Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Auto Club 500-Track Facilities Review-Good, Bad, and Ugly!

California Speedway, also known as Auto Club Speedway, is a track that tends to polarize the NASCAR Nation. Many feel the track gets away from the Southern roots of the sport, despite the fact that Riverside was an early race in the NASCAR circuit. While not perfect, there are many aspects to this track that are Good, Bad, and Ugly!

Every fan that goes to a track walk away with an array of impressions. It had been a 3 year absence from visiting this track, but I have a friend visiting from Canada, and it made sense for us to visit both Fontana and Vegas in a short trip. Here is our assessment of the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly!

The Good!

Pit Passes-these were free to those who took advantage of a specific AAA offer. And worth it! While it is not the most accessible of pit roads, it is still a 4 on a scale of 5. Great job on the improvements, yet there is room for more.

Bench seating had more butt room. It may have been because of the smaller attendance, but it was great having plenty of elbow room!

Want to take a quick mid-race break for the restrooms, and come out hearing a cheer from the crowd? No problem! You can catch up to what happened on the tv monitors that are liberally distributed around the underside of the grandstand.

Also, Sprint Fanview has a great deal going. If you are a Sprint customer, you can get a wonderful price on their FanView scanner accessory. It is well worth it, for a weekend rental of $29.99, a huge savings from last year.

The TV watchers could not see what we saw. There were more people in the stands this year than had been seen in years. Even drivers in their cars commented on the difference. Perhaps the track dodged another rain bullet, but with the cloudy drizzly rain in the morning, the attendance at the track was the best seen in years. The first drizzle hit during the driver introductions, and the stand starting thinning.

There were no dolphins on site, at least not those of the seafaring mammal types. Thank heavens! I could never see the connection. There was just something wrong about bringing dolphins to the track.

Extremely helpful staff! When asked, they helped! The best of the best, Cory, took our ticket order and I felt like he was a buddy afterwords! He worked to give us the best ticket package possible.

The Bad

The passenger carts were great, but when one has accessibility issues, having a tram or cart take you to the edge of the parking lot will not help those who cannot walk distances, if your car is parked on the other side of that same lot. We ended up leaving both the Cup and Nationwide races early, due to needing help to get to the parking lot. There are ways it can be done better. For instance, Texas Motor Speedway has constant movement of trams moving around the parking lot,giving passengers a ride when needed. Rarely, a fan had to wait more than 5 minutes. Fontana should take a good look at how TMS runs it's operations, as moving people to and from the parking lots is intrinsic to fan satisfaction. And after attending TMS twice, I can see where it really works!

Elevators in the grandstand area were not up to snuff. It was great to have them, but to have them break down on the busiest day was challenging for some, including television camera carriers heading up to the spotters stand to film the race.

There is a 'parking pass' that is distributed to fans who purchase tickets early. We did not have a parking pass, yet we managed to park with others who did have parking passes. And on the other side of our parking area, we saw a party of 20 who were partying when we left for the race, and they were still there when we returned. If one limits access to the souvie area, should one also limit access to the parking ticket equals one parking place? Hmmm....maybe, maybe not!

Souvenir trailers find themselves in an unusual situation at this track. Listening to Gillian Zucker on Sirius NASCAR Radio on Friday morning, she claimed that she fenced off the Souvenir area from non-ticket holders because "we are not a shopping mall." In non-formal interviews with several of the trailer operators, we heard that Zucker's reasoning was flawed. The operators were telling us that business dropped drastically when the area was fenced off, and many operators don't even want to make the trip. However, they had no problems with attending the race in Las Vegas the following weekend.

Zucker also told the Sirius listening audience that there were some wonderful garlic fries available. We never found them. We really wanted to find them. But, there was not even a trace of a garlic aroma in the air to lead us there. I suspect ther were in a specific food area, but there was nothing to point me there.

The 'napkin in the grill' situation in 2004 still looms over the track. The internet message boards still think the California fans are sloppy, yet there were several cars at Daytona who had paper attached to their grills. At any rate, Fontana had done a great job of reducing the availability of items to clog a grill, to the point of being ridiculous. You can't have a napkin with your hotdog, but it is served with a waxed paper sheet. However, the track was spotless with no paper debris before the race.

The ugly!

Getting in and out of the track on Friday and Saturday was amazingly easy. However, the traffic on Sunday was unacceptable! It took two hours to traverse 3 miles. I discussed the situation with a member of the San Bernadino County Sheriff department, who said that there were four law enforcement jurisdictions who were trying to coordinate all of the actions. When I reported that a fellow traveler on the same stretch (one makes friends when it takes two hours to travel....the windows roll down and you talk at the others in the lane next to you, and you become BFF's!) said it was worse this year, the response was that they had no idea how slow the traffic was (in spite of the motorcyle cops patrolling the road!)

There is no excuse to have bad restroom facilities. By Lap 26 of the Camping World (Truck) race on Saturday showed that there were restroom facilities that were out of toilet tissue. (And this was the FIRST race of two races, preceding the Nationwide race that same day.) Depending on the restroom visited, a fan would find varying degrees of water pressure for hand washing. The troughs in the women's room's either had a trickle, or a dribble. The soap dispensers were hard to find, and the water to rinse the soap took multiple presses of buttons. Someone needs to call a plumber!

All in all, as one of my guests was not horrible to the point of refusing to return, but there was not anything to cause a claim of "oh yeah, I wanna go back there!"

Personally, I will wait before deciding on going back. I gave myself a 4 hour window to arrive at the track, and barely made it to driver introductions. I know that there will be traffic problems, but this was the worst seen in years.

In the past, I have been the first to say the racing was better in the stands, as opposed to what was seen on TV. I can't say that this time. Frankly, I was embarrassed to take friends to this track. It was a typical race with one leader pulling away from the rest, and observers could not even see any racing back in the pack.

Bring on Vegas! Let is see what they offer!

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