It was announced last week that Indycar will return to the oval at California’s Auto Club Speedway (the Track Formerly Known As Fontana, or California Speedway). This is good news for several reasons. It’s another oval race, something most fans seem interested in keeping for at least half the schedule. It’s a track that, despite its relative youth, has some open-wheel history: Both the world closed-course speed record and the fastest 500-mile race in history came here. It’s also a track owned by ISC, indicating that at least some part of that company is interested in investing in Indycar’s product.
I’d like to see it run as a 500-miler, but I’m not sure that will happen since it was also announced that it would be a night race. I think the area’s climate would make the race a good fit either early or late in the season-but the night race part of that might mean that Indycar has other ideas. Adding Auto Club to the schedule is also a good move since it only hosts a single NASCAR Cup race. This means that there is less competition for ticket sales than somewhere like, say, Phoenix that hosts two NASCAR weekends per year.
This announcement raises other questions. Open-wheel racing at California under IRL sanction had trouble drawing enough fans to fill up a small track like Milwaukee. One hopes Indycar has learned a lesson and will hire a promoter willing and able to sell enough tickets to make the track at least look full. ISC had been so lax in promoting Indycar events at their tracks that they disappeared from the schedule in 2010. The return of an ISC track would seem to indicate that they are, in fact, interested in Indycar and would presumably be interested in investing in advertising and promotion.
After next season (and the 2012 Dallaras have ample test and race miles to sort out teething problems), I’d like to see a 500 mile race run in early February-before the Daytona 500. Whether or not this would be allowed to happen at an ISC track remains to be seen (especially with a NASCAR Cup race run a month or so later), but I’d pitch it as a chance to feed hungry race fans early in the year and to steal some attention from NASCAR.