For more than two decades the Los Angeles suburb of Fontana has played host to NASCAR, and other racing events, drawing up to LA Coliseum-like crowds. As one of the biggest (and fastest) weekends in Southern California motorsports approaches we connect with Speedway President, Dave Allen. Hear what’s in store for this year’s NASCAR Xfinity Series & Monster Energy Cup Series events, and more, in this episode of the iDriveSoCal Podcast.
Recording date – February 23, 2018
Dave Allen: When you’re here live, it’s just different, you know? You feel it, you know? You can feel it in your body, and I always tell people, “Look, you may…let me get you to a race once. If you’ve never been, let me just get you to the race once, and I guarantee there’s something about our race weekend that’s going to hook you.” It may not be necessarily the cars on the track, you know, but it might be. To see a car go by, to see a 3400 pound stock car go by at 215 miles an hour, if the hair on your arm doesn’t stand up or you don’t get a goosebump or two, probably check your pulse and make sure you’re still living because it’s something else.
Tom Smith: Welcome to iDriveSoCal, the podcast all about mobility from the automotive capital of the USA – Southern California. I’m Tom Smith, and today we are at the Auto Club Speedway in the Los Angeles suburb of Fontana, California sitting with Dave Allen the president of the Auto Club Speedway. Dave, thank you for joining me.
Dave Allen: Thanks for being here, Tom. I appreciate it. So the Auto Club Speedway has been out here for a number of years. I think you said that you guys are coming up on your 20 year anniversary.
Dave Allen: We had our 20th year last year. So this is 21st year.
Tom Smith: 21st year, okay. And we’re recording this in late February. We’re going to release it in early March, and it’s going to be…when you’re listening to this, it will be one week away or a weekish away from the big weekend out here at Auto Club Speedway. Tell me about that, Dave.
Dave Allen: Well, you know, it’s the Auto Club 400 is happening every year, so March 18th we’ll go 400 miles with the Monster Energy NASCAR cup series. And you know, it’s a 550 acre facility here in Fontana. So we’ve got a big place, and we’ve got a great car culture, a great racing history here in Southern California. And we look forward to having this event every year. You know, we plan for the event all year long and it’s more than just a race. There’s a lot of things happening here at the track. The event really starts on Thursday and runs basically through the weekend, and it becomes kind of a happening in a must-see event because it’s only one time of year. Some of our other race tracks across the country have two events, but we have one so we have one opportunity to see these guys go–and girls–go wheel to wheel for 400 miles, and it’s a pretty fast race track.
Tom Smith: You guys promote this as the fastest weekend in racing or fastest weekend in NASCAR?
Dave Allen: Our new ad campaign is the fastest Sunday of the year.
Tom Smith: And what is the hook there?
Dave Allen: Well, you know our weekend really appeals to the five senses so touch, taste, hear, smell, and see it live. You know, obviously, Fox does an excellent job of showing the races on TV, but there’s only so much that they can deliver to you from your living room. And you know when you’re here live, it’s just different, you know? You feel it, you know? You can feel it in your body, and I always tell people, “Look, you may…let me get you to a race once. If you’ve never been, let me just get you to the race once, and I guarantee there’s something about our race weekend that’s going to hook you.” It may not be necessarily the cars on the track, you know, but it might be. To see a car go by, to see a 3400 pound stock car go by at 215 miles an hour, if the hair on your arm doesn’t stand up or you don’t get a goosebump or two, probably check your pulse and make sure you’re still living because it’s something else. And I hope everybody at some point in life has the chance to see it. And, yes, I’m a race promoter. I sell tickets, but [crosstalk]. I’m a race fan, you know? And I’ve been trying to take people to races for many years and you know I have good memories of family members and friends that I’ve taken to dirt tracks and short tracks and our race here that when you see that look on their face the first time when the cars go by, whether it’s a sprint car on the dirt or whether it’s a stock car on our track, and their eyes just pop out, you know and their chin drops, and they go, “Oh my gosh, I had no idea.” And that’s cool. That’s gratifying for me to expose the sport to other people.
Tom Smith: And that’s what they’re doing is 215?
Dave Allen: Yeah, we don’t run restrictor plates at our place. So for those listeners out there that haven’t been here before, if you were to look at our race track from above, from a drone–we just mentioned drones–if you look at it from from above, it’s a D-shaped oval, so it’s shaped like the letter D and down the front stretch our banking is 11 degrees, through the corners on both ends is 14 degrees, and on the back stretch is 3 degrees, so it’s almost flat on the back straightaway. Well, at Daytona and Talladega, they’re a two and a half mile track. We are a two-mile track and those two other tracks are banked much more. So we’re 14 degrees. They’re 31 to 33 degrees, much more highly banked. So what they do is they run a restrictor plate in the motor to keep the speeds down. Otherwise, they’d really, really be going fast. So you’ll see 190, 200 miles an hour on their end. Well, here they don’t run a restrictor play because we don’t have as much banking, so entry speeds into turn one we actually have a speed trap that we worked with Toyota to come up with. There’s a big screen that shows live real time speed as they’re going down the front straightaway. So that speed trap will register I’ve seen upwards of 216 going into that corner. So interesting story, when we first put speed trap in, we were running it, and I went into the garage to go see Jeff Gordon. And I walked into the hauler and said, “What do you think about the speed trap?” And he’s like, “You know what, Dave? I think it’s pretty cool. But you’re not getting all of it.” I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “We’re going faster than that. Move the speed gun further into the corner,” because we didn’t have it far enough into the corner. So we moved in another 30 feet down in the corner and sure enough Jeff was right. You know, we got a few more mile an hour out of the car. And but he said, “It’s cool, you know, they kind of…some drivers will look at it, and some drivers won’t or don’t notice it, you know?” But yeah, it’s a fast place.
Tom Smith: Let’s break down the weekend. It starts on Thursday and goes through Sunday?
Dave Allen: Thursday is really kind of the first event. We do a hauler parade in our fan zone. So the O’Reilly Auto Parts fan zone is where all of the interactive displays, the merchandise trailers and tents. You know Monster Energy does a big thing. They call it the Smoke Shows. They’ve got their off road vehicles and their motorcycles. And doing a big event there. So there’s a lot of activity happening there. So Thursday night it’s a free event. So all the haulers for the race teams come in and they line up and we parade them right through the fan zone. Fans can get really close. You know they’re honking their air horns and so forth. We have some drivers come in, and they’ll do a Q and A session on our stage. We’ve got deejays going and the vendors are open. And then that’s the time too that the RVs have loaded in that morning as well. So our RV infield is for the most part pretty packed by Thursday night.
Tom Smith: And that just to be clear, the RV infield that’s where everybody hangs out all weekend and read scripture.
Dave Allen: Yeah, our version of scripture, yes. Yes, you know what? It’s a good balance of good family activity. And there are some parties, so to speak, going on in there.
Tom Smith: And you did mention kids, so it is a kid friendly environment.
Dave Allen: It’s kid friendly. You know there are pockets…
Tom Smith: Put them to bed early.
Dave Allen: There there are pockets of that infield that once you get past 9 or 10 o’clock you know, it’s adult friendly. There’s definitely some socially lubricated people in there, you know, who have consumed a beverage or two, but they have a good time. So it’s just one part of the weekend. Then Friday, the weekend on track starts. So that’s the first day you’ll actually see on-track activity with practice and qualifying sessions and so forth. So you know, when you get through Friday, and we’ve got activity going in the fan zone, we got activities going in the infield. I forgot to mention there’s actually a grocery store in the infield as well So Vons Safeway has got a good grocery store going on there. But Saturday will be the Xfinity Series race and then Sunday, of course, the Auto Club 400. So the Xfinity Series, for those that don’t know, is kind of if you were to put it in baseball terms, it’s kind of the double A or the triple A. And then Sunday, of course, with the Monster Energy Cup series, those are the big boys, so yeah.
Tom Smith: The Xfinity, is that same type of car/equipment, not quite as…drivers at not quite the level of the guys that do it the next day or is it completely different cars and equipment?
Dave Allen: For the most part, they look the same, the cars do. They’re a little less horsepower, a little down on horsepower compared to a cup car. But you hit it on the head there with driver development. It’s a good feeder series, you know, you get the younger drivers. You do have some there’s some rules in NASCAR that prevent cup drivers from running too many of the Xfinity races, but they can run a handful of them so sometimes you’ll see crossover from the cup drivers that’ll come over and run the Xfinity series. But the Xfinity series cars have always put on a great show. And you know the racing for them is just as competitive as it is for the Cup series so you know we’ve got people that come Friday, Saturday, Sunday even that aren’t staying here over overnight in the infield. They’re coming to the track every day. So you know going back to your question about the fastest Sunday of the year with our marketing platform, it doesn’t… I’m not necessarily saying either too that we’re not saying that is just the speed of the cars. you know? It’s a fast weekend, you know? It’s fast and the infield. It’s fast and the fan zone. It’s fast on track. And if you’re not here, you’re going to miss it. So that’s kind of where we were going with the campaign. And I think it’s fine. Coming off of our 20th year anniversary last year, we had so many cool things we were talking about for the 20th, and it’s like what do we do now, you know? Well, let’s talk about what the weekend is all about. And we have so many passionate fans I mean that’s one of the most important things is to ask our fans to pass their passion on for the sport. And I talked about a minute ago about you know exposing people to the sport and bringing them into the sport the for the first time. We can’t do it by ourselves. We need the help of our fans to bring their nieces and nephews, and kids, and neighbors and their friends and expose them to the sport that we all love and that we know is different than seeing on TV. So I hope that our new ad campaign kind of conveys what the weekend’s all about. And you know for our diehards they know. But for somebody on the fence or maybe arm’s distance away, doesn’t know what it’s all about, hopefully, it pulls them in and they come check it out.
Tom Smith: And for somebody that is on the fence like you know, “I’m interested. I’ve seen it on TV. I might go check it out,” would you recommend any of the particular days for someone like that.
Dave Allen: Well, you know, I have kids. So when you look at it from a kid perspective, Saturday is a great day because kids 12 and under are free. So we’ve tried to make our sport as accessible to everyone as possible. You know, our entry level ticket on Sunday is $41. Things go up. Right now, I think it’s at $45. But if you buy early you know you can get rewarded. Auto Club of Southern California also has a great program as well for entry if you’re an Auto Club member. And Saturday, going back to Saturday, if you’ve got those younger kids and the crowds aren’t as robust on Saturday as they are on Sunday, but everything’s still open, everything’s still operating, all the fan zones in full operation. If it was me, and it was my first time, and I had young kids, I’d come on Saturday. If it was me, and I was you know 20 some odd years old again and wanted to come out with some buddies, I’d come out on Sunday. You know, that’s when our programming you know fully. We’ve got bands that are playing. We’ve got bands that are playing on Saturday as well, but all the headliner stuff, whether it’s on track headliners or off track headliners, are all hitting on Sunday. And we are in Hollywood so to speak. We’re not in Hollywood proper. But we’re the closest superspeedway to to Hollywood that you can get the NASCAR series visits. So needless to say, there’s a lot of celebrities here as well that show up for the races. And I would say only second to probably Daytona as it relates to the number of celebrities you’ll see at a NASCAR race all year long.
Tom Smith: AAnything else you want to mention before we wrap it up?
Dave Allen: It’s just getting people to the race, so if people have questions, there’s so many different options and opportunities to be had there. If they log to autoclubspeedway.com. a lot of that is outlined there. They can also come see us here in person at the track, buy tickets here at the window, or call 1-800-944-RACE, so you know we’re an entertainment facility, and NASCAR is our biggest event of the year. So we try to do as much as we can to create an atmosphere and a party and a race that people will remember for a long time, so I hope this year’s is very much the same, and we have a great event for people that want to come.
Tom Smith: And the specific dates are…?
Dave Allen: March 16th, 17th, and 18th. So we load in the RVs early on Thursday. And then the gate openings on the outside if you’re not an RV guest open on Friday, Saturday, Sunday.
Tom Smith: Dave Allen, President of Auto Club Speedway here at Auto Club Speedway where we’re recording right now, thank you so much for joining me.
Dave Allen: Thanks for being here.
Tom Smith: For iDriveSoCal, I’m Tom Smith. Thanks for listening.