The empty seats at California Speedway over the span of the last three years for Cup races have not escaped the attention of NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France. In part, thank the Eastern media for painting a large bulls-eye on the Fontana track. Many still can’t believe California Speedway has two dates when some of the historic tracks of the Southeast have either zero or one Cup event. Perhaps it’s not that drastic. It may be, as Lowe’s Motor Speedway president H.A. “Humpty” Wheeler said, the sport just needs to get back on the “power curve.” In his state of the sport appearance earlier this week in Daytona Beach, Fla., France was specifically asked about the empty seats in Fontana and Charlotte. “What is NASCAR doing, if they’re doing anything, to try to help change that or address that?” France was asked. Said France: “Let me say we had a few empty seats in California. Still did 90 something thousand, whatever, double what they did in Rockingham. “Charlotte’s been on the upswing. The Chase has been additive to their fall event. They’ve always done well at the 600. “These speedways have a lot of seats. But we’re selling more tickets than ever. Look at the public company’s stock price. That’s based on how well they’re performing. We’re selling more tickets. Doesn’t mean we’re selling them all. However, don’t look for NASCAR to move one of the two Fontana dates, or for owner International Speedway Corp. to willingly transfer one of its two Nextel Cup Series dates. California Speedway shouldn’t be singled out for not selling out. There are other tracks in the sport’s core markets – Charlotte, N.C.; Dallas-Fort Worth and Detroit to name just three – that have encountered difficulties getting rid of inventory. It has led to much speculation, coupled with declining television ratings, as to whether NASCAR has reached its peak. “When we move to Phoenix for a second date, they sold every single ticket for their spring race as they did the fall. We got to remember we’ve also added, and we’re talking a lot about California, the Southwest, we’ve added a lot of events there. When you go back to Dallas, you go west and add a second in Phoenix, you add a second in California, that’s a lot of supply coming online in just two or three years of time. It takes a little while to absorb that. “We don’t just add one race, we add a whole weekend. That can be a Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday. We’re way up in ticket sales, some one event here or there. But the sport is in great shape. I’m very comfortable saying that.” California Speedway sold out its Cup races until a second date was added in 2004 with the Labor Day Sunday race. The track has come close – oh, so close on two occasions – since then but will not hang out the shingle unless all the tickets are sold. But as France pointed out, a crowd of 90,000 is much better than Rockingham or Darlington ever achieved and the ISC stockholders have to be happy with that. Still, the analysts won’t be pleased as readily if there is money to be made (re: empty seats). The NASCAR circus will hit town in nine days and chances are there will be tickets available when the green flag falls for the Feb. 25 Auto Club 500. Why that is remains a mystery to Southern California fans and to the industry. Is it the marketing of the race? Is the race deemed boring? Are the 500-mile races too long? Is it the hassle of getting to the speedway? These are questions that beg for good answers, and so far those answers have been elusive. Such as why Sammy Hagar will perform free Thursday night, while Kevin Costner sings Sunday. The Fontana race is all about the sport. It’s not about glamour, gambling, magic shows and gourmet meals. It’s about horsepower. It’s about getting the car set up right from the beginning. These races are for true fans, new and old. About watching colorfully-decaled cars, each a 200 mph billboard, competing for 250 laps. It’s not for those fans who leave Dodger Stadium after six or seven innings. What France said this week makes it perfectly clear: California Speedway is not going to follow Ontario Motor Speedway or Riverside International Raceway into history. The track is here for the long haul. 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!
Read more on Don’t panic over Cal Speedway, NASCAR