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Chicago’s Nationwide ‘crowd’ embarrassing for NASCAR

By admin | July 22, 2012

By Richard Allen


It has long been my opinion that the Nationwide Series is being misused by NASCAR. I’ve often said the ‘second series’ needs more opportunities to stand alone rather than serve as a weekend filler for the Sprint Cup Series. However, Sunday’s race at the Chicagoland Speedway is not what I have in mind.

The ‘crowd’ that was on hand for the STP 300 in Joliet, Illinois on Sunday was embarrassing to the series and the sport. Even with the close up shots of the racing action offered by television, it could be plainly seen that there were very few people on hand. And by very few, I mean VERY few.

In 2011, NASCAR forced drivers to choose one series in which they intend to compete for a championship. While Sprint Cup regulars do still race in the Nationwide Series, their numbers have reduced a bit in the lower divisions over the past couple of seasons. That was one positive step toward a separation of the two forms of NASCAR racing.

Having races run at separate venues from the Sprint Cup Series is another step in the right direction for allowing the support class operate as a true training ground for young drivers or a place for veteran drivers who have fallen from the top series to rebuild their careers.

However, running on an off weekend on a track that already hosts a Sprint Cup event is a bad idea and that showed on Sunday. The Nationwide Series needs to run at separate venues such as Iowa, as they already do in front of filled and energetic grandstands. Rockingham or any number of other locations in which the lower division race would be the biggest event to take place at that facility would be ideal sites for this series.

I once asked a friend of mine who was a promoter at a local dirt track why he did not have some touring super late model series races on occasion at his track. He told me that once those big series race there, his local weekly drivers would cease to be the big stars there and would lose their appeal for the fans in the area. When a track hosts a Sprint Cup race, it is not a good site for a stand alone lower division race for that same reason.

Some may immediately toss out the failed Nationwide races Nashville Superspeedway as an example of the series not being able stand on its own. But that is a poor example. In Nashville, there was already a much loved track in the town. And that was a short track with a deep history in the sport. It was replaced by a track with no real attachment to the city and no real character.

In other words, Nashville had traded a unique piece of racing history for essentially the same track that could be seen in any number of other locations. There was nothing to cause the people of the area to attach to it and there was no reason for fans from other areas to come to a track very much like so many others.

I appreciate NASCAR’s efforts to take away the image of ‘Sprint Cup Lite’ from the Nationwide Series. But running a stand alone race in a place that has little historic connection to the sport on a ‘cookie cutter’ track with huge grandstands built to host the Sprint Cup Series was not the best option.

Even if the attendance numbers are greater at a place like Chicagoland with very obvious empty spaces in the grandstands than they would be at Rockingham with full grandstands, the effect of so many empty seats sends a bad message. There’s a reason restaurants have small waiting areas and parking lots. They want to give the impression of a full and excited locale.

NASCAR needs to find places that will offer that same feel, not places that look embarrassingly empty.

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19 Responses to “Chicago’s Nationwide ‘crowd’ embarrassing for NASCAR”

  1. Benjamin P. Glaser Says:
    July 23rd, 2012 at 7:58 am

    Amen. Well said. Could not agree more.

  2. Gregory D. Howe Says:
    July 23rd, 2012 at 8:15 am

    I left Chicago a year or two before the track was built but can speak to the lack of interest exhibited by the fans in Chicago. I can remember as a young man watching the local sportscasters play only a large wreck during their broadcasts as the sum total of their NASCAR coverage. They never mentioned who actually won the contest but only made some off the cuff remark about the driver’s lack of common sense or some such comment. This was the mindset of the media professionals in the Chicago market that I witnessed and I think it’s emblematic of many Chicago sports fans. However, I think it’s changing because I saw several articles this weekend in the Chicago Sun Times and Tribune about the weekend events in Joliet. In past years there were none, zero, zip, nada.

    The practice of making fans purchase every ticket for every event at Chicagoland is no longer in force but was the rule for a few seasons, this severely damaged their ability to draw fans from the area and elsewhere too.

    While it appeared to me that the track made quite an effort to entertain by bringing the TORC series to the nearby I-66 raceway, perhaps even more effort needs to be taken to promote this event in collar states such as Iowa, Indiana and the racing hotbed of Wisconsin.

  3. Michael in SoCal Says:
    July 23rd, 2012 at 10:32 am

    The lack of a crowd was painfully obvious for Sunday’s big main event standalone Nationwide race. And next week it will probably be worse.

  4. Jim Russell Says:
    July 23rd, 2012 at 11:59 am

    I completly agree with your comments, Rich, and I’ll offer a few of my own. First, let us dispense with the false notion that Danica is good for the sport and will draw new eyeballs to the events she enters. This weeks event was at her “home” track. Second, lets dispense with the attention she is given by the media. On the Jayski site, there were more articles about her 14th place finish than on who won the race. This kind of stuff is what drives old fans away and it obviously doesn’t draw any new fans to the sport

  5. Tyler West Says:
    July 23rd, 2012 at 12:48 pm

    It’s pretty damn obvious, Nascar has no business in some of these “large markets”. They were better off when it was still more of a regional sport. Screw Chicago, California, Kansas, and all the other crap tracks they have on the schedule. The Nationwide cars should not go to every track that the Cup cars go to. They need to run more bull rings with a light mixture of Cup tracks. Plus people may not have the money to go, I mean we’re not in the best economy last time I checked. Nascar tries to hype everything out of proportion. Their product is suffering.

  6. Jim Says:
    July 23rd, 2012 at 1:24 pm

    The next venue should have been that small, but fast, track that I remember well from the old Thursday Nite Thunder. Instead the brain dead leaders in the Ivory Towers at NA$CAR have decided to stage it at the big flat track. Also, I tried to listen to the radio broadcast a few weeks ago and that is even worse if that’s possible. Nothing but one long commercial. The Continental Tire Series is good RACING if anyone can catch them a week or so later.

  7. SB Says:
    July 23rd, 2012 at 1:27 pm

    The Nationwide series needs to stop following the Cup series around like the puppy looking for a home. In their heyday, the Busch series drivers were stars in their own right. Several drivers made their home there with no intention or interest in moving to the Cup series. They competed on more short tracks where there was non stop action in close quarters. The occasional Cup driver sho showed up to compete was the exception rather than the rule. That formula worked for years. Now, like too many things Nascar, it’s changed, and hasn’t done any favors for the series. Instead of having it’s own identity, it’s been drowned out by the Cup series. Too bad.

  8. Fan4Racing Says:
    July 23rd, 2012 at 3:34 pm

    All of you are making interesting points…and I agree the attendance numbers at CLS are embarrassing.

    But I also believe the timing of bringing ARCA, CWTS and NNS to Chicagoland the week before the Nationwide series debuts at Indianapolis wasn’t the smartest planning ever either. I personally know fans that skipped the CLS events to attend IMS next week. When fans are choosing to attend fewer events, NASCAR added more for Chicagoland Fans and when they have to choose between IMS with the debut of NNS and/or the first race of the Chase in Sept, it’s not rocket science to realize which fans will choose.

    Add to the equation, there are in excess of 200,000 seats at IMS, so even if there are 100,000+ in attendance, the stands will still look sparse. Perception is relative and it’s not always what it appears to be. There’s usually a story behind the story similar to more to the book than its cover.

    Just offering some food for thought. Thanks!

  9. Marcisdave Says:
    July 23rd, 2012 at 4:06 pm

    I was there at Chicagoland both Saturday and Sunday. Sunday’s estimated attendance (per Nascar) was 25,000. BS I call on that. I estimated it to be somewhere in the 9,000 to 10,000 range for Sunday…..and that might be too high ! I was sitting just to the right of the flagstand. In our row, was myself and 2 friends. The row behind us was completely empty. 3 rows directly in front of us was completly empty. Looking around, that theme was prevalent just about everywhere except for the space directly above the flagstand, where there was a few more fans. Each row seats approx. 20+ people. The grandstands in Turn 1 and Turn 4 sections were truly vacant. Lots of reasons fo this…..Chicago media virtually ignores Nascar, prediction of 95 degree real temp for Sunday (never got that hot), boring racing on the 1.5m cookie cutters, and the hangover from the years when Chicagoland had cooler bans and forced fans to buy a ticket for EVERY event (the dreaded TrackPack). Plus, I don’t think this weekend was promoted very well. The Truck Series race on Sat night was the best of the 3 events held on the 1.5 mile track. I have to agree with the others, the Truck Series and Nationwide need to visit smaller venues, those tracks that are in the 1/2 mile to 1 mile range. Maybe toss in a few dirt 1 mile tracks (Springfield and DuQuoin come to mind). Having Nationwide run over half their races on these 1.5 mile tracks is a mistake. And coming up, you will see an embarrasing amount of vast emptiness at IMS for the 2nd tier series. Abandoning IRP will prove to be a big mistake.

  10. Bob Says:
    July 23rd, 2012 at 4:29 pm

    Chicago not NASCAR fans? Give me a break! Most people I know are LONGTIME NASCAR fans I’m talking 25 plus year fans that remember Earnhardt’s kid winning a champoinship in 80 not the so called old fans that think the Alabama gang robbed stagecoaches. I live about 15 miles from the track, had FREE tickets to the Nationwide race and nothing else going on Sunday afternoon, So what did I do? …record the race and speed watch it later last night. Why? because Chicagoland is a cookie cutter track that does not EVER have close racing!! If they would have built a half mile track either flat or banked that promoted close quarters racing I.E. Martinsville\Bristol then Chicago NASCAR fans would be fighting in the parking lot for tickets! but when every track looks like every other track and there is little or no close racing……. Sorry but when most passing for the lead happens on pit road its not worth the ride out there I will admit that the last greenflag run and the pretty much manditory GWC finish were some great racing, but that was what? 20 laps total? WELL my couch is pretty comfortable and the fridge is stocked so I’ll pass on sitting there in the sun. But give us short track and Chicago will be there!

  11. Jesse Says:
    July 23rd, 2012 at 5:05 pm

    Wait for the Brickyard week, if you think Chicago was bad, we went to two Brickyard races and what a joke, we had plenty of room to lay on the bleachers and take a nap. Too bad the trucks and Nationwide races where pulled from Lucas Raceway (IRP), some of the best races of the year. Sprint Cup is just way over done anymore, Speed, ESPN and all the other coverage.

  12. Jeff Carter Says:
    July 23rd, 2012 at 5:55 pm

    I have been a season ticket holder at CLS from the beginning and I love the poor attendance at the track.
    I can leave home from the Schaumburg, IL ( about
    45 miles from CLS ) and be in my seat one hour later.

    Traffic in and out of the track is a breeze. We left the track at 6:30 PM after the Nationwide race and were
    home unloading the gear at 7:35 PM. In regards to the 6:30 PM departure, that was the track officials idea.
    Everyone was told to vacate the premises at that time.
    Back in the day we would normally tailgate until 9:00
    PM to avoid the heavy traffic.

    In regards to the racing, the Arca and Truck race’s were outstanding ( If you know how to watch a race ). There
    were good battles going on all night. The Nationwide race
    struggled to entertain at times but it had a good finish.

    I will continue to support the race’s at CLS. Unfortunately
    the economics of this event do not make sense. Our whole group agree’s that this event was a bad idea. I am afraid this track may not survive in its current configuration and may never get the 80,000 plus fans
    back at this facility regardless of the alterations.

    I will be back in September and just hope we need to tailgate until 9:00 PM on Saturday and Sunday night.

  13. sylvia richardson Says:
    July 23rd, 2012 at 6:15 pm


  14. Tony Geinzer Says:
    July 23rd, 2012 at 6:23 pm

    EXCUSE ME? I feel strongly and passionately why not go back to Hickory? The energy with the Nationwide Series couldn’t be wrong and Chicagoland Speedway is being neglected vs. Kansas and Texas has a better hold on racing. I would have been fine with Rockford or La Crosse.

  15. Overra88ted Says:
    July 23rd, 2012 at 9:23 pm

    This past weekend was pretty much the same weekend time frame that the Cup series ran at Chicagoland from 2001 thru 2010, Track Pack ticket plans and blistering sun dwindled the crowd in later year. By the time they made the Cup race a night race in 2009 and dropped the track packs they were down to 45,000 at best for attendence. Though the night race was much more enjoyable weatherwise, in 2011 they outsmarted themselves again and moved the Cup race to the 1st race in the 10 race Do-Over Chumpionship. Didn’t sell out last year, and will not sell out this year

  16. Overra88ted Says:
    July 23rd, 2012 at 9:24 pm

    I guess you could say Danica Nation is a myth.

  17. Bill Says:
    July 26th, 2012 at 1:13 am

    Really? Does anyone say to themselves, “Wow, I can’t afford to got to both Chicagoland and Indy NWS, so I’ll only choose one”? I doubt it. I love the NWS. But this is really a CLS problem if you look at its history.

  18. sam manila Says:
    August 2nd, 2012 at 2:45 pm

    Yeah, people really DO have to choose which events to go to. It’s the economy, silly. (I won’t call you stupid.) I used to plan weekend trips to races more often, but now I go about once a year. My closest track is Kansas, but I have been to Hickory, Charlotte, North Wilkesboro, Martinsville, and Talledega, as well as Darlington five times. My next trip will probably be to Daytona. It costs a lot to go but I still want to. Each time it is an adventure for me. And a big deal.

  19. sam manila Says:
    August 2nd, 2012 at 2:49 pm

    P.S.- I have also been to Atlanta.