Zucker: Track fine despite small crowds
FONTANA, Calif. -- Despite the half empty grandstands at the Auto Club 500 Sunday, track president Gillian Zucker believes Auto Club Speedway deserves to keep two annual Sprint Cup events.
"There are facilities that are smaller than ours," Zucker said. "All tracks are not equal. If you're at a track that holds 50,000 people and sells out, is that better than a track that holds 92,000 [at ACS] and is growing? I don't think it is.
"I can also tell you we will be fighting tooth and nail to keep both our events. I believe they belong here."
The estimated crowd Sunday was 55,000, down from last year's February event of more than 60,000. ACS has not sold out any of its Cup races since going to two events a year in 2004.
"The crowd count was about flat, maybe a little off," Zucker said. "But considering the economy in this part of the country, I think that says something. It's been hard-hit here. People are struggling."
ACS is part of the International Speedway Corp., a publicly-traded facility management company that is controlled by the France family that owns NASCAR. ISC has 12 tracks that play host to Cup races, seven of which have two annual Cup dates.
ISC officials have said they plan to add a second annual Cup race to Kansas Speedway soon, which means another ISC track will have to give up one of its Cup dates.
"Those decisions are made over my head,'' Zucker said. "Anybody who has more than one race should be concerned, there's no doubt. We certainly are. But we're proud of the fact that we have two races here."
Zucker said attendance is not the only factor in determining the success of a race track.
"This is the largest media market that hosts a NASCAR event," Zucker said. "It's important to sponsors. It's important to the race teams. It's important to everything that makes this sport run and work. It's well known the diversity of this crowd is important to the sport. We're approaching almost 20 percent Latino.
"Out of all the ISC racetracks, there is more sponsors interest at this track than any other with the exception of Daytona. Richard Childress [a Cup team owner] told me that in order to get national sponsors, you have to have a national impact. So you need to focus just as much on Southern California as North Carolina."
But would it be better to have one sold out event each year instead of two events that are half empty?
"Of course not," Zucker said. "How could it possibly be better to have one race than two?"
Terry Blount is a senior writer for ESPN.com.