The Frontstretch: Are Empty Seats At Saturday's Busch Race A Sign Of Things To Come? by Mike Neff -- Monday April 23, 2007

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Are Empty Seats At Saturday's Busch Race A Sign Of Things To Come?

Full Throttle · Mike Neff · Monday April 23, 2007


The Busch Series ran a race at Phoenix International Raceway Friday night, but if you looked at the stands, you might have been easily confused. With the limited number of seats in use, it could have easily passed for a Champ Car or IRL race if not for the noticeable sounds of stock cars circling round the track. In fact, the crowd was so thin there appeared to be almost as many ushers and event security staff in the stands as there were fans, a sad state of affairs for what is supposed to be the No. 2 stock car series in America. Certainly, it’s a problem that NASCAR appears to need solutions for, especially if they want their stars of the future to attach themselves to the fans of today.

To give the track some benefit of the doubt, there is a distinct possibility that the timing of the race had a direct impact on attendance. The race was held on Friday night, with the green flag dropping at approximately 6:00 PM local time; that creates some difficulty for fans to make it to the track after work. Considering the fact that there are only two Busch races per year in the Valley of the Sun, you'd think that people would be able to take a day off in order to make it to the track by race time…but everyone knows that can’t always happen.

If that theory holds weight, there’s an easy option for fixing this problem: change the time the race is run. You could take the risk of moving the event to Saturday morning before the Cup race; while it’s a logistical nightmare for the track, the move isn’t without precedent. Dover did it a few years ago with the Truck and Busch race when the Truck race was rained out. If anything, the move would certainly make things nicer for people who were traveling from a distance and wanted to see both races. The other option, of course, would be to run the race later in the evening, so that people had a greater opportunity to get to the track after work. The problem there is that you'd be pushing the race much later into the evening on the East Coast and well out of primetime.

Another thing to consider is that the product on the race track is simply not what people are looking for anymore. “Cup Lite,” as the series has been referred to as of late, is about overly-funded Cup-backed teams with Cup-level drivers coming out and running the few regular Busch teams into the ground. As recently as last week, Frank Cicci Racing, a standalone Busch team with 20 years of history in the series, was forced to close its doors because they could not secure sponsorship for their race cars. Even though the team was locked into the Top 30 in owner points and was guaranteed a starting spot in the field in Texas, they still could not attract a sponsor willing to put their name on a single car effort with a Busch-level driver. It is a shame that the entry level series that used to allow local talent to get their feet wet and possibly impress someone who owned a car at the Cup level has now become the playground of well-funded Cup teams instead.

The possibility exists that the point will be moot next year as the Car of Tomorrow (or Today, as it may be) is phased in, greatly diminishing the advantages of Cup drivers running in the Busch races. Of course, by the time next year rolls around, there may not be enough teams interested in running in the series to begin with, and we could end up with fields that are shorter than the advertised 43 cars; in fact, it’s already happened once this season. Weak fields then produce a snowball effect; the fans are already turned off as it is, and then when the fields start showing up 90% full, attendance will certainly lag even further. Make no bones about it, it is a very slippery slope that the Busch Series is attempting to traverse right now.

That being said, the issue at hand is really the fact that the stands were possibly 1/3rd full Friday night. While there are issues as to why people are not attending the race, there is also an issue of cultivating the fans of the future to foster an interest in the sport at a young age. If there’s the potential of 80,000 or so paid seats that are going unused, there should be some vehicle in place to allow kids who can't normally afford to attend a race the option of using a seat that is not being utilized.

There is a golf tournament in the Charlotte area every year where people who aren't using tickets or are done with them for the day can turn them in; they are then resold for a nominal fee to ensure the seats will be filled come race day. Why couldn't the folks at Phoenix, or at any track for that matter, set up a system where, if a season ticket holder does not want to use the Busch tickets, they could allow the Speedway to resell them for a small amount? They could also donate them to the Boys and Girls club, the local Boy Scouts, or some other organization that would allow some underprivileged kids the opportunity to see a Busch race and cultivate the future fans of the sport.

The Busch Series is in trouble on several levels. Sponsorship, Buschwhacking, and now it looks like attendance may be turning into a problem. It is up to the promoters and the sanctioning body to work hard to facilitate as many opportunities as possible to allow kids who are not regularly able to see races the chance to attend events and begin to become fans of the future.

Clearly, NASCAR needs to do its part to start putting fans in the stands in whatever way they can, so that empty seats on Fridays and Saturdays don’t spill over into empty seats on Sundays.

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Swan Racing Announces Restructuring, No. 26 & No. 30 ‘Sold’ Off
Tech Talk with Tony Gibson: Taking Stock Of Danica Patrick In Year Two
Vexing Vito: Three Drivers In Need of a Role Reversal
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04/24/2007 06:06 AM

We have to remember that these Friday night races are really NOT directed to the folks who might rush dinner and run to the track to watch the race. Those folks are already gone from NASCAR. The price of a seat at a race has already put a lot of families “out of the market”. These Friday night and the Saturday night races are directed at “eyeballs”, or the viewers who will turn on the TV to watch an evening race. Sponsors aren’t really concerned much with the people in the grandstand buying their product, but are more in tune with getting the vehicle they are sponsoring up front in the race and in front of people’s eyes.

NASCAR, like so many sports, is about “bang for the dollar”. Where else can you get a nationwide moving billboard for your product that is so effective?

The Busch series may be in trouble, true…but NASCAR has turned their back, I believe, on the people who helped build this sport. Watch TV and see the explanations they give for the failure of various parts during a race, or why a driver wants his car set-up a certain way. Do you really think those of us who have followed NASCAR since its early days don’t know those things? No, they’re slanted to all the new people who’ve been courted into the sport. They’re the people who’ll be fickle and abandon the sport when push comes to shove.

jo smelser
04/24/2007 07:06 AM

we stopped going to the bush races, for the past two, years , because its only a test run for the cup guys!we do not watch anything to do with the bush race, either because of the cup drivers!we are raace fans ,since back in the 60“s and most of those fan’s, like us, are not into the nascar races ,any more!!1

04/24/2007 12:24 PM

NASCAR has created this problem from the very start by allowing way too many cup drivers to compete in the the series. Last year alone the first 20 races were literally dominated by the cup drivers. NASCAR needs to limit cup drivers to no more than 5 races for the entire season. There is no reason for the likes of Harvick, Edwards,and others to compete for the Busch championship. If cup divers want to compete in series then they should be using their own resources. The Busch series in my opinion was a liitle more fun to watch when there were a very small number of cup driver running in the series.

04/24/2007 04:02 PM

I was there on Friday night and I had a good view, but the lack of track announcements or a visible leaderboard, combined with several caution flags, made the race hard to follow. Add the fact that I got there at 2:00 PM and had to park over a mile away because the close-in parking was reserved for motor homes (fair enough) and motor home sales (not fair) without a tram in sight. Six dollar beer! I didn’t clear the parking lot until after 11:00 PM. My Saturday night Cup ticket went unused because it just wasn’t worth the hassle.

04/24/2007 06:22 PM

its not only the busch races. check out the stands at atlanta. heck during the cup race on the front straight there was plenty of seats empty, we were all stretched out but really nascar has turned their backs on not only the team owners that made nascar what it is but also the FANS. what happened to drivers working their way up the ranks from shrt track to busch to cup. i am sick and tired of pretty boy drivers that are 20-25 and want to cry baby about life. grow up and NASCAR needs to WAKE UP before we are all gone and so are they. just look at ticket prices. RIDICULOUS.

04/25/2007 07:44 AM

I’m 50 years old. I’ve attended Nascar races since I was 16 (first race at Pocono). I’ve supported Nascar for YEARS. This year, I went to my last Daytona 500. This year, I’ll go to my last Darlington race.

I used to go to the Busch and Cup race at Charlotte. I used to get up at 4 am to drive to Charlotte to see the Busch race, rent a room for the night, come back to see the World 600. I used to be able to do that for $300-$350 for the weekend. NOW, it would cost me $1,000-$1,200 to do the same thing (gas, hotel, food and tickets).

I gave up my Talledega tickets three years ago. I will only attend one Atlanta race this year.

I remember when I could park right in front of the Daytona race track on property that is now occupied by “the Daytona Experience”. The last 10 years, I walked for almost one mile to get to the track.

In summary, I can’t afford the tickets anymore. I can’t afford the gas to get to the track anymore. I can’t afford the hotel bills anymore.

My solution? Tape/DVD the race. I can watch the race in about 1 hour (because there is 1 hour of commercials and 1 hour of debris cautions).

04/25/2007 05:10 PM

like most of the people have said… NASCAR priced lowly diehards like me out of their focus group.
I stay home and watch the races… spend the money I used to spend going to the races on booze, women, and food. I learned to do this after quite mistakenly taking a wrong turn coming back from the bathroom (this was while at at Rockingham: the best track to see drivers handle a racecar) during a caution period and ended up in some big-wigs’ suite; 3 goons came out of the woodwork and roughed me up hustling me out of the sanitized environment of the suite. It was obvious to everyone that I was lost; why’d they have to be bozo-brains about the honest mistake?
In the past 20 years, I’ve seen almost all racing afflicted with the same disease… more rules that encourage endless spending on extracting the last degree of performance from uniform components/cars. There’s a simple uniform solution to all of this… give the cars gobs of horsepower but put them on skinny tires and you’ll see real racing as drivers with true raw talent thrill fans that appreciate great driving skills! Oh, and cut all the blades, spoilers, fins, airdamns, and other airplane devices off the cars…


Contact Mike Neff

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