View northwest of the snow dusted San Gabriel's from the main straightaway grandstand seats at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana [pitlane and team suite viewing boxes in foreground] - The tallest mountain in the background is Mount Baldy, elevation 10,064 feet, and is part of the San Gabriel Mountain range. The summit can be reached from several different directions, including the Devils Backbone trail. Image Credit: 4D7 (2008)
The Winds Of "Change" Swirl Around NASCAR
Last year's Auto Club 500 at the track was hampered by rain ... but with the economy in a tailspin since the election of Barack Obama (DOW down 3,998 points, or 34%, since November 3, 2008) and the New York Times trying to sell its share in a NASCAR team, the climate that will confront NASCAR may be a little harder to overcome than just a little rain on a normally sunny Southern California afternoon.
The economic crisis could take center stage and adversely affect the attendance at NASCAR's three events of this weekend's Auto Club 500 event in Fontana.
This excerpted and edited from the Los Angeles Times -
Fontana races to be tested by a different type of climate
By Jim Peltz - LA Times - February 18, 2009
The NASCAR Sprint Cup race in Southern California a year ago was hampered by rain that caused numerous delays and frustrated fans, drivers and track officials.
Now the sport and the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana are about to be tested again, this time by an economic storm -- and a big question is how many stock car racing fans will weather it by showing up.
NASCAR's top-tier series follows its season-opening Daytona 500 with the second race on its 36-race calendar, the Auto Club 500, at the Fontana track Sunday.
The speedway, 50 miles east of Los Angeles, also holds a doubleheader Saturday with races in NASCAR's second-level Nationwide Series and its Camping World Truck Series.
But it's Sunday's race featuring Daytona 500 winner Matt Kenseth, reigning NASCAR Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Tony Stewart and the sport's other stars that could be a telling sign of how much the economic recession is affecting NASCAR.
Ever since NASCAR awarded two Cup races a year to the track in 2004, the 92,000-seat facility has not sold out for either event.
It's a shortfall whose potential causes -- ranging from how the races are marketed to the quality of racing on the wide two-mile oval to bad weather -- have been hotly debated in NASCAR Nation.
International Speedway Corp., which owns the Fontana track and several others, said Jan. 29 that its combined advance ticket sales at that point were down 17% from a year earlier, although it did not break down sales for each track.
Gillian Zucker, president of Auto Club Speedway, said "it looks like we'll be off about 10% from [the] Labor Day" race last year, which NASCAR said drew an estimated 70,000.
The 568-acre track she oversees and other speedways have been cutting prices on selected seats and rolling out other promotions to limit the attendance declines.
Auto Club Speedway cut prices to $35 per ticket from $55 for several thousand seats in the first five rows for Sunday's 250-lap race, which starts at 3 p.m. Its higher grandstand seats, offering a better view of the whole track, range in price up to $105 each.
Zucker said about two-thirds of those purchasing the $35 seats were first-time buyers, and "that's very encouraging about what the future holds when the economy begins to recover."
The track also is bringing Kenseth to Century City for an autograph session Thursday, and it appointed Hugh Laurie, star of the television show "House," as the race's grand marshal. Baseball Hall of Fame member Reggie Jackson will drive the pace car.
The lifeblood of racing budgets is money provided by corporate sponsors. But total racing sponsorship spending by North American-based companies is expected to drop 6% this year to $3.3 billion, the research publication IEG Sponsorship Report said last week.
Yet, for all the economic pressures, the turnout for Sunday's race also could partly depend on the weather.
In 2007, the track swung from very cold temperatures for the Auto Club 500 to a sizzling 110 degrees for its second race on Labor Day weekend. (The Labor Day race will be moved to October starting this year.)
Last February, rain caused a two-hour delay in the start of the Auto Club 500 and, after only 87 laps, more rain forced the race to be finished Monday, with Carl Edwards winning.
This Sunday? The National Weather Service is forecasting partly cloudy skies with a high of 68 degrees.
Should be another great weekend for the second round of NASCAR Cup racing here in California, there might even be a slight dust of snow on top of the San Gabriel mountains to the north, making this Hollywood set backdrop at the track ... complete.
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