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Finally, Raceday!

Here's a look at Brian Kennedy's day at the NASCAR Cup in Fontana. Not the races, no.. The experience.

By Brian Kennedy

Wed, Mar 2, 2022 01:49 PM PST

The racing. That’s why I got up early Sunday morning to wash my car (you can’t be a car guy and go to a race with a dirty ride. Just sayin’), drink some coffee, and get ready to take off for Fontana and the Auto Club Speedway. This was prior to 8am. The NASCAR 400-miler was scheduled to go later in the day. Much later. But why sit in race track traffic?

I ended up doing that anyway, arriving at the access road to my gate at 9:36 and not getting to my parking spot until about 9:55. It would have been much worse later.

I got a parking spot I could live with - that is, not near to anybody, and with a cement wall boxing in the front as protection. I repacked my backpack with only the 800 or so essentials (hand sanitizer, masks, binocs, camera, computer, chargers, sunscreen, and on and on) and went to do my version of a gridwalk. This actually is a garage walk. There are three buildings where the NASCARs were being fine tuned for later action.

The noise was deafening. It was heaven.

As I did my circles, I learned a few things, some related to racing, some not so much. To start, I wondered where the body template tent was. It used to sit near the fence dividing the garage area from the suites/pit road. These giant apparatuses would be lowered onto the car body, and measurements made for tolerances. The templates didn’t look like what you might imagine - they were not whole bodies, but sections of them with the bottom part shaped like what was required.

inside a racer's garage at the NASCAR Cup in Fontana
(photo by Brian Kennedy)

Well, that’s gone. There’s now a laser tunnel that the cars have to go through, where measurements are taken electronically. According to a NASCAR official I talked to outside the tunnel, they used this device prior (I remembered that and asked him) but also the templates. Now, it’s only the lasers. They’re more accurate.

That and one other inspection area are all the cars have to go through. The other is under a tent roof outside, and it checks ride height. A team member from Hendrick Motorsports informed me of this.

NASCAR race car 24 outside of the garage during the NASCAR Cup 2022 in Fontana
NASCAR race car #24 outside of the garage during the NASCAR Cup in Fontana. (photo by Brian Kennedy)

I decided to do some celeb spotting at the driver’s meeting. Last time the cars were on the Fontana track, I had done this. I don’t care about celebrities, but the drivers were there also. It actually was a tedious round of "please welcome Mr. XYZ, who stars in the Fox comedy hit Blah Blah." In every case, I knew neither the person nor the show. But why not do it again? I went to the gate where the meeting entrance used to be. No tent. A NASCAR official went by.

"No drivers’ meeting?" I asked.

"It was Thursday, by email" and I think he said video. So that’s a tradition lost, but at least teams would have time to digest the information rather than having it last-minute at the track and with all the distractions of celebs hanging around.

I wandered on. I ran into the superfan I met yesterday, and his first words were, "Hey, I got Albert Pujols’ autograph." He pulled a baseball out of the pocket of his hoodie and showed me

NASCAR and baseball fan with signed ball
NASCAR and Dodgers' fan Richard Dogero, with a ball signed by Albert Pujols. (photo by Brian Kennedy)

"How lucky," I replied, "Where did you find a baseball?"

"I carry one everywhere I go. I work in LA (he’s an elevator technician), and you never know who you’re going to run into." He told me he has a display case full of them. I think he’s one clever and enterprising person. His full name is Richard Dogero, btw, and he’s a huge Dodgers’ fan, he told me.

I mentioned that I might go over to see the Collective Soul concert on the outside of the track. For those of you who have never been to a huge track like this, let me tell ya - it’s a long, long way around past turn four and to the stage area.

"Take the crossover," he suggested. I remembered then that the track is open to cross until a certain amount of time before the race begins. Had he not said it, I probably wouldn’t have made the effort to go to the show. I did, and I ran into Richard on the way  back - the guy  is everywhere - and thanked him. He gave me a further tip: "This is the way the drivers come out to do introductions."

interior of a garage at the NASCAR Cup in Fontana
(photo by Brian Kennedy)

My impression as I crossed: the track is not hugely banked, especially compared to Daytona from last week. But even still, walking up the track takes the effort of your legs. It’s weird to think, standing on the asphalt surface and looking at the seams, all filled with black tar, how precise all of this has to be to get a car around at its fastest.

After I saw the show, I noted that there were huge lines at every souvenir trailer, and people with loads of merch in clear plastic bags wandering around. There’s money to be spent, in other words. And they spent it on tickets, too. I remember the hen’s teeth appearance of the grandstands in 2020. This year, the gaps are very much more filled in. It’s still not the sellout crowd of Daytona a week ago, but there’s no doubt that people out here in SoCal like them some NASCAR.

shoppers lined up for NASCAR merchandise at the NASCAR Cup in Fontana
Shoppers lined up for NASCAR merchandise at the NASCAR Cup in Fontana (photo by Brian Kennedy)

So all of this happened before it was even noon. I was just about ready for the race. Might as well go have a wee peek at the car show cars at the turn one infield. The guard there told me, "There are celebrities in that motorhome." ... and the next thing you know, Ice Cube is getting onto a golfcart and heading right for me.

The race was coming. And one hugely noticeable difference from Saturday was in the weather. Yesterday it was cold and very windy, with wind direction changing several times over the day. Sunday was more of a gentle breeze, and the temp was warm. Collective Soul’s lead singer even mentioned that.

OK, so with the green flag coming, I worked my way to turn one, my  favorite spot for the start. As I waited for the caution laps to be over, who walked right by wearing an LA Rams’ jersey but Michael Waltrip! Then some dude who everyone was trying to photograph, who turned out to be an actor on That 70s Show.

But I didn’t care, because in just a minute, 36 cars went thundering by, and by lap #2, their speed on the first turn was registering at 192mph.

About The Author

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Brian Kennedy

Brian Kennedy always wanted a ’66 Mustang. 10 years ago, he bought one – and he’s been restoring it ever since. Brian extended his passion for cars by covering events for magazines like Grassroots Motorsports, Sportscar, and Victory Lane – e.g., events in Cart, Pro Rally, Formula Atlantic, the SCCA Runoffs, Trans Am, SVRA, VSCDA, and VARA. He’s also profiled a number of cars and interviewed a number of personalities – among them: Gene Felton (IMSA), Hurley Haywood, Jerry Seinfeld, and Nigel Olsson.

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