By ROBERT RICH
The economy’s still tight. That’s common knowledge and I don’t think you’ll find anybody willing to argue with you on that point. We’re still seeing the effects in many places, including sports. Namely, NASCAR. For a sport that involves watching a bunch of cars drive fast, many people are becoming less willing to drive themselves in order to see a race. The act of getting out to a race is quite different than say going to a baseball game. For the most part, sports like baseball and football are relegated for the most part to fans that live in the immediate area of the city in which the team is known for. Races, on the other hand, aren’t about a particular city’s sport as much as they are about a weekend (or two) per year that brings in over 100,000 people from all over the country to root for no less than 43 different drivers (or teams).
All that being said, the stands at NASCAR races have been startlingly empty this year. A few weeks ago, when the sport ran the half-mile bullring of Bristol Motor Speedway, a track that is an essential part of NASCAR history and one that has produced some insanely good racing, there were a ton of empty seats. Part of this has to do with changes to the track surface that changed the way competitors race on it, and Bristol officials have since decided to change it back to ensure the fans see the kind of racing they’re used to: one lane, beating and banging action.
So while the quality of the racing is of course a major factor, so is the quality of the facility. If you’ve got less money in your pocket, do you really want to trek out to a race track that may not provide you with the kind of experience you’re looking for? Do you want to get mired in traffic jams, get to the track and find dirty bathrooms, or get to the track and find absolutely nothing to keep you occupied until the racing begins?
Enter Texas Motor Speedway. Last week was the annual Samsung Mobile 500 weekend held each April at the track, and my Dad and I attended, like we have the past two years. This time around, I also happen to be a member of the Texas Motor Speedway Fan Council, a group of racegoers selected to offer input and suggestions on how to improve the track experience for all fans. The fact that the council even exists is a point in favor of the track, but listening to the other members who have been to other tracks was an eye-opening experience. One fan who has also been to Talladega Superspeedway, a very popular track on the circuit, said the racing action was great, but the actual facility was awful, and that he wouldn’t be returning this year because he had to drop a track based on his personal finances, and he chose to drop Talladega. Everybody else on the council had a ton of praise for the track, and “I’ve been to different tracks, and you guys are the best” was said on more than one occasion.
I’m inclined to agree, even though I haven’t been to any other tracks, and the quality of the facility is one of the main reasons the Texas race featured a significantly higher number of filled grandstands than other races thus far this season. The drivers will put on a show no matter what, that’s for sure, but the fans still need to be taken care of and given the experience they deserve.
Not only is Texas Motor Speedway a beautiful and clean facility, track president Eddie Gossage, and all-around genius, also offers fans numerous other activities to keep busy while exploring and waiting for the racing. This year featured a pre-race concert by rock band Foreigner, something that kept the 40-something crowd jazzed, as well as their traditional “No Limits Garage Party” for season ticket holders. This year’s party featured sumo wrestling, mixed martial arts demonstrations, world’s strongest man competitions, a selection of local food trucks, and an entertainment stage featuring driver interviews and music. Not to mention, the party is also held in close proximity to pit road with easy access for fans who have credentials. All in all, it’s a great experience.
I could have spent this column talking about the actual race, which broke records for average race speed (160+ miles per hour), fewest cautions (2) and probably highest wind gusts (I’m guessing over 234 mph), but I was compelled to talk about the facility instead. I’ve been going to Texas Motor Speedway regularly for three years now, and I’ve yet to have a bad experience. Eddie and his team are focused on presenting a total package for fans, one that has “No Limits,” as their marketing slogan claims. Their passion, execution and dedication is something that all track owners on the NASCAR circuit can certainly learn from. And maybe, they’ll start filling up their seats again.
Robert Rich is a media relations and marketing associate at Texas Instruments. He attended the University of Texas at Austin and wrote a column in the Herald-Press for four years. He’s happy to be back. E-mail comments to email@example.com