Could Indy cars once again be making pit stops at Auto Club Speedway?

It’s possible, now that Nascar announced this month that it will be dropping one of its two races next year at the Fontana track, which has failed to sell out for the gritty stock car series.

Local track managers were caught off guard by the decision of Daytona Beach, Fla.-based International Speedway Corp., owner of Nascar, and owner-operator of 13 tracks nationwide, including Fontana.

Now, track officials are considering all options to make up the lost revenue, including bringing back the premier open-wheel racing league.

“We’ve talked to lots of other sanctioning bodies for open-wheel, motorcycle and stock car races,” said track President Gillian Zucker, who didn’t provide figures on the lost revenue.

Open-wheel race cars last ran at the track in 2005 but that was in the midst of the nasty civil war between the Indy Racing League and a competing sanctioning body that undermined the sport – just as Nascar was gaining in popularity.

But it’s unclear how well adding Indy to the schedule would work, considering that one of open-wheel’s leading races, the three-day Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, is held every April to crowds that number above 250,000.

Nascar left Fontana primarily because the greater Los Angeles area couldn’t support two stock car races each year with sellout crowds, and the same issues could arise for the open-wheelers.

However, the comparison is not exact. The two Nascar races were very similar – with one held in the winter and the other in the fall – while for open-wheeled fans Fontana’s two-mile oval offers higher speeds and a distinctly different experience to Long Beach’s beachside street course.

What’s more, open-wheel racing has healed its rift and has united under one sanctioning body, running what is now called the Izod IndyCar Series. It also features media sensation Danica Patrick.

Zucker said that the Fontana speedway has contacted IndyCar to see about adding a race to its 2011 schedule, but scheduling issues could be tough to negotiate.

The Grand Prix Association of Long Beach, the race’s organizer, declined comment. Officials with Indianapolis-based IndyCar Series did not return calls for comment.

Meanwhile, the speedway is contacting other sanctioning bodies trying to book the track during the fall, considered a prime season for its mild weather. Other potential events include motorcycle racing and a Nascar truck series.

Motorsports may not be the only solution. Zucker said that the track is looking to diversify the types of events hosted. It will stage its first outdoor music festival, Epicenter Twenty Ten, Sept. 25-26 with headliners Kiss, Eminem and Blink-182 among more than 20 performers scheduled.

“We can have multiple stages, plus we have the infrastructure for food and merchandise,” Zucker said.

The speedway also hasn’t given up trying to lure a second Nascar race for 2012. Next year, its sole race, which used to be held in February after the Daytona 500, will move to March 27.

Golfing Buddies

The one-two-three punch of the housing bust, recession and Tiger Wood blues has hit golf hard. Golf developments have gone bankrupt and more than a few casual players are letting their bags gather dust.

Now, amid the slowdown, Studio City-based Southern California Golf Association and the smaller Buena Park-based Public Links Golf Association will merge Jan. 1.

The associations both advocate for and provide services to golfers and clubs, but have seen their combined membership fall from 173,000 to 163,000 over the past three years.

“We share the same goals – to educate the public about golf and drive traffic to golf courses,” said Kevin Heaney, executive director of the SCGA, which will retain its name under the merger.

The regional golf associations provide golfers with a variety of services for an annual membership fee of $30, including administering handicap indexing, public policy advocacy and rating golf courses.

“Both organizations fought a state recreation tax in 2008 that would have increased fees. They will be even stronger as a joint organization,” said Jorge Badel, senior golf director for the L.A. County Parks and Recreation Department, which owns 19 courses.

The combined associations will represent 1,329 golf clubs. That includes 257 public courses, 177 private courses and 871 affiliate clubs from Santa Barbara to San Diego. SCGA will bring aboard PLGA’s four employees, increasing total staff to 32.

Southern California Golf Association was founded in 1899 and primarily represented private clubs such as Los Angeles Country Club. During the 1930s, many municipalities built public courses. The Public Links Golf Association was founded in 1931 to serve those golfers. The merger will unite the vast majority of courses in Southern California under one umbrella organization.

“This merger is really about mission alignment,” said Craig Kessler, PLGA executive director.

Staff reporter David Nusbaum can be reached at dnusbaum@labusinessjournal.com or at (323) 549-5225, ext. 236.

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