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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 the old.
Unlike 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 seats.

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.


Now and Then [12-8-05]
Promoting Drag Races with Posters and Telephone Poles


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