Attention, bean counters: Look at all that lost revenue!
Consider how many new, single-day customers in reserved seats
you need to recruit with expensive advertising to replace
lost fans who always attended every day of every event within
driving distance of home, for decades. Your marketing team
didn’t have to spend a penny to get them back, either;
the only notice that these loyal members required was next
year’s schedule of events in National Dragster
or Drag Review.
Granted, new fans are critical to any sport’s survival,
and old fans eventually die off. The long-range goal of any
sanctioning body should be to attract the new without alienating
NASCAR, drag and Indy-car racing need both groups of fans
to grow and, thus, to survive. With rare exceptions, event
attendance isn’t breaking any records. More attention
to general-admission accommodations — at least on qualifying
days, if not eliminations — might keep some of the surviving
oldtimers from staying home and watching television.
One positive example is set by NHRA at the U.S. Nationals,
where the last section of bleachers on each side of IRP remains
unregulated. Consequently, thousands of crusty veterans continue
to flock to Indy each summer, secure in the freedom to choose
whether to perch high or low for a particular qualifying session
or round of eliminations, with different groups of buddies.
We should applaud NHRA for resisting the temptation to convert
these coveted sections to more-expensive, reserved seating.
Perhaps promoters could consider the example of our founding
fathers, who instituted the pit pass. This optional surcharge
(sometimes mislabeled as “pit insurance”) typically
constituted 25 to 50 percent of regular admission. Along with
generating lots of shiny quarters of pure gravy, pit passes
served as crowd control: Serious fans stepped up to “cross
over,” while the casual and the curious were content
to stay put on the so-called spectator side. Any promoter
who’d dared try selling assigned seats might’ve
had a riot on his hands, if not a timing tower in flames.
Maybe modern seating could be redistributed as general admission,
pit passes, and reserved, for families and other patrons who
still desire a numbered, assigned seat. Contain these reserved
sections within the first eighth-mile, for both qualifying
and eliminations. Let the rest of us sit anywhere from midtrack
on, and mingle freely. (Ever notice how hardcore fans and
racers gravitate towards the top end, anyway?) Charge us eight
or 10 bucks for a pit pass, instead of forcing us into assigned
Having worked for failed facilities (e.g., OCIR and Ontario
Motor Speedway) and one financially-strapped, now-defunct
sanctioning body (AHRA), I am well aware of the financial
pressures and risks involved with outdoor entertainment. I
also know successful track operators who express deep concerns
about dwindling crowds at major drag racing and open-wheel
events. One of these smart promoters is bound to come up with
an alternative to all-reserved seating. When he or she does,
I hope the sanctioning bodies will listen, because their very
survival is at stake.
and Then [12-8-05]
Promoting Drag Races with
Posters and Telephone Poles