Racing in Southern California has always been exciting, dating back more than 100 years. Jimmy Murphy, winner of the 1922 Indianapolis 500-Mile Race and 1921 French Grand Prix, went to high school at Huntington Park High School in Los Angeles.
Rodger Ward, winner of the Indianapolis 500 in 1959 and 1962, and Phil Hill, the 1960 F1 World Champion were both raised in in the Los Angeles area.
Southern California was home to Ontario Motor Speedway, Riverside International Raceway and Ascot Park. Now, it’s home to Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, site of this weekend’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Auto Club 400, which is an important race for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) driver Kurt Busch.
The driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation/Monster Energy Ford Fusion for SHR would love to win on the outskirts of the second-largest city in the United States. He also would like to win for local companies Haas Automation and Monster Energy.
Haas Automation headquarters are just 105 miles from Fontana in Oxnard, California, while Monster Energy’s headquarters are only 21 miles away in Corona, California.
So, it’s a huge weekend for Busch at Fontana, where he has tasted a good bit of success in his career. He has one win, seven top-five finishes and 12 top-10s in 25 starts at the 2-mile oval. Additionally, the 39-year-old driver has led 298 laps, has an average starting position of 14.9, an average finish of 12.8, and has completed 99.9 percent – 5,551 of 5,556 – of the laps he’s contested there.
He can also push the throttle as four of his 22 career poles have come at Fontana – February and September 2006, September 2007 and March 2015. It’s more Fontana poles than any other active driver.
As if this year’s race wasn’t big enough, this year also marks the 30th anniversary of Haas Automation’s very first vertical machining center – the industry-leading VF-1. The “V” in the model name stands for vertical – an industry standard designation for a vertical mill – and company founder Gene Haas added “F1” to unofficially designate it as the company’s “Very First One.”
Introduced at IMTS 88 in Chicago, the Haas VF-1 established an industry milestone by being the very first American-built vertical machining center to sell for less than $50,000, an unheard-of price at that time. With a published price of $49,900 – another industry first – the Haas VF-1 quickly became the industry benchmark for affordable CNC technology.
Today, the Haas VF-1 still sells for less than $50,000 – in fact, it’s only $46,995 – and Haas Automation is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of CNC machine tools, with an extensive lineup of more than 100 high-value, high-performance products.
Busch knows the stakes are high. But so did Murphy, Ward, Hill and every other great driver who’s ever hailed from or drove in Southern California.
KURT BUSCH, Driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation/Monster Energy Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing:
Overall thoughts on Auto Club Speedway?
“The track is out in the Desert Southwest and it just feels like home. Growing up there and racing, it was cool as heck to go to California Speedway for the first time as a fan because of how big the track is and how fast everything is there. Then, to go there as a racer, it was incredible. I got to race in the Truck Series. Over the years, it’s just one of those tracks that’s been really good to me. I like the racing surface because of how much you slip and slide around. It’s tire management at its finest. When you have a track like that, it really goes toward the driver’s hands more than the technology of aerodynamics and the setups. It’s a lot of fun to go there knowing the responsibility is in the driver’s hands.”
What is your favorite part about the track?
“It’s unique because you have to build the car and keep in mind with the setup that the straightaways are super long. But the corners are sort of flat and they are a little tighter than you think. So you have to have the setup right for both ends of the racetrack. Really long straightaways and tight flat corners.”
Is there anything you don’t like about the racetrack?
“The bumps on the back straightaway are super rough and we’re bouncing pretty rough off them because we’re trying to keep our car low in the corners. The straightaways seem to get more unsettled each year. But, no biggie. It’s just part of the experience.”
How big is this weekend for you, Haas Automation, Monster Energy and Ford?
“As far as sponsor weekends go, this is the ultimate. Monster is headquartered just down the road in Corona, California. Haas Automation is headquartered out in Oxnard, California. Even Ford really wants to beat Toyota, which has TRD out there. So, it’s a lot of responsibility to run well there.”