Tuesday, February 26, 2008
Zucker wants to reconfigure Auto Club Speedway into restrictor-plate track
By Terry Blount
Gillian Zucker, president of Auto Club Speedway, believes reconfiguring the 2-mile Fontana, Calif., oval into a restrictor-plate track is an idea worth considering seriously.
"I love it," Zucker said Tuesday. "It's a game-changer. Michael Waltrip told me his idea about it Saturday night. It was funny at first, but I thought, 'Sure. Why not?' "
Restrictor plates, flat pieces of metal with small holes that are placed over the carburetors, reduce horsepower and slow down the cars. They are used at Daytona and Talladega, producing some of NASCAR's most exciting and most dangerous racing.
Zucker said they are going to rebuild part of the racing surface to repair the water seepage problems, commonly known as weepers, that arose last weekend. Heavy rain caused water to push up through the seams in the turns.
"If we are going to tear it up anyway to fix the drainage, let's make it a lot more interesting," Zucker said. "It could be a very dramatic thing for us."
Zucker said she hasn't spoken to anyone at NASCAR or International Speedway Corp., the track's parent company, about the idea yet. Zucker said she wants to know what fans think before she makes a decision.
Waltrip talked about his plan after the Auto Club 500 on Monday afternoon, saying he thought a purposeful-built plate track would help give the Fontana facility a new identity.
Zucker agrees. She has worked diligently to increase fan interest at the speedway. But sellouts haven't happened since 2004 when NASCAR awarded a second annual Cup date to the Fontana track, which is located 50 miles east of Los Angeles.
"I'm not an engineer, but I realize this would be expensive," Zucker said. "It could be more than $10 million, because we probably would need to change the shape and change out the walls. But I believe it's worth it."
The Fontana track has limited banking at 14 degrees in the turns. Waltrip talked about making it 32-degree banking. Zucker thinks it wouldn't require that much banking, maybe 20 degrees.
"The cars already are reaching 209 [mph] entering the turns here,'' she said. "So I think the speeds would be high enough that NASCAR could add restrictor plates without that much banking."
Many drivers dislike restrictor-plate racing because it causes the cars to run in large packs inches apart. But many fans love the excitement it often brings to the races.
"I think what we're seeing is this new car [formally known as the Car of Tomorrow] will have its best racing at restrictor-plate events," Zucker said. "The Daytona 500 was spectacular. So to me, this is a very exciting idea for us."
Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.