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Empty Seats May Simply Become a Fixture for Bristol Spring Race

By admin | March 20, 2013

 This view of the back stretch grandstand was taken just moments before the green flag.

By Richard Allen

By most accounts, the racing this past weekend at the Bristol Motor Speedway was quite good in both the Sprint Cup and Nationwide divisions of NASCAR. However, the attendance at the high banked, half-mile track located in the mountains of upper east Tennessee was not good at all, at least in comparison to previous years.

This track used to be a virtual lock to sellout anytime it opened its gates for NASCAR. But on Sunday, there were vast expanses of empty seats when the green flag dropped on the Food City 500.

This view of the turn two grandstand was taken just before the green flag.

So what has happened?

In 2007, officials from Speedway Motorsports, Inc.(parent company of BMS) decided that the racing surface was in need of repair. However, the track was not only resurfaced, it was also reconfigured.

The legendary 36 degree banking that made BMS one of the most unique racing facilities in the world was reduced and changed to a progressive form of banking that gets steeper in the higher grooves. This, it was thought, would allow for more side-by-side racing and less of the beating and banging for the much coveted lower lane.

After the change, the racing on the concrete bullring just wasn’t the same. And as a result, fans stopped coming in the large numbers(over 160,000) that the track had become so well known for.

This view of the grandstand at the exit of turn four was taken just prior to the green flag.

As the crowds thinned year after year, those who represented the track tired to lay blame on every possible source other than the resurfacing project as the cause for the sagging attendance. Hotel prices, gas prices, the economy and any number of other reasons were thrown out to explain the empty seats.

But it stands to reason that during the track’s run of 55 consecutive Sprint Cup sellouts, there had been times when the economy had gone sour and gas prices had gone up. And for those of us who live here in east Tennessee, it was simply a given that hotel prices were always raised to ridiculous levels on each of the Bristol weekends.

Last summer, SMI finally gave in and made an attempt to change the racing surface. Grinders were brought in to wear down the upper lane and create more uniformity in the banking. While cars still run around the top groove, fans seem to approve of the change based on the article linked above.

Should it also stand to reason that with improved racing the massive crowds will return? Well, not necessarily. And that may be especially true for the races held in March.

This view of the front stretch grandstand was taken just prior to the green flag.

The race traditionally run on this track in August is contested on a Saturday night, which gives it more of a ‘wild and crazy’ feel. This, in turn, makes it a happening as much a race. The guarantee of warm weather and the night-time atmosphere create a natural party vibe which helps sell tickets, even to those less enthusiastic about the racing itself, and will always make that a ‘must-see’ event.

This view of the turn 3-4 grandstand was taken just before the green flag.

The race traditionally held each year in March does not have that same feel to it. It is contested on Sunday afternoons in typically cooler and less predictable weather. The same party atmosphere just doesn’t exist, and thus, it is simply a race rather than a happening. March is more about racing an less about partying. So, those less enthusiastic about racing may chose to stay away.

Fans of racing, meanwhile, can get the same vibe for the March race sitting at home and watching the high definition television broadcast as they can in the faciltiy itself, and at a much lower cost. It seems as if people began to realize that when they stopped coming a few years ago.

On a personal note, this was the first Sprint Cup race I had attended in several years. I found myself not enjoying it as much because I was not interacting on twitter nor listening to scanner chatter like I normally do. For me, that took away from the experience. I believe this combination of HD television and social media interaction is something all sports are going to have to compete with in regard to achieving similar attendance numbers as in years past.

If sporting events are to sellout in the future, they have to make the fan experince into a happening that can’t be experienced sitting at home and watching on television. The August race at Bristol has that capability. The March race does not seem to have it. So, it seems as if empty seats may become a fixture for the Bristol spring race unless something such as a date change occurs.  Â


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20 Responses to “Empty Seats May Simply Become a Fixture for Bristol Spring Race”

  1. Gene Says:
    March 20th, 2013 at 5:08 pm

    Most of the ticket holders for the night race at BMS also are forced to buy tickets for the spring race there as part of the package. So, what becomes of those 80,000 tickets? Fans already have paid for them, and they don’t use them or resell them?

  2. Tony Geinzer Says:
    March 20th, 2013 at 7:35 pm

    I would offer a changeup from the 3DHD Nation and let real locals take on an oppurtunity to enjoy Bristol. I would like to see more of a Early to Mid April Classic where the air and people would be more vibrant.

  3. zhills fan Says:
    March 21st, 2013 at 7:40 am

    Excuses, excuses, i’m tired of hearing about it. Empty seats are at all tracks. Why?….. i’m sure the product presented by NASCAR could possibly be the reason.

  4. GinaV24 Says:
    March 21st, 2013 at 7:59 am

    Rich, you don’t have a scanner to listen to the drivers/radio feed? Wow, I wouldn’t go to a race without one.

    I do agree however that the spring race at many of the tracks - Martinsville and Richmond, as well as Bristol, are less appealing because of the unpredictability of the weather. I’ve sat through races at Martinsville in a cold mist, not quite enough to wet the track, thank goodness, but darned unpleasant nonetheless. The first race I ever went to was the May race at Richmond - we got rained out. That was almost enough to make me say - never mind - I’ll watch this stuff from home.

    The thing for me still is that the tv coverage is mediocre for the most part but I’m not willing to pay the $ to go to the track unless the racing shows a marked improvement over what it has been for the past 5 or 6 years. I have often wished for a place to take a nap for the middle part of many races.

  5. Richard Allen Says:
    March 21st, 2013 at 8:21 am

    I do have a scanner but I had my son with me and he was attending his first Cup race so I didn’t want anything to distract from that.

  6. Jesse Says:
    March 21st, 2013 at 8:35 am

    We went 3 years ago to our first Bristol race, what a joke, 43 cars and only 15 where in the hunt. It’s hard to beleive that the IRL has not cashed in on Nascar, some of the races are really good and there is real racing the whole race. I just see more and more people leaving Nascar and watching and attending other sports.

  7. DC Says:
    March 21st, 2013 at 8:53 am

    My jaw dropped when I turned the TV on on Sunday. The difference is so drastic that it is alarming. I’m not going to pretend to know the cause, but the comment about the recession, I think, is incorrect. We haven’t experienced a downturn like this since the 1920s. The recessions in the 80’s and 90’s were nothing compared to what we just went through, and states like TN were hit very, very hard. I’m sure they are a long way from recovering.

    That being said, I barely watch NASCAR anymore. The races bore me to tears, no matter what track (and you can be sure I won’t bother watching, yawn, Fontana).

  8. Jim Says:
    March 21st, 2013 at 10:48 am

    It was some time back that the rocket scientists in the towers of Daytona decided to tell all the longtime faithful to take a hike. That new fans could be had. They would be younger with more $$$$$$ to spend and all would be wright with the world. At this point everyone should know that there is a serious lack of common sense at the top(Brian) and that the days of a sanctioning body staging a safe RACE are long gone and all that’s left is Staged Entertainment LLC. Now that the hype of the newest and latest mouse trap has faded and a new version of money can buy anything(princes) has lost that new appeal, everyone can go back to sleep. For now it’s back to life until such time as it is appropriate to one again throw rocks at the NA$$$CAR chiefs, as its not if it will happen again but when it will happen again, until then its empty seats and low TV ratings.

  9. john Says:
    March 21st, 2013 at 1:15 pm

    When they decided that Darlington,Atlanta,Rockingham and Wilksboro could go and everyone and his uncle would support Nascar with crap like this weekend in weirdoo land,”Oh by the way the races in weirdoo land has never sold out” or the crap in Kansas,Chicago,Homestead and every other crap track that they race on that would put a speed freak to sleep,they ended Nascar for most true fans.

  10. Paul Allen Says:
    March 21st, 2013 at 4:31 pm

    You hit the nail on the head when making the distinction between “just another race” and an “Event”. The numbers speak for themselves.

  11. jo-jr Says:
    March 21st, 2013 at 6:48 pm

    We had been going to the bristol races ,since, back in the 60’s…stopped, two years ago! two boring, and the race shoud not, be run, in march! It is either raining, or snowing! How stupid to have this race in march! no more, going to this race to freeze. !! ticket prices to high, to! Today, everthing is a rip off, including nascar races!!They have killed the goose, that laid, the golden egg!!!

  12. Keith Says:
    March 21st, 2013 at 8:16 pm

    No doubt empty seats will be a fixture at the spring race as long as the race is in March. Last time I went it was raining and the temp dropped to 31 that night.Since there are not many hotels close to the track and Camping in the mountains in the winter no matter where it ain’t no fun I will never go again just for that reason.

  13. Jason T Says:
    March 21st, 2013 at 11:15 pm

    I am so sick of NASCAR blaming the economy year after year. How does that explain the ratings going down year to year for TV….. wouldn’t tv ratings go up if those fans were forced to watch it on TV? I don’t see many people getting rid of their cable tv. Core fans are over this WWF style of running things… I.E… The “CHASE”.

    When NASCAR went cookie cutter with the tracks and shut down the old tracks replacing them with 1.5 cookie cutters they told their core fan to FU(K off, and now all the fair weather fans from 5 to 6 years ago are over it too.

    Now if they have any sense they will get off their ass and try to get those fans back. Maybe going back to some tracks they should have never left. But with Brian France and Bruton Smith basically running NASCAR I wont hold my breath.

    A new stock car sanctioning body needs to be created. The time is now. Start small with 15 races, and a good corporate sponsor, and build it up. Race on small to medium tracks, and give NASCAR some damn competition, and see what happens.

    Never thought I’d live to see the day people are blaming the weather for attendance problems at Bristol… boy times are a changing lol.

  14. SV Says:
    March 22nd, 2013 at 10:54 am

    Hey Rich, make sure you read Bob Pockrass’ column at Sporting News today. He had the cojones to write about Denny’s comment that only 10% of the drivers tell the truth. Remember my comment from the 19th? Probably not.

  15. Ek Says:
    March 22nd, 2013 at 7:37 pm

    NASCAR has went too “Holly
    wood”……being a Bristol native that has went to the races for many years..I won’t be going anymore….NASCAR has ruined racing…it’s all about the dollar… Multiple car teams…restricted racing…new surfaces…NASCAR is a joke anymore..

  16. bob Says:
    March 22nd, 2013 at 9:34 pm

    I have been going to Bristol for about 15 years and took the race and the hospitality for granted. I gave up my seats 2 years ago to go to a race closer to home. Everything cost more every day an if you want it bad enough you will pay. I purchased seasion tickets for Kentucky and was more disapointed than anybody should have been. I returned this spring to Bristol and it would be nice to see the seatsl full again. Go to Kentucky speedway and you will find the hospitality and the racing to be one of the bigger disapointments in racing.
    Go Bristol

  17. Ken Says:
    March 24th, 2013 at 9:28 pm

    I believe that it’s simply the cost of attending the event. I only live a little under an hour from the track. I was a ticket holder for nearly 30 years and let mine go three years ago. The cost for two tickets in turn one was $300, due and payable 10 months prior to the event. Parking within two miles of the track is $40-$50 on race day. Include food and beer, and it becomes $400.00 to attend the race for one day. For me, that’s quite steep for two people to attend a NASCAR race, and I live close enough to not have to rent a hotel room (at very jacked-up rates & minimum stays). That’s hard to justify for myself and many others in today’s economy.

    If they want to fill the seats, lower the ticket price!!

  18. Roy Says:
    April 14th, 2013 at 8:03 am

    Plenty of empty seats at Bristol Motor Speedway maybe it’s’ because of the gouging that takes place during an event.
    Campgrounds normal daily rate - full hook ranges around $25-$40 a night, however during a NASCAR event these rates increase (209% - 439%).
    Hotels normal rate $52-$75 a night but during NASCAR, these rates are $213.60 or more, per night plus a min stay of 3 nights.
    A week stay at a campground is normally $125-$210 but for a NASCAR event these rate become ($439-$860) depending on closeness to track.
    If you Camp you can get an old school bus ride to/from track for $20.00 each (event).
    Cheap seat tickets $80.00 per person.
    Camping retired couple:
    Gasoline — 450 miles each way or 900 mile/ motor home mpg is 6.5 or 140 gallons @ 3.80 per gallon or $532 (note: gas station raised prices —gouge too)
    Camping = $550
    Bus Rides = $20 time 2 people time three events= $120
    Cheap tickets = 80 times 2 times 3 events = $480
    Total before food, propane & other miscellaneous items is $1682 (more than a mortgage payment)
    Same couple non-NASCAR event is $501 for gas and $201 for Camping for a total of $702 before tickets/bus rides which on the low end is (154%) increase for NASCAR Gougers
    Man it is time to get real, the reason the seats are empty is not the track pavement, it is the out & out gouging.

  19. Seve Says:
    March 4th, 2014 at 2:30 am

    I live about 8 miles from the Bristol Motor Speedway, and own Gear Jammers Go Kart Track 1.5 miles past the track on Volunteer Pky going towards downtown. Our business has suffered more yearly with the economy and lack of attendance during the spring race. As a business owner I wish they would move the spring race to warmer weather. We offer the fans something fun and cool to do, but they stay in when its cold. I attended the march 30, 19179 race Dale Earnhardt’s first win. We had box seats at the time. Nothing special, just seats at the top of the stands boxed in by a chain link fence railing without the chain link attached and metal folding chairs to sit in lol! My how things have changed!

  20. Niklas. Says:
    March 18th, 2014 at 7:08 pm

    Toyota. Surprised nobody mentions this. Some NASCAR fans don’t want to see any foreign-based manufactuers in NASCAR. In the good old days, NASCAR was for American-based manufacturers only, but Brian France ruined NASCAR. I refuse to spend my hard earned money to watch any overrated, butt ugly Toyota Camrys racing an a track. Never!