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Pedley: Bye-Bye To La La Land?

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Tuesday, February 23 2010
The racing was terrific at Auto Club Speedway on Sunday. Attendance? Not so much. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

The racing was terrific at Auto Club Speedway on Sunday. Attendance? Not so much. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

Good advice can come from some pretty unlikely sources. Like, say, the following advice:

“My grandmother had a saying: ‘Go little where wanted, go not at all where little wanted.’ ”

It’s advice that NASCAR might want to consider in the coming months. And for a couple of reasons; because of its high degree of common sense and because it has an even higher element of apropos-ness when applied to a situation at hand.

The quote was issued by Georgia Frontiere, who moved the NFL team she owned out of Los Angles and to St. Louis in 1995.

Frontiere was a socialite flake who inherited the team after her husband, Carroll Rosenbloom, drowned and hence did not have time to amend his will and leave his Los Angeles Rams to the son, Steve, whom he had been grooming for the job.

Still, “Madame Ram” knew what empty seats and blase fan support meant. And she knew about Southern California culture, as did Al Davis who would subsequently move his Raiders to Los Angeles and then move them back just as quickly.

Los Angeles is a seductive place for people who want to turn small fortunes into large fortunes. Always has been.

It’s basically, the nation’s second-largest city; Los Angeles County alone is home for 10 million people. That’s a lot of ticket buyers.

It’s also a mega media market coveted almost as highly as New York. Commercial dreams may be schemed up in New York but they are put into action in Southern California.

And the glamour! It’s where movie stars – real and imagined – live and play and work on “projects” and do lunch. The rich people there are so rich that they use Mercedes to to take them to their Bentleys.

Or not. Repo men put more miles on those cars than do their owners because, see, L.A. is also the world capital of illusion. There is more display of wealth than actual wealth in Lala Land.

The place was built on illusion. Stucco house by stucco house. David Blaine should be its mayor. It’s been a magnet for dreaming fortune-seekers since the dust bowl.

NASCAR did its modern Tom Joad thing in 1997 when it moved into the track in Fontana with the California 500. In 2004, the series granted the place a second yearly date.

And in increasing numbers, the people of Southern California have done their thing: They come, they see, they got bored, they move on to the next shiney object.

NASCAR and track owner International Speedway Corp. have thrown the kitchen sink at Auto Club Speedway. They have moved the dates around, made the fall race a Chase race, they have sent limos to Hollywood to cart the stars out, they have sent their biggest stars the other way. They have tampered with ticket prices and starting times.

Nothing.

Last Sunday’s attendance, by most accounts, was dismal. Again. Blame the economy, blame wet/cold weather, blame Obama. The fact is, half of the 92,000 grandstand seats went unused.

NASCAR and ISC officials are in all likelihood well into the planning stages for the 2011 schedule. It is a schedule which will likely see the addition of a second race at Kansas Speedway. That race will have to come from somewhere – from another ISC track, to be specific.

Scuttlebutt has turned its fickle finger away from Martinsville as the likely “donor” track and toward Auto Club. In this era of going back to roots, it would just make more sense to take a date from relatively new Fontana and leave two at the oldest and most sacred venues in the sport.

The thought here is that it is about time that NASCAR start viewing Auto Club Speedway as having half empty grandstands instead of half full grandstands.

A line from that great movie of the 1950s “Sunset Boulevard” comes to mind as I think about all of this.

In the movie, struggling young screenwriter Joe Gillis gets all sarcastic when aging, delusional, washed-up starlet Norma Desmond threatens to kill herself to get attention.

“Oh wake up, Norma, you’d be killing yourself to an empty house. The audience left 20 years ago.”

And Joe Gillis, he ends up face down in that Los Angeles-mansion swimming pool he had always dreamed about having.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Tuesday, February 23 2010
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