California track fighting to remain relevant

 

Auto Club Speedway might lose one of its two annual races, but it won't be without a fight, said speedway president Gillian Zucker.

With more than 40,000 empty seats serving as a background during last Sunday's Auto Club 500, Zucker promised to be "kicking and screaming and clawing and scratching for two dates" next year, knowing that her parent company, International Speedway Corp., already has plans to add a second racing weekend to Kansas Speedway.

ISC owns 11 tracks on the Sprint Cup Series schedule and is a partner on an 12th. Since NASCAR said it probably won't expand the schedule beyond its 36 regular season races, giving Kansas a second date likely will come at the expense of another ISC property.

"I think every track has to be concerned that it could come from them," Zucker said.

Attendance has been a problem at the Southern California track. The track seats nearly 93,000 fans and the race has yet to sell out. Last Sunday's race was the worst with only half the seats sold.

Zucker, however, was looking at the positives.

"I know what we bring to the economy in California," she said. "That's something we're proud of and something that they need. And I also believe there is great opportunity for NASCAR here. There are a lot of fans out there, and we need to keep delivering a great product out on that racetrack."

Kansas has enjoyed a sellout of its 82,000-seat facility for every one of its Sprint Cup races. ISC also has won approval to build a casino.

Zucker said tracks shouldn't be judged solely on attendance figures. If Auto Club has 50,000 people at a 93,000-seat facility, it's really no different than a track that sells out a 50,000-seat grandstand.

"All tracks are not equal. If you're at a facility that holds 50,000 and it's sold out, is that better than a track that holds 92,000 and is growing and attracting a youth market to the sport and attracting a diverse market to the sport? I think this market is very important to NASCAR," she said.

EARNHARDT LOSES COOL: A local reporter at the Auto Club Speedway wanted to know why Dale Earnhardt Jr. is so far behind his three other teammates at Hendrick Motorsports, and he didn't stop asking until Earnhardt lost his cool.

When asked why Jeff Gordon worked forward in traffic and he faded, Earnhardt said, "We're two totally different teams."

That drew a question about sharing information.

"I can't build the cars," Earnhardt said. "What do you want me to do? I just drive them."

Earnhardt finished 32nd after breaking an axle.

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