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Observations from Fontana

by David Grayson
Tuesday, September 2, 2008


Fans stay drunk at Fontana
Dave Wood/
While NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series teams are very busy preparing for the countdown to the Chase For The Championship at Richmond this weekend, I decided that it would be fun to take a final look at the NASCAR Pepsi 500 weekend at the Auto Club Speedway and tell you who and what earned a HOORAH and how some things made the WAZZ UP list.

Let's start with the obligatory HOORAH for the performances of Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch the winners of the Sprint Cup's Pepsi 500 and the Nationwide Series' Camping World 300. Each performance was a total team effort from their car fabrication and engine shops in North Carolina, the pit road performance of the teams, the calls made by their crew chiefs and of course the driving talent. At times, during their respective races, these drivers were practically racing in a different zip code. The only time these two drivers weren't leading their race was when they came on pit road for another very fast stop for gas and tires. Then it was just a short amount of time before their car numbers returned to the top of the scoreboard.  On the other side of things the performances of Johnson and Busch made things tough for the good folks in the ESPN broadcast booth. It's a little hard to develop dramatic commentary about chasing down the leader when the gap between first and second in a whopping nine seconds.

That leads me to: 

DOUBLE HOORAH to any given NASCAR Sprint Cup driver, during any given lap of the Pepsi 500, who was racing in positions 20 through 30. These guys were simply awesome and completely stole the show. Many of them were racing hard to protect their guaranteed starting positions within the top 35 in NASCAR owner's points and were seen racing door to door during the entire event. There were numerous times when these drivers treated the fans to three wide racing going into turns one and three. I just hope that the television cameras focused on these drivers from time to time so the fans watching at home could see this great display of stock car racing.

HOORAH and WAZZ UP for your favorite drivers. It's always fun to watch fan reaction during driver introductions because they always make their opinions crystal clear regarding who they like and who they can't stand. Needless to say the always and forever fan favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr got the loudest cheers. Also it was expected that NASCAR's cowboy in the black hat Kyle Busch received a bushel basket filled with boo berries. The extremely loud Busch boos made it impossible to hear the announcers on the public address system. But the most interesting fan reaction was delivered to four time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon. For the first time in the Auto Club Speedway's history the cheers for Gordon were actually louder than the boo berries.

Speaking of Jeff Gordon:

WAZZ UP with the television show "TMZ"? For those of you not familiar with this program "TMZ", which stands for Thirty Mile Zone, is a seemingly very popular show and internet sight that is presented daily around the country. The program features paparazzi style cameramen working the streets of Hollywood and Beverly Hills in hopes of catching well known celebrities during their very worst moments. Considering some of the behavior we've seen from the rich and famous these days working for "TMZ" seems to be a relatively easy gig.

In the days that preceded the Auto Club Speedway weekend Mr. and Mrs. Jeff Gordon were filmed during what appeared to be a shopping spree on Rodeo Drive. The "TMZ" reporter asked Gordon "so what are you doing these days? Are you still racing or are you completely retired now?" The good natured Gordon was laughing so hard that he couldn't form the words to answer the question. Also a somewhat limp wristed HOORAH goes to "TMZ" host and executive producer Harvey Levin for airing this segment on television while, at the same time, clearly demonstrating that sometimes the paparazzi doesn't have a clue.

WAZZ UP with that light and air theory? On lap 19 of the Pepsi 500 NASCAR officials ordered the yellow flag to be displayed due to debris in turn one. In an incident that is a first for the sport, and may never be witnessed again, the on track debris turned out to be the yellow caution light that hangs on a stanchion above turn one. It seems that the massive air flow from the passing race cars worked the light loose from its base and caused it to land on the track. The Auto Club Speedway track crew made quick work of rectifying the situation but amazingly enough later in the race another debris related yellow flag came out when the damaged metal end cap of the light fell onto the track.

My good friend and racing buddy, "Six Pack Eddie", said "hey the racing is so aggressive here that even the lighting system wants in on the action." The entire scene was a display of the powerful air flow created by NASCAR's new race cars. One has to suspect that there were NASCAR R&D and individual team engineers taking copious notes to determine how to redirect this air flow in the future.

"The answer my friend is blowing in the wind, the answer is blowing in the wind."

WAZZ UP with the Dorito aerodynamics theory? During the latter stages of the Pepsi 500 an empty bag of Doritos Corn Chips landed on the grill of driver Greg Biffle's Ford who at the time was second in the race trying his best to chase down eventual winner Jimmie Johnson. Normally debris on a race car grill is a major concern because it restricts the air flow to the engine and in turn raises water temperature. What followed next was simply amazing. Biffle's car actually ran better with the Doritos bag stuck to his car and he was gaining ground on Johnson. Eventually the debris dislodged itself and all of a sudden Biffle was losing ground to the race leader. When you consider all the time, effort and millions of dollars that is expended into R&D and testing on these cars how amazing would it be if the final solution turned out to be a bag of corn chips?

Later that night at the motel I was watching ESPN's race replay when the always fun Dale Jarrett had an interesting theory about the Doritos bag and quipped "I wonder if that empty bag came from Jimmie Johnson's car. With the huge lead he's had all night he certainly has had plenty of time to have something to eat." Yet another reason why everyone loves "DJ".

Fans stay cool at Fontana
Dave Wood/
HOORAH to the Fontana-California weather. Why it was still somewhat hot and humid during a typical CALI Labor Day weekend, it was no where near the clam bake that we endured last year. My good friend Greg Scheidecker, from Lucas Oil, told me that "sitting in the Auto Club Speedway grandstands during Labor Day weekend is like sitting in the middle of a French fry rack." The really good news here comes from the recent announcement that the Auto Club Speedway's second NASCAR date will be moved into October next year.

WAZZ UP with some of the new menu items served during this weekend? In an effort to accommodate a diversity of taste buds the speedway's food concessions offered fans some rather different and unique dishes. Some of the new cuisine included veggie kabobs served on a bed of lime flavored rice, California sushi rolls and Mexican fruit topped with lemon juice and chili powder. Apparently caviar was unavailable. This is all well and good if you're dining with someone named Hilton in a trendy Beverly Hills eatery but, hey, we're race fans. All we basically need is an occasional burger or dog to counteract the beers that we drink.

HOORAH to whomever did that paint job on the Pepsi 500 official pace car. That was one classy looking ride.

WAZZ UP with the size of a driver's nose being made fun of by the members of his racing team? It's well known that pit crews use sheet metal signs, attached to long poles, so their drivers can see exactly where their pit stalls are located during the race. In most cases these signs display car numbers, a driver's name or even his sponsor's company logo. It's also well known that David Reutimann, driver of the #44 Toyota for Michael Waltrip Racing, is very well endowed in the honker department. So when Reutimann journeys down pit road for gas and tires he's searching for a sign that reads: "STOP BEAK NOSE." Very tacky but very funny.

HOORAH for the Grand Marshal. I don't know what it took to get Drew Carey to the Auto Club Speedway but the price was definitely right. The actor/comedian, turned host of one of America's most loved television game shows, did an outstanding job in his duties as the Grand Marshal for the Pepsi 500. Carey really enjoyed his first ever visit to a NASCAR race and made a special effort to visit with the race fans, sign autographs and pose for photos.

The final WAZZ UP goes to the racing fan who made a serious effort to get a special photograph during the Pepsi 500. This young lady was sitting in the outdoor terrace box above one of the speedway's corporate sky boxes that overlooks pit road. This fan thought it would be very cool to get a cell phone photo of her favorite brand of beer with the Pepsi 500 racing action in the background. Any professional photographer will tell you that this is a very delicate shot that requires precise subject location and pinpoint timing. The fan certainly took all of this into consideration and placed a bottle of beer on the palm of her left hand while waiting for a group of race cars to come speeding down the front straightaway. In the process of creating the perfect subject location for the photo, the young lady moved her beer filled left hand up and down and right to left to make sure the bottle was perfectly centered in the screen of her cell phone.

I think you already know what happened next.

You're right, the bottle of beer wobbled right out of her hand and fell to the ground. It specifically landed in the pit stall being occupied by driver Brian Vickers and his Red Bull Racing team. The good news was the bottle was plastic so there was no broken glass lying on the ground. The bad news was the contents of the bottle splattered the pants leg of a very stunned member of the Red Bull Racing crew. The young lady looked over the balcony and uttered those famous words from the Kasey Kahne/All State Insurance television commercials:


Once the laughter subsided the thought occurred to me that this is yet another reason to never consume Coors Light. Everyone knows that Budweiser has a better sense of balance.

The final HOORAH goes out to Auto Club Speedway President Gillian Zucker and her very fine staff who tirelessly made the effort to insure that their racing fans were thoroughly entertained both on and off the track. They did a very good job.

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