NASCAR’s Newest Short Track Had to be Auto Club Speedway
September 9, 2020
The clarion call was delivered, and NASCAR has responded accordingly.
However, it will seemingly come at the expense of one of the more popular superspeedways in Auto Club Speedway — a two-mile track in Fontana, California that has produced some of the best races and finishes over the past decade.
I know what you’re thinking: Why Southern California and why not one of the monotonous seven D-shaped intermediates that plague the NASCAR Cup Series schedule?
The land that the California Speedway resides on is extremely valuable at just 50 miles east of Los Angeles. In reducing its overall footprint by redeveloping itself into a short track, NASCAR can then look to sell or lease the remaining 600 acres, while also providing something fans have been demanding for nearly two decades.
And this will be an actual short track, mind you.
This does not appear to be technically a short track like Richmond Raceway or a not really a short track like Iowa Speedway. The new Auto Club Speedway of Southern California is promised to be an honest to God half-mile.
It appears to have the straightaways of Martinsville Speedway and the high-banked corners of Bristol Motor Speedway — utilizing what is now the frontstretch and pit road of the current superspeedway. Similar to many grassroots short tracks, it will feature a garage area and victory lane outside of the racetrack.
But again, why do this to a popular two-miler and not one of the D-shaped cookie cutters?
Of these intermediate tracks, NASCAR only owns Kansas Speedway and Chicagoland Speedway. Kansas has an on-site Hollywood Casino overlooking the backstretch partially owned by the sanctioning body so it’s not going anywhere.
The overall future of Chicagoland remains very much in question after redevelopment proposals surfaced earlier this summer for a market that has not supported NASCAR like anyone had hoped over the past decade.
Southern California is a logical choice because NASCAR still very much wants to enchant Hollywood with its brand of motorsport and entertainment. It has an office in Los Angeles and still needs a venue to host regional VIPs and pop culture notables.
The track was also due for a repave, meaning the brand of action fans have grown fond of over the past decade was poised to be lost for at least the next 10 years. That doesn’t even include the possibility that NASCAR’s high downforce, low horsepower abomination would continue to strip Auto Club of its best characteristics for the foreseeable future.
NASCAR desperately needed another half-mile to replace 0.625 mi North Wilkesboro, which was sacrificed in the name of Texas Motor Speedway and New Hampshire Motor Speedway after the 1996 season.
We were all disappointed to learn that NASCAR would return to Nashville next season, albeit to Nashville Superspeedway, with no clear pathway for a return to Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville in Downtown Music City.
With the proposed layout, Auto Club Speedway is seemingly poised to become NASCAR’s version of Fairgrounds Speedway with the long straights and high-banked corners and within the equally vital Los Angeles media market.
The frontstretch of Auto Club is banked at 11 degrees. The corners at Fairgrounds Speedway are 18 degrees. It’s easy to see that becoming the blueprint for the new Southern California short track.
And yes, this should be considered for at least one of the Speedway Motorsports owned intermediates. In fact, this is what should have happened to Texas Motor Speedway when it was reconfigured during the winter of 2017.
That project took one of the worst tracks on the schedule and somehow made it even worse.
The reduction of banking in Turns 1 and 2 robbed drivers of an opportunity to spread out and get the clean air they needed to complete passes — especially with the current high downforce, low horsepower rules package.
The track could have become anything but yet another near identical intermediate cookie cutter. It could have added a Trenton Speedway-style backstretch kink. It could have reduced its overall length to a mile and given fans the Iowa Speedway experience in Fort Worth.
It could have removed to dogleg and attempted to replicate the best intermediate track on the schedule in Homestead-Miami Speedway — which itself is a stand-in of the old Atlanta configuration before it was given a dogleg to replicate Charlotte.
That’s to say that Atlanta will soon need a repave, just like Southern California, and Speedway Motorsports will have every opportunity to follow suit.
God knows the status quo of Kentucky isn’t sustainable either.
It’s been written before, but we as an industry wouldn’t have to spend so much time trying to fix the Charlotte Motor Speedways of the world, if there weren’t so damn many of them on the schedule in the first place.
It’s legitimately disheartening to lose a track as unique as Auto Club Speedway — especially since its flatter two-mile twin in Brooklyn, Michigan just doesn’t offer the same kind of racing – regardless of competition package.
This also signifies the end of IndyCar in Southern, California as well.
But it is the start of something potentially exciting. Fans clamor for a version of NASCAR that has more than just two bullring short tracks on the schedule. They’re going to get it as soon as 2022.