ICS: Fontana Tries to Beat the Heat—And the Odds Against It

Auto Club Speedway in Fontana deserves better. Deserves a better date, deserves a better time, deserves better attendance. The superspeedway that Roger Penske built is a reminder of bygone days, a cousin—or maybe the younger brother—of the legendary Ontario Motor Speedway.

Ontario was a facility ahead of its time. The oval layout was the same as Indianapolis. The amenities from 1970—even by today’s standards—would make it an outstanding venue in 2015.

Every time I make that trip to Fontana, I feel I’m paying homage to its late next door neighbor in Ontario. It’s a shame Ontario Motor Speedway didn’t survive 1980 (take a virtual lap here). Let’s hope the same thing doesn’t happen to what was originally called California Speedway, a blazing fast 2-mile D-shaped oval that still holds the closed-course lap speed record: Gil deFerran’s 241.428 mph in qualifying for the 2000 CART race, The 500. That’s faster than the single-lap record at Indianapolis, Arie Luyendyk’s 237.498 mph in 1996.

Point is, oval racing in California’s Inland Empire has heritage, and the track in Fontana is special. Yes, it’s hot. But plenty of races in the Verizon IndyCar Series are run in miserable conditions that don’t involve heat. New Orleans and Detroit come to mind just this season. Instead of bundling up, wear long-sleeved shirts. And bring sunscreen. A night race would be better and more appropriate—the facility has lights, after all—but it must be supported now to ensure racing continues there in the future.

It’s clear from racing’s sanctioning bodies, at least right now, that there is an East Coast bias. Television, even though Indycar viewership ratings aren’t what they deserve to be, rules. And a night race is deemed too exhaustive of a Saturday night for East Coast fans to tolerate. Never mind the millions who view Saturday Night Live every week, or The Tonight Show on weeknights. People stay up for what they want, and for some reason the powers that be think racing is different. A night race in Fontana will produce a great show for both the fans in attendance and those who may need to hit the snooze alarm on Sunday morning.

It’s a piece of the puzzle that’s missing. There’s a good chance fans will stay away on a hot summer’s day in June, where the predominant seating is metal bleachers unprotected from the hottest body in our galaxy. And no, I’m not saying Kate Upton will be in attendance.

Over the years, Auto Club Speedway has shown innovative initiative in trying to attract fans, adding fan villages and bells and whistles and misters. For an opportunity to see cars that are far faster than NASCAR Sprint Cup racers, the staff at Auto Club Speedway—under the first year guidance of first-year president Dave Allen—have put together some nice options for those wishing to watch live.

It is the Preakness Stakes of the Verizon IndyCar Series’ triple crown, with Indianapolis on one side and Pocono the other. And yet, the 1:30 p.m. race offers free parking. Free! When was the last time you saw that kind of value, the last time someone threw you that kind of bone?

A general admission ticket is as little as $35 and a garage/pit pass is $25. Triple-A members can get a $10 discount on any reserved seat. There are a couple of packages are sweet deals, too. Do you think you could get out of an NFL game with a reserves seat, buffet and player appearances for less than $129? That’s the Budweiser Block Party package, which includes a pit pass and access to the Budweiser chalet. We’re guessing that tent will have fans and/or misters. Last season the cheapest average ticket price in the NFL was $146.53 in Cleveland. Apparently, that’s considered a bargain to watch Johnny Manziel.

For $400—which is still cheaper than the Seahawks’ or Patriots’ average ticket—you can get a ticket to a luxury suite on pit road, the pit/garage pass, VIP parking, all the beer and wine you can drink, food, Victory Lane access and a facility hard card that’s good year-round. Of course, TV and air conditioning as well.

Oh, and kids 12 and under get in free.

The best reserved seats go for $80, less than half of what the best available ticket ($171) is going for at Angel Stadium about an hour away. The Halos play Seattle beginning at 4:15 p.m., and the premium ticket is $171 (plus additional fees bumping it up to $188). And you’re going to get charged parking. The Sunday game, at 12:30 p.m., will set you back $141 for the best available ticket. The same sun will be shining on both daytime events less than 24 hours apart.

By comparison, the MAVTV 500 is a bargain.

Judging by what transpired at Indianapolis, it will be probably be a great race, too. I just hope people show up to see it—and many more over the coming years.

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