March 29, 2011

Rabbit Out Of a Hat

It may be a bit early to call it the Miracle of the Racing Rain, but credit Auto Club Speedway president Gillian Zucker and her staff for pulling a rabbit from a hat over the weekend.

Years from now, it could very well be said that Sunday's crowd at the Auto Club 400 estimates of which range from 75,000 (ours) to 88,000 (NASCAR's) saved racing in Southern California.

Zucker and ACS put together an aggressive marketing program to stem the dwindling numbers at Fontana. What made the number even more significant was the improvement over that of the last race at the track about five months ago.

There was no doubt Zucker and the track were on the hot seat. NASCAR and track owner International Speedway Corp. had already agreed to pull one date from the facility, and there was a question as to whether major-league racing could thrive in the market.

Well, the answer is yes. While Sunday's crowd won't compare with those at NASCAR strongholds such as Daytona, Talladega, Bristol or Michigan, it will rank higher on the list than many others. That should silence the critics who've relished in bashing the West Coast for its lack of attendance at Sprint Cup races.

Of course we excluded Las Vegas from the list. Much like the open wheel Long Beach Grand Prix, is it about the racing or the opportunity to have a great time?

As much as we, or even you, hate to admit it, perhaps Kevin Harvick has been right all along. The winner of Sunday's close finish, Harvick has long maintained that tracks should be held accountable for their attendance, that there should be a demand for a second race rather than follow traditional habits.

Harvick, who just might be angling for a shorter or more diverse schedule, believes that a track should sell out one race before adding a second. In this economy, that's solid thinking. And, to his credit, Harvick put his back into the ACS efforts with various promotional activities centering around his native Bakersfield.

But before we all get swept away by the euphoria of Sunday's attendance, let's remember that it was just one race. Along Harvick's line of thinking, the speedway is now faced with the challenge of attracting more for the 2012 race.

Will it result in the return of a second date any time soon? That's to be determined by NASCAR sometime in the future, but Sunday's effort was a great start.

It was with a certain amount of sadness to understand that Mike Sweeney has decided to end his Major League Baseball career. We have been fortunate to see Big Mike Sweeney's son play the game since 1987, give or take a year, and the deposition rarely changed over the years.

Sweeney enjoyed playing the game, regardless of the level. He carried himself with a tremendous amount of grace that rubbed off on others, and he never forgot his roots just ask the fans who won a Sweeney autographed baseball at a Fan Appreciation Day game at Ontario High School.

And that swing he learned from his father: it was a beauty to watch.

Whether Sweeney makes the Hall of Fame, he'll always be recognized as a man of honor, conviction and character. We'll wish him well in his retirement.

It went unnoticed by many, but certainly not in the running world, that Cal Poly Pomona's Daniel Rojas was among the leading U.S. performers at the recent L.A Marathon. Rojas, who ran at Mt. San Antonio College before transferring over the hill to Cal Poly, posted an impressive time of 2:20.12 to finish 10th in his marathon debut.

We have, on previous occasions, been rather harsh on Cal Poly Pomona athletic director Brian Swanson about the merry go round of head coaches in the women's basketball program.

He wants it to stop as well. Therefore, he removed the interim tag from Danelle Bishop's title Monday. Not exactly a bad move, since she took the Broncos to the Elite Eight this season.

Now, all the pressure is squarely on Bishop's shoulders, as it should be. It's her program to run, her team to build, her games to win. Perhaps the move will bring tranquility to a program with rich history.
It won't be official until the Angels say so, but Upland High School graduate Michael Wing is apparently headed for San Bernardino. At least that's what dad Damon Wing is hoping for. The younger Wing is beginning his fifth season of pro ball, being drafted out of Upland in 2007.

Auto Club Speedway, part 2: The crowd was certainly a story, but so was the effort by the operations crew from the speedway and NASCAR.

Those arriving early never figured the race would get off on time when they were greeted by a steady drizzle. The wet stuff stopped at 10 a.m., though, and within two hours the track was dry enough to race.

That was crucial, considering "weepers," water seeping through the racing surface, were an issue Friday. It was good work by those involved.

James Campbell, a Korean War veteran, is the example of good things coming to those who wait. At 79 years and 6 months, Campbell rolled his first perfect game recently at Victor Bowl in Victorville, part of a 139-300-181 series.

Campbell makes the commute to Victorville from Barstow, where he resides at the veterans home. Reportedly, he's told friends he'll continue to make the 80-mile round trip as long as gas is under $5 a gallon.

A 10 year Navy veteran, Campbell was a gunner on an aircraft that flew off the USS Princeton in Korea. He's averaging 174 in the Hesperians League and 185 in his Saturday League, down from the 202 he averaged when he was 69.
So Jim Tressel's paper trail at Ohio State indicates he might have been loosely playing with the truth, again. Wonder when the full story will eventually leak out?

If I were running the NCAA, and I'm glad I'm not, I would tack on another five Big 10 games to the five that Ohio State already suspended Tressel. The governing body chased Jerry Tarkanian for years, but it was never proved that he lied to them at all.

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