Some more fuel to add to the fire on restrictor plate racing.
Talladega, ISC officials blame poor attendance on two-car draft, style of racing
Many NASCAR fans didn’t like the two-car tandem draft that dominated restrictor-plate racing, especially at Talladega Superspeedway, in 2010 and 2011.
They were joined by some of the top executives of the sport, including one who recently railed against the style of racing and blamed it for the sluggish ticket sales at Talladega Superspeedway.
International Speedway Corp. President John Saunders, whose company owns 12 tracks, including Talladega and Daytona International Speedway, minced no words when talking about the racing during a conference call last week with financial analysts.
“The tandem racing, two or three events of that kind of stuff … was quite frankly pathetic,” Saunders said. “It's not what Talladega has been known for.”
Bad weather, including tornado warnings, that occurred during Talladega’s spring weekends in 2010 and 2011 and high unemployment also hurt attendance, Saunders said. But he also said drivers’ negative comments about the racing at Talladega encouraged fans to stay home.
While ISC officials would not release attendance figures to back its claims, it cited the two Talladega races and the moving of the spring Kansas race from June to April as having an impact on its 5.7 percent decline in admissions revenue from 2011 to 2012.
The Talladega stands were far from full last year, and NASCAR estimated the Talladega crowd last October at 88,000 — an estimate that includes those camping in the infield.
It’s up to Talladega President Grant Lynch to try to find a way for Talladega to rebound. The track has been installing wider, nicer seats for spectator comfort, which will decrease capacity. Using banners to cover several sections of seats, the track now lists its seating capacity at 108,000, down from 143,000 three years ago.
In fan surveys after its fall 2011 race, 75 percent said they didn’t like the two-car draft, Lynch said. While NASCAR implemented rules designed to limit it in 2012 — rules that kept drivers from using the two-car draft up until the race’s final laps — the damage appears have been done.
“It was kind of one of these phenomenons where at first it was new and kind of different and everybody was going, ‘This is pretty neat,’” Lynch said. “But gradually, as it become more of the norm, it wasn’t one guy versus 42 guys.”
Fans disliked the emphasis on teammates, where drivers chose to only draft with their teammates and where some drivers decided to push and gave up any hopes of winning.
“Racing is to go fast and be the first one to cross the finish line — not to go slow and wait for your partner to catch up,” said DIS President Joie Chitwood, whose Daytona 500 was able to weather the impact of fan negativity better than Talladega.
“The novelty wore out quick and then the teams got so good at manipulating the style of racing, it became team versus team and that wore out its welcome pretty quick and the fans weren’t excited.”
The new 2013 body styles appear to have decreased the ability of drivers to compete in a two-car tandem draft. The front bumpers are curved and the spoilers are so small that the cars get loose much easier.
“I hope they can’t push with this car because of what the fans are telling us,” Lynch said. “It did hurt us.”
Whether it's tandem racing or pack racing, restrictor-plate racing also leads to big crashes. Those crashes often lead to drivers complaining about the style of racing.
Lynch said that doesn't help the tracks either.
“When you have the stars of the sport get out of the cars and say they don’t want to race places, what are the fans supposed to think?" he said.