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Why were there so many empty seats in Bristol?

By admin | March 21, 2011

By Richard Allen

When the Fox network first came on the air with coverage of the Jeff Byrd 500 at the Bristol Motor Speedway I thought the shot they were showing of the grandstands could not have been live. There was no mistaking that empty seats were in abundance at a track that just a few short years ago was a virtual lock to sell out every Sprint Cup race.

In my opinion, there are three key factors that have caused the drastic decline in demand for Bristol tickets over the past few years.

One factor is that officials of Speedway Motorsports, Inc., owners of the track, have failed to change with the times. Even as the economy sinks, the track has stuck with a very high ticket price. Most tickets for Sprint Cup races are priced over $100 each even though demand is obviously not strong enough to support that price. While the track offers various package deals, there is no doubt that such an amount is not reflective of the current situation in regard to the economic state of most fans.

High ticket prices are not only a problem for Bristol, but other tracks as well. And added to that is the gross gouging that takes place at hotels and other businesses around most race tracks on event weekends.

Also, attendance at other races as well as television ratings indicate that this form of racing is in a period of contraction. When the sport reached its high point of popularity about a decade ago track owners clearly overestimated the need for seating at their facilities. Thus, once NASCAR’s appeal began to dwindle, the grandstands revealed gaping empty spaces.

But most importantly, the biggest factor is the track itself. Between the facility’s two races in 2007 the half-mile venue was resurfaced and the steepness of the banking was altered. Anytime officials from the speedway speak publicly they offer up reasons for the changes to the track. But clearly, fans have not accepted the ‘new’ Bristol.

“They’ve ruined their best track” and “It just ain’t what it used to be” are comments I hear often from those living here within a short drive of the track.

The once famed ‘bump and run’ is rarely seen and the racing seems too much to resemble that of the cookie cutters. The appeal the track once held was that it was one of the few places where raw emotion could still be seen in a sport that has become far too sterile over the last two decades. Now, Bristol is little different from any other venue on the Sprint Cup schedule. It has simply become a place to say you’ve been to once but there seems to be little need to make a yearly trek.

It is very difficult to build up any business to the level Bristol Motor Speedway once reached. What will no doubt prove even more difficult will be to rebuild something that has obviously fallen from a once high pedestal.

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15 Responses to “Why were there so many empty seats in Bristol?”

  1. Debi Says:
    March 21st, 2011 at 9:39 pm

    The last time I was to Bristol was the snow race.. might have been the fall race. Back then tics for the NW was over $100 (or close to it) and think my cup tic was $125…. and I was on the Backstretch straight up from the end of pit road turn 2 (in the red seats)… and they did kill the track with the progressive… just not as fun. Think if I make a short track again it’ll be Richmond.

    I won’t go back to the fall race… too humid… spring there’s a good possibility of snow..

  2. tyler west Says:
    March 22nd, 2011 at 6:20 am

    Wow, Bruton Smith really knows how to mess up a good thing!. Bristol was the hardest ticket to get in racing simply because it was the “gladiator” arena. Now, it’s just a really short race track. The racing is alot better but all those butts in the seats were paying to see action, mainly rooting and guaging. It’s no big deal to go to Bristol now. That is a crying shame! People are sick and tired of all those damn cookie cutter tracks like Michigan, Fontana, Chicago, Kansas. They all SUCK!! We need Rockingham, North Wilkesboro, the Old Bristol and places like that. They changed to please the “NEW” fans and look what happened, they all have turned out to be nothing but a bunch of fakes and poseres who don’t know what racing is all about. We need the old tracks!!

  3. Charles Says:
    March 22nd, 2011 at 6:42 am


    I just hope one day that Nascar has to beg to get Rockingham and N. Wilkesboro back on schedule!!!!!
    and the Southern 500 is back on Labor Day!!!!

    Nascars “new way” of thinking seems to have run its course! Fans are tired of the new way of thinking!!! and Nascar has ruined to many tracks , closed and moved to many race dates that grassroots fans used to cherish!

    While Daytona and all the excitement was good for Nascar, the Honeymoon will only last so long, now with fuel prices rising again, Nascar needs to rethink its racing policy and instead of a simplier point system!!!!!

    Bristol is a good example on how you should leave well enough alone!!!!!!

  4. Eric Says:
    March 22nd, 2011 at 7:17 am

    I refuse to go to a race when a track publicly states it refuses to lower ticket prices. I understand that there are people who buy season tickets and pay the higher price, but a track needs to look at what the majority of the people are doing. They are buying their tickets weeks or days before a race becuase of the high cost. I for one could not afford to go to the race if I wanted to. I’ll just stay at home and watch mediocre racing on TV. Thanks Bruton!

  5. Sue Rarick Says:
    March 22nd, 2011 at 7:18 am

    I think the main reason is the economy. I can get season tickets to both nashville race dates for little more than a single Bristol ticket. The fact I live in Nashville solves the rediculous hotel rates too. Besides Season ticket holders get to do a lap around the track in their own car …. The absurdity of my Yaris on a race track was worth the cost of the season ticket (I will have photos of that- lol)

    Bristol took a hit when it went from 22 degree banked asphalt to the 30+ degree concrete, as far far as the fans then were concerned. Now we see the same thing happening. Apparently Bristol is a resilient old lady and will recover. The new track is indeed different from the other two forms, but eventually good racing overcomes.

  6. Mr. Tony Geinzer Says:
    March 22nd, 2011 at 8:23 am

    Rich, I am begging for mercy on why that Bristol’s Empty Steel hurts everybody, and I wish that NASCAR could do something to end this Start and Park Fiasco and bring in Actual Owners and I’d love to have Monday Night Auto Racing, but, I don’t want to do a Monday just to do a Monday and it would have to have lights,too, which is another discussion.

  7. Joe W. Says:
    March 22nd, 2011 at 9:27 am

    I live just down the road in Kingsport Tennessee. Some of the reason Bristol has empty seats is in fact the hight ticket prices and the refusal to lower them. But I went up to the track on Friday for practice and qualifying and it was the smallest crowd I can remember for that event. Price was not a factor there because it was only $5.00. there are other problems here. I’m really not sure what the problems are for other people but for me part of it is Kyle Busch. I can’t stand him and do not want to go to a track where he is so dominant. As a Ford fan I really enjoyed Friday, but I had a feeling the jerk in the toy car would be up front during the race. If I’m watching on TV and he is leading I turn it off.

  8. Russ Edwards Says:
    March 22nd, 2011 at 9:38 am

    Really good article, particularly about the pricing. However as you know there’s one school of thought in business that says “if you can sell everything you make, you’re not charging enough.”

    I still think part of it is that Americans dont love cars like they used to.

    As to Mr. Geizners comment about the competitors, Nascar created this by not reining in the megateams in the beginning. Combined with the top 35 rule S&P’s are virtually guarenteed. And if they were there Nascar would create them. Its not hurting Nascars pocketbook so why should they care?

  9. Glen H Says:
    March 22nd, 2011 at 9:58 am

    Three things killed Bristol. Greed, progressive banking and the Chase for the Cup.

    The cost of going to a race at Bristol, when compared to the current product, are more than people are willing to pay. No body wants to pay top prices when the product is middle of the pack at best.

    Progressive banking took away the one thing that people want to see a Bristol - the bump and run - and made the action somewhat mediocre. No need for drivers to use the chrome horn so there are no big wrecks. Like it or not, people expect most of the pack to be banged up at the end of the race. Now most of the cars don’t even have a scratch on them after a race.

    The Chase has caused drivers to points race - period. And the new points system has made it worse. No driver wants to risk a bad points day trying to bump a guy out of the way. They just want to get as many points as they can so they can make the Chase.

    Want to fix Bristol? Lower the costs, put the old banking back in and get rid of the Chase - or at least make winning a premium for getting into the Chase.

  10. DC Says:
    March 22nd, 2011 at 10:36 am

    I’m from the northeast, and became a fan of the sport back in 2000. Overall, I’m bored to death with NASCAR at this point and no longer make it a point to watch entire races. I’ve become quite happy with Tivo’ing everything and watching the last 20 laps. I don’t know if I can point to one thing, but it’s become incredibly boring to watch, no matter the track (except maybe Daytona/Talladega and the road courses). The cookie cutters need to go. Period.

    I think, ultimately, what killed the sport is the Chase. This became VERY evident a few years back at the late summer Bristol race. All of a sudden, EVERYONE was driving safe. o one wanted to take a risk. It’s become all about protecting the top 12. The Chase needs to go.

    I agree that wrecking is not really racing, but let’s be honest: people tuned into Bristol because it was always an exciting free-for-all. Now, meh.

    Bottom line is that it’s going to be nearly impossible for NASCAR to reclaim the glory of a few years ago for a number of reasons. Personally, I’d much rather spend my time watching the Rolex series and F1. NASCAR is way down on my list at this point.

  11. Kevin Says:
    March 22nd, 2011 at 11:00 am

    Ticket pricing is probably the smallest cost of the entire weekend. What is the track to do, lower prices by 10 or 20 %?
    Tickets range from $40 - $200/ticket a Bristol?
    Even a 20% decresase is equal to $8-$40/ticket.
    Tickets for 4 people = $42-$160 total savings.
    If I’m taking my family of 4 on a vacation, $160 isn’t going to make a difference between going or not going.

    The question is, what are the other expenses of going to a race?

    Transportation cost, (fuel, food, lodging on the trip to the track)
    3 days of action at the track with minimum 3 nights stays at any hotel within a 3 hour drive of the track.
    Hotel rates @ 3 times regular rate.
    Campgrounds @ 10x the cost
    Restaraunts with the ‘Race Weekend’ menu.

    My Father & I took a bus trip down to Bristol last August from Canada. We left Thursday morning and arrived back early Monday morning. We had to pay for our own food and beverage for the entire trip.
    The cost was $1300/person before factoring in food costs.

    For that kind of $ I can enjoy an all expenses paid trip to the Dominican Republic for a week.

    It isn’t the race tickets that cost so much, its the hotels, restaraunts & campgrounds that gouge the people who come for the race that people can’t afford.

    It certainly isn’t that the race isn’t worth seeing. Almost a year after the race, I still have trouble coming up with the words to describe what it was like to see a race at Bristol in person. It is the most amazing sporting event I have ever witnessed.

    Is the racing different than it used to be? Sure. Is the racing worse? Seems to me there was a whole lot of passing going on, and I certainly saw lots of fenders rubbing.

  12. Dave Says:
    March 22nd, 2011 at 1:05 pm

    If someone came along and built a track identical to the “new” Bristol somewhere else in the country I think everyone would love it because it is so unique compared to the current NASCAR Cup tracks.

    But to have taken a perfect little track and mess it with it?! Lord help us.

    I’m dreading the day when we’ll hear plans for a Darlington “reconfiguration”.

  13. Curtis Webster Says:
    March 22nd, 2011 at 1:07 pm

    If people watching on TV thought the race was boring, maybe it is because most of the action happened during commercial breaks. I don’t know how many times the Faux announcers would come back from break saying this is what happened while you were away to bring out the caution flag.

  14. midasmicah Says:
    March 22nd, 2011 at 2:01 pm

    Brian France’s legacy. The total ruination of nas$car. If it ain’t broke, “fix” it anyway. Since the re-configuration of Bristol,the diamond has turned to dust.

  15. Steve Says:
    March 23rd, 2011 at 9:57 am

    Based on the articles I have read the past few days, it sounds like price gouging, a boring product, and points racing have all contributed to the decline in interest at Bristol. I don’t necessarily agree about the banking that is the problem. Guys are playing it too safe now during the race due to points racing.

    I have to agree with a post that I read and this isn’t an exact quote. “If you are watching the race on tv and the product they are presenting is boring to the fan, why would anyone want to spend all that money to be at the track.” All the above mentioned issues are a problem, but alot of the blame for people not going to the track are those presenting the race on the television. Its awful and nobody seems to care except the fans watching this mess.