Auto Club Speedway

There were many empty seats in the grandstands when the Auto Club 400 was held at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana in March.  (Contributed photo by Mike Myers)

Ever since it opened in 1997, Fontana's speedway has been the focal point for automobile racing in Southern California.

Auto Club Speedway has entertained fans with many exciting events, including at least one major, nationally-televised NASCAR race every year.

However, attendance for the Auto Club 400 has declined significantly in recent years, and in the meantime, the speedway has become increasingly well-known for another, very different reason: hosting a huge electronic dance music festival.

Last year, the two-day HARD Summer Music Festival attracted 155,500 fans to Fontana. The concert (also known as a rave), which drew 146,000 attendees in 2016, will be returning to the speedway on the weekend of Aug. 3 and 4, and another massive crowd is expected for the 2019 event.

The festival, which had been located at various other Southern California venues before landing in Fontana, has proven to be an unexpected bonanza for the speedway at a time when the track's primary reason for existence is being questioned by some racing analysts.

Back in 2014 and 2015, all of the grandstand seats were sold out for the Auto Club 400. But since then, despite a string of thrilling, down-to-the-wire finishes, attendance has steadily gone down, and by some estimates, this year's NASCAR race appeared to draw less than 40,000 fans at the 68,000-seat venue (official totals were not announced).

Wesley Coburn, writing on www.frontstretch.com, said he believed that NASCAR should cancel the Fontana race.

"A two-decade experiment in a very nontraditional market was a good idea, but the racing on the track and the lack of attendance in the stands mean it’s time to call it quits," Coburn said in March.

Other people, however, are glad that NASCAR will be returning to Fontana's two-mile oval on March 1, 2020.

"A really cool place to go if you love motor sports!" wrote fan James Emmi on the speedway's Facebook page.

"We’re excited that NASCAR will again make its only Southern California stop at Auto Club Speedway and we will continue to work on our end to provide unmatched entertainment and racing excitement for our fans during the Auto Club 400 next year and beyond,” said Dave Allen, the Auto Club Speedway president, in a news release.

In a recent interview with racer.com, NASCAR President Steve Phelps said that changes could be made in the race schedule in 2021. He said that NASCAR is "working with all the stakeholders" in determining how deep the changes might be, and did not specifically mention Fontana.

“Do we want to listen to what the fans have to say? We absolutely do,” Phelps said in the interview. “Are the fans speaking loudly about their interest in seeing more short tracks and more road courses? Yes.”

Attendance has been steadily falling at many NASCAR tracks, so the problem is not unique to Fontana.

Auto Club Speedway personnel have been working hard to try to attract more fans to the track. For example, the speedway brought in Lucha Libre wrestlers, Ballet Folklorico dancers, and mariachi performers during the March race weekend.

In addition, the speedway stays very busy with numerous auto-related events throughout each year, including Street Legal drag racing.

Also, the speedway hosts another large musical extravaganza, the Cardenas Festival, each October. Tens of thousands of people come by to see some of the top singers from Mexico.

But by far the most popular event is HARD Summer, which brings in throngs of young adults from all over the country -- and even some from other continents.

HARD Summer, though, has had its own share of troubles, including four tragic deaths. Three people died of drug overdoses after attending the festival in 2016, and one person died after the event in 2018. The festival was held at Glen Helen Amphitheater in 2017.

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.