Trying To Take Command Of The Los Angeles Market


Stories Of People Who Make A Living In Motorsports

Guest Columnist

Gillian Zucker was named president of California Speedway in June of 2005. She was named Woman of the Year in 2006 by California’s 63rd Assembly District.

“Yeah, yeah, now go capture Los Angeles for NASCAR,” was all Bill France, Jr. said when I thanked him for naming me president of California Speedway.

He didn’t tell me how to conquer the L.A. market. So, in the past two years, we tried a little of everything in a market about as similar to Daytona Beach, Fla., as the road course at Watkins Glen, N.Y., is to Daytona Int’l Speedway.

It’s a whole different game and it takes a different strategy to win.

• Creating Buzz — We had to begin with letting people know we exist. Imagine a community of 17 million who drove past California Speedway and never knew it. That’s because there was no identifying signage on the roadways until this year. Now, a 105-foot LED Freeway Marquee marks our exit, complimented by six state DOT signs marking the exit on the 10, 15 and 210 freeways.

• Bridging the Gap — We’re 40 miles from L.A., where the vast majority of our media is based. We’re constantly staging events to generate exposure for the track and awareness among the media. On the horizon, our biggest event to date — California Speedway’s Wide Open in Hollywood, an event that merges NASCAR Drivers and Hollywood Stars, to raise funds for the NASCAR Foundation.

Those who wonder just how big this event will be need only look at the buzz created on the gossip pages when Kasey Kahne caught Paris Hilton’s eye during a recent outing to Hollywood hotspot Le Deux.

• Overcoming Stereotypes — In a land where image is everything, ours needed a little sprucing. It’s taken a grass-roots education process to convince this region NASCAR is far more than “guys turning left.” We’ve done this by exposing fans to technology like the Nextel Fan View and by highlighting the product of our broadcast partners during public-speaking engagements that literally put the fans inside the cockpit.

We’ve done this by positioning NASCAR drivers on mainstream programming like “24,” “Jimmy Kimmel Live” and “Mad TV,” by walking the red carpet at the Grammy’s with Carl Edwards and serving on countless community boards to raise our profile.

We’ve done this by networking with political powerhouses in our region, including California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and our San Bernardino county supervisors.

• Bling — We’ve had to learn to be glitzy beyond fireworks and flybys, so we added a musical element to pre-race activities with a performance by Sammy Hagar in February. Plus, this weekend, we’ll debut the California Speedway Girls, bringing the long-standing motorsports tradition of umbrella girls to NASCAR. Check out their myspace page — www.myspace/californiaspeedwaygirls.

The stars are always out at California Speedway, where our grand marshals are global icons like Kevin Costner for this past Auto Club 500 and Stevie Wonder for the upcoming Sharp Aquos 500.

• Se habla Español — More than 80 percent of teenagers in Southern California are Hispanic. Latinos are not an emerging market at California Speedway, they are a key part of our fan base. In addition to learning Spanish myself, we’ve taken on some unique grassroots initiatives with great results. A recent poster campaign: “Juan Pablo Montoya tiene un secreto” (has a secret), call toll free to find out what it is. 877-513-7223 (English) and 877-515-7223 (Spanish) has been a resounding success with huge call volume.

• Fans — And while I put this last, it’s always first in my mind. Every change that has been made at California Speedway since my arrival, has been as a result of fan comments. Fans write me directly at [email protected], and the results are reflected at the track — our expanded food menu and Wolfgang Puck restaurant, our new ADA bridge, additional shade areas and air-conditioned rest locations, additional Nextel Vision screens, improved traffic routing, victory lane where fans can see it, Wi-Fi and High Definition offerings, additional RV camping locations and the list goes on.

Since Mr. France left out the “how,” we’ve been counting on the fans to provide it.

So, we ask fans to keep writing and we’ll keep at it until Mr. France’s goal is achieved. It’s not an overnight fix, but there’s no doubt in our minds that in the not too distant future, Southern California will know what the rest of the nation has known for years…There is NOTHING like attending a live NASCAR race. Nothing.

(Original Print Date: August 29, 2007)