be upset if ISC decides to yank the one in their backyard. At this point, the odds makers seem to have their money on Fontana losing one race even though it’s the second largest market in the country. Fan attendance has been spotty at Auto Club Speedway, it’s a long drive from the east and the race dates have not fallen on the best of Southern California weather patterns in recent years. It all comes down to dollars and cents and packing them in twice a year in Kansas sounds a lot better than the potential revenues up for grabs in the L.A. Basin.

The success or failure of such a venture will determine whether this concept amounts to nothing more than an aberration or will it become a trend that will spark similar projects in the future? Many purists are outraged but others like the idea of “Hollywood in the Heartland”. Just remember to give me naming credit and calling a spade a spade when you see it plastered on t-shirts from Kansas City all the way to Goodland.

Auto Club Speedway/Fontana, California
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NHRA Summit E.T. Series Bracket Drags/Sonoma, California -- Sandy Christianson, SMM Feature Contributor 
Thursday, December 3, 2009, 12:27 AM
Posted by Administrator
The post-Thanksgiving “Gobble Fest” at Infineon Raceway pitted some of Northern California’s premier bracket racers under clear skies and mid 70’s temperatures to the delight of those in attendance. It was a “run what ya brung” event with all the drama, action and competition one comes to expect from the guys and gals of NHRA’s Division 7. There were a few surprises when the final rounds were run but there was no question that the winners had to earn their way to the top … the hard way.

A month ago, the Division 7 Infineon Raceway NorCal contingent captured its second team championship in as many years at the Summit Racing Series Pacific Division Finals held on October 2-4, 2009, at Firebird International Raceway Park in Chandler, Arizona.

The NHRA Summit Racing Series features a bracket racing format that allows drivers in many types of vehicles, including dragsters, roadsters, sedans and coupes, to compete on an equal basis against each other. In addition to three categories of cars, a motorcycle category is also featured.

NHRA Summit Racing Series participants compete for points and cash awards at a number of qualifying events at 140 NHRA member tracks throughout North America. Drivers who earn the most points are eligible to compete for individual and team honors at the Summit Racing Finals in each of NHRA’s seven national divisions which includes a purse of $5000, a national championship trophy and bragging rights for the year.

Motorcycle crash sequence photography by Randy Jones, SMM Staff Photographer

Photos by J. R. Andres/Deborah Hepper

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