Feature Story

West Coast View

-April 24
-April 25
-April 26
-April 27
-April 28
The Winston Cup series came to California Speedway in 1997. The track was built on the grounds of an abandoned steel mill. Located in Fontana, the speedway is 50 miles east of downtown Los Angeles, 60 miles west of Palm Springs, and 100 miles north of San Diego. There are 298 palm trees on the property including 61 down the backstretch. What kind you ask? How about 31 Canary Palms, the largest of the palm family on site, followed by 150 Washingtonia Filifera (the mid-sized palms) and 117 Mexican Fan Palms (the skinniest of the bunch). On a clear day you can see Cucamonga Peak over the backstretch of the speedway. The peak is part of the San Gabriel and San Bernardino mountain ranges. Roger Penske was the original owner of the facility, but later sold it to Bill France and the International Speedway Corporation. Jeff Gordon has racked up two wins at the track while Mark Martin, Jeremy Mayfield, and Rusty Wallace each have one win.
Here are Alyssa Kendall's daily reports on the racing scene, as well as the L.A. story. Enjoy.

Sunday, April 28

On Track

And the first Hendrick Motorsports driver to win in 2002 is Jimmie Johnson. Back in January that would probably sound ridiculous. But Jimmie did it at California. A great call for gas only on the final pit stop by crew chief Chad Knaus.

An ideal SoCal day, 70 degrees and sunny. Almost as soon as the race started Shawna Robinson spun herself into the wall. And she complained she had no grip on the track. Is this the best female stock car driver? I hope not. The race eventually turned into the typical California Speedway race with gas mileage being a big factor. As it turned out Jeremy Mayfield's stopped car and a hard wreck with Kevin Harvick and Dale Earnhardt Jr made fuel strategy pointless. Jimmie Johnson took gas only for track position and won the race. Jeff Gordon had a 16th place finish after a late pit stop. Though I don't think Gordon was too unhappy. Just the opposite. He was the happiest car owner in Southern California. The happiest car owner who's 232 points behind the points leader. It was a good day overall. The Lakers swept Portland out of the playoffs (great shot Robert Horry!) as their march to the NBA title continues. So, that ends my first week as a reporter. It was a lot more work than I thought it would be. Tomorrow I'm taking the day off. Ok, maybe not. School is just inconvenient sometimes.

Saturday, April 27

On Track

The Winston West race was held in the morning. Winston Cup practice followed and then came the Busch race. It looked like it would come down to fuel mileage, but a few late cautions made it a sprint to the finish won by Scott Riggs. As the sun broke through the clouds, the IROC race was run. Kevin Harvick held off Bobby Labonte to win.

Daybreak over Southern California brought an overcast sky. Even though it rained a little on Friday, an article in the newspaper says it all: "the much-needed rain would have no effect on this year's fire season and provide little relief for vegetation and stagnant water supplies." Here in SoCal, dealing with droughts and brush fires is a way of life. The sun popped out a few times during the morning and stayed out through the afternoon. Fifty miles east in Fontana the skies were a mix of sun and clouds. The weather for Saturday practice was a bit cooler than it will be on Sunday. It was a busy day at the track with the Winston West race, Winston Cup practice, the Busch race, and the IROC race. During the Winston West race, Hershel McGriff running behind the pack pulled behind the wall and announced his retirement. A lot of the newer NASCAR fans never heard of Hershel. Too bad. They missed seeing a legend behind the wheel. Austin Cameron, my favorite Winston West driver, finished third in the race. The Busch race came down to a five lap shootout won by Scott Riggs and then the IROC cars took to the track. Kevin Harvick led most of the laps but Bobby Labonte made a last lap challenge. They raced door to door down the backstretch but Harvick held the high line and got a good run off the final turn to take the victory. It's a busy day for Harvick as he's also racing in a Super Late Model race at Mesa Marin Raceway in Bakersfield on Saturday night. Harvick grew up in Bakersfield and has raced at Mesa Marin often. This is his first race at the track since the year 2000 when he was pretty much an unknown to the east coast NASCAR world. Harvick has a lot of fans nowadays, but Mesa Marin is his hometown. He's racing there for fun, but he also wants to win in front of the hometown fans.

Friday, April 26

On Track

Busch qualifying was cancelled and Winston Cup qualifying was delayed by light rain. It was mostly overcast in the L.A. area, but 50 miles to the east there was some rain. Ryan Newman won the WC pole. He was going 208 miles per hour into turn one. It's probably been at least 10 years since a stock car went that fast.

The Lakers were dominant in Game 2 against Portland last night. Shaq's fourth quarter slam to put started an eruption inside the Staples Center. The 103-96 final score was closer than what the game really was. In the front row, Jack Nicholson (a great actor and devoted Lakers fan) and Adam Sandler (an "actor" and Lakers fan) were sitting next to each other and chatting during the game. Adam makes dumb comedy movies, but he's a better actor than Pauly Shore. Though I must confess that I watched "Encino Man" and thought it was funny. I also heard that Denzel Washington was in the crowd at the game, but I didn't notice him. I know people must think that since the NASCAR race is in town, everyone's aware of it. But I just don't think it makes a difference. Fontana's more than an hour away out past Pomona and Riverside. Sure, the announcers are going to say the track is in the "L.A. area," but it's really pretty far from town... very far from town. Dale Jarrett threw out the first pitch at the Anaheim Angels game on Friday night. No word if he was driven to the pitcher's mound in a big brown truck.

Thursday, April 25

On Track

The Winston West series qualified today while the Winston Cup show starts on Friday. The NASCAR drivers have started making appearances around town. Thankfully there is no "NASCAR Night In Hollywood" this year like there was a few years ago. They're still wiping the cheese off Melrose from that one.

Hershel McGriff is the oldest driver in the Winston West series at 74 years of age. Hershel started racing in 1945. Think about that.. he started racing the same year World War II ended. He raced in the very first Southern 500 at Darlington. And he raced in 1950 in a Mexican off-road race against Bill France Sr. His racing career has seen 12 U.S. Presidents:
Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush.
Hershel is a few years older than my grandfather. I asked my dad yesterday if he could see my grandpa driving at 180 miles per hour with 40 other cars on the track at California Speedway. "180 miles per hour? I don't even want to think about him doing 50 miles per hour these days on the freeway with no other cars around."
As far as happenings around town, there's a debate about who gets the "Hollywood" sign if they become a separate city from Los Angeles. Hollywood wants the sign, but the L.A. city council said that it's in Griffith Park which is not in the Hollywood city limits. Arguing about a sign? Ah yes, life in Southern California.
Anyway, the Lakers game is tonight. I'll have a report on the scene from the game tomorrow. As the song says, "I Love L.A."

Wednesday, April 24

On Track

Jeff Gordon's average finish at California Speedway is 3.8. That's his best average for any track on the circuit that he's raced at more than once. I know the Chevrolets have downforce problems, but Gordon runs well at this track. He has to be the favorite going in.

Sunny skies and temperatures in the mid-70's, welcome to Southern California. If you've never been here, stop by anytime. The weather's fine all year long but the ground shakes every now and then. Makes things a little more interesting. I often tell people who ask that the L.A. suburbs are a world all their own. On any given night you could find an infomercial star, an actor, and a schoolteacher all standing in the check-out line at Target. Once in the parking lot, some make their getaways in BMW Z3's and others in Toyota Corollas. Yes, it's different out here. Despite the NASCAR race coming up in a few days, the big news around town is the Lakers playoff run. You always know when it's playoff time around here... the purple and gold starts showing up a lot more in the hallways at school. They opened the NBA playoffs on Sunday with a victory over Portland as they begin the quest for their third straight title. Game 2 is Thursday night. Who knows who will show up for that one. That's the great thing about L.A. You just never know.

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