Four Tracks That Need a Cut

Disclaimer: The Opinions used in this article are solely those of the writer.

 

Photo credit: WJHL News Channel 11 Website  
Bristol has had trouble in the past few years in their spring race, but there are other tracks that have done worse.
 

 

By Peter Carcia
TheRacingExperts.Com Reporter
6/7/2012
theracingexperts@aol.com




Back in 2010 NASCAR finally realized that what was needed to help boost popularity was to mix things up in the annual schedule. So after six years of pretty much the same races at the same times, the 2011 NASCAR season saw some pretty significant changes. Both Auto Club Speedway and Atlanta Motor Speedway lost one of their races in the schedule, bringing them down to their premier events, the Auto Club 500 and the Labor Day Classic. Many races had changed the order of timing. One of the big changes includes Chicagoland's annual event, which was moved from its TNT's summer series date to become the first race of the Chase for the Cup, subsequently 
booting out New Hampshire. Also, Phoenix Raceway now has the second race of the year along with the penultimate race that it's held in the Chase for years, making a mirror image so to speak.


Of course with some track getting cuts, some tracks gained races. Kansas received the spring race Atlanta lost,  but we also saw the first new track on the circuit since 2001, as Kentucky Speedway became the 23rd track to be on the Sprint Cup Circuit. Now sure, people probably thought to themselves, "oh great, another mile and a half track, just what we need." You're probably right; I'd agree there should probably a better variety of racetracks.

But for the people of the bluegrass state, this seemed different. The racetrack was more than sold out to an estimated 120,000 people in a track that had just built up seats to hold 102,000. To many NASCAR fans, we were able to see the heydays of the 1990s again: a packed house, a riled up crowd, a great race with just the right amount of wrecks and green flag runs. In fact, the only thing keeping it from seeming like a retro race was the Japanese car brand Toyota winning the race with Kyle Busch.

So how was the overhaul for the other 35 races? In 2011, the overall attendance would have gone up if it weren't for Atlanta's race getting rained out, the first time that happened since comparing 2006 and 2007 (which by the way had one million more people in the picture). Those changes were basically the catalyst for those upswings, with Phoenix gaining 15,000 due to a change in the lineup, Chicagoland gained 5,500 (again not shown because of rain delays), and Auto Club speedway had its highest following since 2006, with a surplus of two thousand extra followers for attendance to hit 90,000 people. Meanwhile, the tracks that stayed constant were more susceptible to the apathy, with many of the attendance falls coming from places like Pocono and Dover with two races in the year. Of the three tracks with one date on the schedule, only Las Vegas went down in attendance from 2011, something which by the way is unusual for the Speedway in the desert, but still higher than the 2009 low of 140,000. Meanwhile, the majority of two-race-a-year tracks have continued to fall.

So we thought about it in the office, who should be next to being cut, and who should replace them? There are quite a few tracks that are in a short fall in attendance, so take some notes France family, if most fans had their way, the tracks losing races would have enough to make a graduating class.

DOVER (down 45.3% since 2005): Let’s be honest, the concept of Dover Raceway was an excellent one; a shorter track with a whole lot of banking. However, it appears that even with ticket prices going down in the First State, the fans of the northeast are taking the drive to Watkins Glen or New Hampshire instead of the $65 advertised front stretch tickets in the Monster Mile. Don’t let this weeks’ numbers fool you either, notice how there were a whole lot of people with yellow shirts on the top balcony at Turn 3 just out of the blue? (Which by the way stole our idea... first race we were going to go to was have a big barbeque in the stands up there) Judging from the insane amount of yellow there and the yellow hats given to the 48’s crew in victory lane for Autism Speaks, it looked like the net gain of 3,000 fans between the 2011 and 2012 spring races were thanks to a promotional deal. So with more than 50,000 unsold seats for each of the past three years, it appears that Dover is in need of a reality check with so many tracks found on the circuit within a good 500 mile radius of them. Whether it was because of Jimmie Johnson’s domination, the obstructed view courtesy of the bridges on the backstretch, or maybe just the economic logistics outside of the track, we’ll never know. Regardless, Dover is a big racetrack in terms of good crashes that might need a reality check, and although it hurts to say it with the action we’ve seen lately, like the 13-car pileup this past week and the wild finish in last year’s Nationwide Series race, one of the Dover dates has to go until it can rebuild its fan base up again.

KANSAS (down 25% since 2010): When two racetracks in Atlanta and Auto Club Speedway lost their second races in the 2010-11 offseason, Kansas would receive one of those vacant spots. So in 2011 we saw a clear cut, prime example of why more tracks need to end having two races every year. They went from 100,000 fans a race in their Chase race to receiving a shortfall as they’ve gotten the date in the spring, going to 80,000 in 2011 and now 75,000 in the 2012 running. Quite frankly, the best solution would have to be to bring them back down to the Chase race and scrap the STP 400 for another track.

MICHIGAN (down 44% since 2007): This one appears to be the obvious choice for taking out a race. In fact, like Auto Club Speedway this was the track that has been known for being in the biggest financial burden due to the recession. Fontana had gotten out of it because, well you guessed it, they allowed only one race per year and it all has worked wonders for them ever since. So for a track who has taken down a good 50,000 seats to help ease the burden, shouldn't it make sense that Michigan gets the chance to rebuild its fanbase before continuing this downward spiral?

TEXAS (down 16% since 2007): I figured there would be a lot of readers that wanted the countless amounts of mile and a half tracks to be cut from the circuit. Look no further than the lone star state, where the attendance numbers have continued to consistently fall by the race. Ultimately we are seeing another example like Michigan where we have a track that deserves recognition as a key race, yet fails to receive publicity because of the second race. The idea to make the spring race under the lights was a great idea, and with The attendance numbers inching closer to below 150,000, it's time to bring such a large market in Texas back to its glory.

Now with these tracks losing a date, then who should replace them? There are plenty of tracks that could take over the bill for them.

Iowa Speedway has appeared to be the track that’s excelling in attendance in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, with roughly 56,000 in 2010, the last time they had only one date on the schedule. To put it to comparison, Kentucky had 61,000 in 2010 before their inaugural year in the Cup Series. Of course the count has gone down because of the extra date, but they still have maintained numbers exceeding 30,000. The track that appears to be a sister of Richmond looks to be a great addition to the schedule with both the hard racing of a short track and the wide open style of a mile and a half track that could likely gain a lot of followers with the Nebraska and South Dakota markets.

This area could also benefit from the plans to possibly bring a Speedway into Minnesota pretty soon. Our lead reporter Jonathan Fjeld has continued to follow the plans for having a D-oval track set up in Minnesota. Granted the plans are still in the early stages, but hey, that not only gives the Dakotas and Minnesota a track in their markets, but also opens the door for Canadians as well in the potential westernmost track on the circuit among states that border Canada. So Minnesota might end up having a great potential to make some hay in the Cup Series if a Speedway ends up going there. And if that doesn't work out, then I'm sure the fans will appreciate putting Rockingham back on the schedule, which by the way would appear to be the sister track of Minnesota judging from the blueprints.

Meanwhile, we see a great example for the Cup’s third road course track on the circuit in the heartland of Wisconsin. If there is one track that seems to be creating some good action in the Nationwide Series, Road America in Elkhart Lake should definitely be on that list with plenty of wrecks to go around. The first two Nationwide series races at Road America has pulled in around 40,000-50,000, and since there's no actual stands the accommodations will probably have to go through a facelift, but this could definitely be an experiment for NASCAR that could be worth the try to spice up the season.

And finally, to replace the final race that would be cut from our list, why not put another off week there, just so we can keep the noise those critics of a long season are making to a minimum. After all, the Cup had 35 races for years, and the series was still going strong.
 
It certainly is a tough thing for the markets of these tracks to have to cut down to one race a year. Even so, the fate of NASCAR's future means that some changes are going to have to be made. And besides, maybe if the one race a year deal works out, a second race might come back.