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CART Race in Fontana Is Off

Speedway officials make the decision to postpone weekend events because of fires.

October 29, 2003|Shav Glick | Times Staff Writer

Over the objections of CART, California Speedway officials postponed Sunday's King Taco 500, final event of the open-wheel racing series, to an as-yet undetermined date because of the state of emergency in San Bernardino County caused by wildfires raging not far from the Fontana track.

"Apparently, back in Indianapolis, they don't realize the impact the fires have had, fires that came within five miles of the track at one point, but after talking with the CART people most of the day, we made the decision to call it off this weekend," said Bill Miller, California Speedway president.

"We struggled with the decision all day long and finally made it on our own. Our dialogue with the CART management team was very disappointing, but all we had to do was look up in the sky and see ashes falling down and the decision was made easy. Our first regard is for the safety of our workers, our guests and our community, and we feel sure it was the right decision. It was not only supported by state and local authorities, but requested by them."

CART officials said the Indianapolis-based company would make a statement today.

Its championship awards banquet, honoring Paul Tracy, is scheduled next Tuesday in Indian Wells. Tracy clinched the championship last Sunday in Australia.

"There are very few options for holding the race at our track between now and Christmas," Miller said. "We have contractual obligations for more than 300 events here all year and that takes up nearly every day, including weekends."

There has been some speculation that CART might move the race, as the NFL did Monday night, shifting the San Diego-Miami game from fire-threatened San Diego to Tempe, Ariz. Options mentioned were Las Vegas and Phoenix, but the Phoenix track is running a Winston Cup race Sunday.

"The CART people felt the situation had the potential to clear up, that Sunday might be a clear day with no smoky skies, but from our standpoint, it wasn't an option," Miller said. "Many of our volunteers are up there right now, fighting the fires, and if we held the race this weekend, we would not have enough safety personnel to support the event.

"We have been monitoring the fire situation since it began last weekend in the northern section of Fontana, only five miles from the speedway, and it seemed the appropriate thing to do to not stage the event. "

CART officials lobbying to retain the weekend schedule were David Clare, chief operating officer, and John Lopes, vice president of racing operations. Chris Pook, president and chief executive officer, was not involved in the teleconference, Miller said.

Also postponed was Saturday's NASCAR Winston West race, the King Taco 200, but that decision was made with NASCAR's blessing, said Chris Boals, regional series director.

"We fully support the speedway's decision," Boals said. "We appreciate their efforts, in coordination with state and local authorities, in arriving at this decision. Conducting this event ... is not prudent at this time, especially with several of our Winston West teams located in the area. The focus should be, and rightly so, on the situation at hand, and our thoughts are with all of those affected by the fires."

The Winston West race is significant in that it will determine the championship and the drivers eligible to compete in the inaugural NASCAR Toyota All-Star Show Down, Nov. 6-8 at Irwindale Speedway. There is a possibility the Winston West race could be added to the Phoenix program, although it already includes a Featherlite Southwest Series and Craftsman Truck race as well as the Winston Cup event.

NASCAR officials also announced the postponement of the Winston West awards ceremony scheduled Nov. 2 at the Alex Theatre in Glendale.

The Champ Car Stars of Tomorrow national karting series, which was scheduled to conclude this weekend in the California Speedway infield, has been moved to the new Moran Raceway in Beaumont.

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