Are we nearing the end of Auto Club Speedway as we know it?
NASCAR has pitched site plans to San Bernardino County that propose turning the current 2-mile oval into a 0.5-mile short track. The Athletic first reported NASCAR’s radical redesign for the track and an executive for NASCAR confirmed the sanctioning body’s plans to the site.
From the Athletic:
“We are still very early in the process, but we are excited about what this ambitious project could mean for our loyal fans in Southern California,” Craig Neeb said. “This is our first step towards creating a state-of-the-art facility that would deliver the intense short-track racing our fans love, an intimate viewing experience and upgraded suites and hospitality areas that would position Auto Club Speedway among the top entertainment venues in the market.”
Assuming construction could start on NASCAR’s timeline, the track would exist in its current configuration for the 2021 season before the short track would be ready to go in 2022 according to Fox Sports. The short track would be located where the current track’s frontstretch and pit road are.
Located 47 miles outside downtown Los Angeles, Auto Club Speedway is just one of two tracks in the state of California that hosts a NASCAR race and the only track in the southern half of the state that has a race. It’s also now owned by NASCAR after the company bought out its publicly owned sister company International Speedway, Corp.
While NASCAR has raced at tracks like Bristol, Kansas, Las Vegas, Homestead and others that have been reconfigured when they’ve been repaved in recent years, a project like what’s being proposed at Auto Club Speedway is unprecedented for modern NASCAR.
First NASCAR race in 1997
Auto Club Speedway opened in 1997 and has been on NASCAR’s Cup Series schedule every year since. The track was given two races in 2004 as NASCAR moved its traditional Labor Day weekend race from Darlington out to California.
That move was met with a lot of dissatisfaction by traditionalists and ACS only kept that Labor Day weekend date for five years. The track’s fall race moved to October for two years before it went back to hosting just one race weekend a year in 2011 amid declining attendance.
Despite the attendance decline, the track’s worn-out surface has produced some of the better intermediate-track racing over the past decade. The current configuration has multiple grooves in its corners and tire wear is a big factor. It especially stands out as Michigan — the track that Auto Club was modeled after — has struggled to produce good racing since it was repaved in the early 2010s.
A combination of Martinsville and Bristol
The track plans call for a paperclip-shaped oval in the style of Martinsville with high-banked corners like Bristol. The two short tracks are two of the more popular tracks on the Cup Series calendar.
They’re also two of the three tracks under a mile long that host Cup Series races. Richmond is the only other short track that hosts Cup races. Auto Club would become the fourth short track on the Cup schedule and would give NASCAR seven of 36 races at tracks less than a mile long.
In addition to adding a short track to a schedule bereft of them, NASCAR could have other motivations for making ACS a short track as well. A half-mile track takes up a lot less land than a track four times the size. Tearing down the existing oval after the short track is built could allow NASCAR to use the excess land for different purposes or even sell it. Subdivision plans were submitted earlier this year at Chicagoland Speedway that called for the sale of 82 acres owned by the track in Joliet to be sold to a property investment company.
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.
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