COLUMN: Fontana needs an Oscar-winning race
There are many ways to get in the mood to write about NASCAR, but one of them probably isn’t reading J.D. Salinger’s Franny and Zooey while Sprint Cup practice is running on the Speed satellite/cable channel.
It’s quite a contrast to the TV commentary. For instance, I was distracted for a moment listening to Jeff Hammond insist that Auto Club Speedway’s turns have “joints,” not “seams,” though he never bothered to explain just why that was.
They sure do look like seams, and as Bakersfield’s Merle Haggard has been known to sing, “Wish a Coke was still cola and a joint was a bad place to be …”
Why did I choose this week – and the Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway – to sit out? Certainly it was nothing personal against Auto Club.
It has a little something to do with it being awfully early in the season to travel that far away. That plus there are no baseball games yet. The Angels are not yet in Anaheim and the Dodgers are not yet in Chavez Ravine. At this point, I’d settle for the nearby Rancho Cucamonga Quakes.
Fontana, though, is a bit different.
Its president, Gillian Zucker, has on at least two different occasions bemoaned that her track had to go head-to-head with the Oscars. If that’s true, and it wasn’t this year, it has to be the only place where NASCAR fans flip a coin over whether they’d rather watch Jimmie Johnson or Helen Mirren. Even in Sonoma, the other California stop, it would take lots of wine to create such a quandary.
It was breathtaking to see, via TV, snow sprinkled atop the San Bernardino Mountains. It was encouraging to see those mountains at all, as they have often been rendered invisible by smog on my trips out there. Old joke: Southern California and the Bay Area each have gorgeous scenery. The difference is that, in San Francisco, one can see it.
Johnson, who grew up in California slightly more Southern than Fontana (El Cajon, near San Diego), has won five times at the two-mile track, which is roughly Michigan with slightly less banking. Johnson is already on a hot streak, since he picked up an exhibition victory earlier this week in NASCAR’s self-contained judicial system. The Hon. John Middlebrook, Chief Appellate Officer, restored 25 points and gave the garage passes back to Johnson’s crew chief and car chief.
To put it another way, the troll (Chad Knaus) is back out from under the bridge. Actually, he never even went down to that figurative jail because all year long, the sentence has been under appeal. (Much like the one I just wrote.)
Maybe Johnson’s performance on Sunday will be … Oscar-winning. (Has anyone ever thought about Billy Crystal on the P.A.?)
Monte Dutton; 704-869-1841; twitter.com/montedutton