But in February? Historically the rainiest month in Southern California? And one of the three coldest? Maybe not such a grand idea after all. “You plan this great event for eight months,” driver Kenny Wallace said, “and then it rains the very hours you have it.” Well, yeah. Rain happens in SoCal. Especially in February. Maybe someone could have looked into it. Poor Gillian Zucker. If California Speedway’s president didn’t have bad luck she wouldn’t have any luck at all. The Racefest is an improvement added under her watch. A period when Southern Californians suddenly remembered they don’t care much about NASCAR. Since then, California Speedway has failed to sell out a single race. And Sunday’s Auto Club 500 will make four consecutive not-sold-out Nextel Cup events under Zucker’s aegis. Weather just destroyed the third Fanfest. FONTANA – The Fontana Racefest? A grand idea. Nine, maybe 10 months a year. Throw open a NASCAR midway to fans, for free, the Thursday night before a race weekend. Offer chances to get driver’s autographs. Maybe flog some tickets and merchandise. Build up customer good will. Fans tend not to be festive when they are soaked and shivering. Especially Southern California fans, notorious weather wimps. (If it’s raining Sunday morning, count on tens of thousands of empty seats at the Auto Club 500.) “Sammy Hagar will rock you, rain or shine or snow,” emcee Chris Myers vowed as a steady drizzle angled in from the west Thursday night. Truth be told, we didn’t make it to 8:40 p.m., when Fontana homeboy Hagar was scheduled to take the stage for a half-hour set – and risk electrocution after the precipitation soaked everything and everyone on the main stage. Fanfest is a good idea. When it’s not winter. It’s built around the speedway’s “Impulse” merchandise store, where you can buy a cap for $25, and the Wolfgang Puck-run “Apex” restaurant, where a breakfast burrito will set you back $12. Each is located on the parking lot south of the grandstand. The Nextel Cup merchandize haulers are lined up around those two stores, vendors come in to hawk their stuff (the “shave ice” stand was closed, however) and a couple of dozen drivers show up to sign autographs and wake up the echoes of NASCAR’s fan-friendly past. Before they got soggy, many of the several thousand fans who braved the elements seemed to be having fun. A husband and wife happily knocked back a shot of Wabo Cabo tequila ($7 a snort) from under the shelter of an awning, and the woman told a friend via cell phone that, “A.J. says he’s perfectly warm now.” You could buy beer, vodka, whiskey … but ultimately none of it was going to keep you dry. Give everyone credit for soldiering on. David Gilliland, the Daytona pole-sitter and former Chino Hills resident, was a half-hour early to his autograph-signing session at the No. 38 M&Ms Ford trailer. He brought a couple of Sharpie pens with him and scribbled his suddenly famous name on any article thrust toward him. Caps, posters, sweatshirts, backpacks, raincoats, galoshes … “David, I used to watch you at Irwindale,” a man shouted as he walked past. “Thank you, thank you,” Gilliland said, looking up briefly. Not far away, men, women and children stood in sodden clothes, inching forward to get Wade Burton’s autograph. A mother and son got Burton’s Patrick Henry on their paraphernalia, but as they walked away and popped open their umbrellas, the mother said, “All that waiting for one minute!” Zucker told the crowd gathered at the main stage that 20 drivers were at Fanfest to sign autographs. Almost all of whom were introduced by the game Myers, former ESPN anchor who seemed to be risking another lengthy bout of laryngitis as water began dripping off his forehead. Most of the drivers marveled at the bad weather. Though they also may not have done any study of February weather conditions in the Southland. “You guys are troupers to be out in this weather,” Scott Riggs said. “I expected to come here and be warm,” J.J. Yeley said. “I got here at 3 and went golfing and was one of about six idiots on the course.” Zucker, meanwhile, took control of marshalling the drivers who huddled under cover, sending them out one by one to chat with Myers, on a live mike, before a few dozen fans standing in puddles. Kevin Harvick, Daytona winner ahead of fan-favorite Mark Martin, was booed. So was Kyle Busch, who lost control on the final lap at Daytona and began the multi-car crash. Zucker, too, was razzed, even though she appeared a pitiable figure, as soaking wet as a survivor plucked out of a Titanic lifeboat. “Idiot!” shouted one man, as Zucker’s name was mentioned. Well, no one controls the weather. Though they can make informed decisions based on its history. We’ll check back on Fanfest when NASCAR returns for Labor Day weekend. Chances of rain in early September are negligible. Though the odds of sunstroke odds rise sharply. DAILYBULLETINFor more musings from columnist Paul Oberjuerge, check out his blog at www.dailybulletin.com/sports. 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!