An off-weekend for the Cup Series precipitates a rare off-question weekend for yours truly. So let me interrupt your regularly scheduled column to bring you this special edition of Fanning the Flames.
My wife is not a racer, she’s a dancer. While my evenings are filled with Race Hub, NASCAR Now and Trackside; Rachel’s are filled with Dancing with the Stars, America’s Favorite Dance Crew and So You Think You Can Dance. My Sunday is centered on a Cup race; Rachel’s on rehearsal.
And honestly, I’m OK with that. When I leave the office or shut the laptop down in the living room for the night, I know I can take a pit stop from all things racing by talking to her. It’s refreshing, really. She has her passion, I have mine, and they co-exist nicely.
Of course, there is a certain amount of crossover. She knows who I’m talking about when I say “ol’ DW” or what it means to hear “they’re in Talladega, baby!” Concurrently, I know who Nigel Lythgoe is, have (at least a rudimentary) knowledge of what it means to “lead” while dancing and how and when to “pull” and “push” while doing so – and the “push” has nothing to do with her front end not wanting to turn on the dance floor… or mine either.
Part of that crossover involves attending events we normally would not. For instance, I’ve been to every dance show she’s participated in since we started dating (something I’d never done prior), and along those lines, thought it’d be cool to introduce her to a day at the races. I wanted her to sit in the grandstands, smell the burning rubber and high-octane fuel, hear the scream of engines as the field came to the green, to feel the rumble through her chest… I wanted her to fully appreciate and understand what moves me – even if it didn’t totally move her.
So imagine my dismay when, two weeks ago, I visited Nashville Superspeedway’s Web site in search of a couple tickets to last Saturday’s Nationwide race and found the cheapest at $35 a pop. That’s right, for a guy to take his wife to the track, it was going to cost $70 just to get in the door… for a Nationwide Series race!
Now, I’ve never been accused of being a miser, but I’m not a free-spender, nor am I rich. We’ve got a mortgage, a car note, a student loan, and the typical assortment of bills to pay each month just like the rest of you. Throw in the grocery shopping, the gas, an occasional date night and, well… you all know the roundabout figure. The last thing I need is to drop $70 at the track. Check that, $70 just to get into the track for a Nationwide race.
Now, before I go any further, let me say that the crowds at Nashville Superspeedway – which is a half-hour drive from my front door – are bordering on pathetic. They have been for a couple years now. I mean, if cookie-cutter tracks are having a hard time filling up for Cup races, imagine how a Truck/Nationwide weekend would struggle… this ain’t Bristol, after all, it’s a 1.33-mile oval. So when I tell you maybe 5,000 showed up for the Truck race (it was announced at 7,000) and around 14,000 were on hand for the NNS show (the announced figure was 17,000 and the joint is said to hold 40,000-50,000), know that more Nashvillians can be found in one place when the Predators play a hockey game in the downtown arena (capacity: 17,000). And hockey isn’t exactly the favorite pastime in this bastion of the Bible Belt.
The weather here in Nashville was picture perfect last weekend too, and while most reckon that nice weather attracts a meaty walk-up crowd, that’s not necessarily so. After the unusually cold winter we had in Middle Tennessee, residents are bursting at the seams to get out and enjoy what little Spring we have before temps and humidity levels spike into the 90s. Yard work, exercise, or sitting on the deck of a midtown establishment enjoying a cold beverage were the orders of the day – not forking over an exorbitant amount of cash to see something other than the Cup Series compete. There are simply too many options with which to occupy one’s time on one of the single nicest weekends of the year… a weekend that also happened to house the Easter holiday. Yeah, I mentioned that “Bible Belt” thing, right?
So, dejected, I told Rachel we would not be spending a day at the track. I wasn’t going to spend $70 – much less the $90, $110 or $250 the good seats would put me out (and, God forbid, however much they tacked on for a pre-race trip down to pit road). She didn’t seem to mind, though. After all, you don’t know what you got ‘til its gone, right?
For those that may not find $70 an out-of-the-question figure (despite the current recessionary climate), I thought I’d do some research and see how far that would get me on a Cup Series Sunday in the coming weeks. No frills – just two adults looking to walk in the door. The results were eye-opening. So much so, it helped me to really understand why tracks such as Nashville are struggling: the track operators are totally oblivious to the local customer base and that the product they pitch is for sale in a superior form at a lower relative price just a few hours down the road.
Phoenix: OK, so we’d have to fly, but a local Phoenix couple or father-son duo could make a quick Sunday trip to the track in Avondale and see the Cup race from the hillside for $70. If you want something inside, it’ll run you $110 for a pair of tickets. Pricey, but it’s the big leagues.
Texas: The cheapest seats at TMS are sold out, but had I been a week earlier with the inquiry, I could’ve had two seats on the backstretch for $80. This is the Cup show, mind you, asking a mere $10 more than what I had to spend for the Nationwide race here.
Talladega: Yes, of “they’re in Talladega, baby!” fame, the big track was asking for a two-day package at the exit of turn 2 for an exceptionally reasonable $50. That’d get me and my girl in for two races – Nationwide and Cup – for a grand total of $100. Heck, that’s cheaper than a strip club… not that I frequent such places… it’s only, well, at Talladega there’s usually a strip show to be seen at some point during race weekend, so in that respect, it’s quite the bargain.
Richmond: Ah yes, quaint little ol’ Richmond. Old-school charm with contemporary amenities – and with some of the best racin’ on the schedule. Not surprisingly, RIR offered what may be the best deal of all: A $40 seat right about where Dale spun Darrell and started a young boy’s fascination with a thing then-known as the Winston Cup Series. Again, a mere $10 more than what I was asked to shell for a Nationwide race with half the quality of talent or entertainment and 1/16 the tradition.
Understand that I feel for the operators at tracks like Nashville. It’s a town that offers a plethora of options to a citizenry that, contrary to popular belief, isn’t even that crazy about big-time auto racing (we let two dates get away from the Fairgrounds in the ‘80s, after all). However, a simple economic principle such as Supply and Demand should tell them that when the consumer isn’t all that interested in the first place, he or she is even less likely to buy the product if it’s overpriced.
And if they didn’t realize this before, it should be painfully obvious now, because the fans spoke with their wallets… as in, “Our wallets ain’t here.” However, a quick visit back to their website yesterday showed prices for the June 5 Nationwide qualifying and race date at $45 a seat, meaning it’ll cost us even more to get in two months from now when it’s 90 degrees out.
Look, I’m a diehard; a lifer. I’ll follow the sport regardless because NASCAR’s got me – and has had me for quite a while. And of course, I could have done what most of my colleagues in the media did and simply get a press pass – but I wanted to enjoy the race again as a fan and introduce a potential new one to it in hopes she’d realize why this sport is so great.
Instead, the track operators priced Rachel and myself, and most likely countless others, out of a day at the races.