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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Everybody loves Bristol … except the drivers who end up in the wall

If I had to make up a list of the three best tracks in NASCAR, Bristol would definitely be on it … possibly at No. 1.

There’s just something about this just-over-a-half-mile concrete track that makes it so special. Maybe it’s the unique setup, as it’s complete surrounded by 160,000 seats. It’s like the University of Michigan's Big House on a massive dose of steroids, and is truly one of the most unique venues in motorsports.

Any fan who’s ever been there will tell you it’s among their favorite tracks to visit, and there’s a reason it’s one of the hardest tickets to get in the sport. This year is the rare time tickets are still available, which is a sign of just how tough the economy has gotten. In previous years, families with season tickets wouldn’t even discuss the possibility of not making the trip to Bristol. They would have considered losing a kidney first.

Maybe it’s the fact that you can bet your last dollar the racing will be exciting. With a healthy dose of banking, these cars are practically racing in a soup bowl. They’ll be side by side, nose to tail for all 500 miles of Sunday’s race. There will be doors banging throughout the race, and many drivers will end up turning around or hitting a wall along the way.

That’s Bristol, and that’s the way it should be. It’s a throwback to the short-track excitement all these drivers enjoyed so much as they were making there way up the ladder to the Cup level. Almost every driver you ask will say that they can’t wait for the Bristol weekends to arrive.

From fans to drivers to team owners, Bristol is a great weekend for everyone involved … except of course the unlucky ones who will end their day in the garage. It’s a cruel twist for the drivers on the edge of the top-35 in points that the race where those points are finalized for the new year is Bristol. If Mark Martin, Ryan Newman and rookies Joey Logano and Scott Speed catch a bad break at Bristol, it’s possible some of them might be forced to qualify on time when the series heads to Martinsville.

And trust me when I say it’s not hard to catch a bad break at Bristol.

So I hope the drivers rested up well during the off week … this week they’re going to need to keep their eyes and ears wide open. Because at Bristol, anything can happen and it probably will.

If I ran this sport, I’d create a new “cookie cutter” to base tracks on … and it would be shaped like Bristol.

Past meets present
The highlight of Saturday for anyone in attendance at Bristol will be the “Saturday Night Shootout,” featuring drivers such as Rusty Wallace, Junior Johnson, Harry Gant, Cale Yarborough, David Pearson, Jimmy Spencer, Jack Ingram and others … competing in late model stock cars.

As a big follower of the sport’s history, I can’t wait to see so many legends out there battling. This may seem just like a fun little race, but my bet is that Rusty will do whatever it takes to get to the front, even wrecking legends like Junior Johnson if necessary. Whatever happens, I’m sure it will be a phenomenal event and I’d love to see these type of things become more common.

Bruton Smith needs to sip a pina colada and be quiet
Rumblings came this week from the untamable Broton Smith, who was complaining about the season finale being at Homestead instead of Atlanta. He said the track was in “that godforsaken area that is north of Cuba”.

Everyone knows Bruton is a character, so I’ll just give him credit and say he was being cute with the Cuba comment. But regarding where the final race should be, it’s fine right where it is.

As much as I love Atlanta, Bruton, you have two major problems with this scenario. First, nobody goes to that track anymore, it’s half-empty most of the time. Second, I remember going to some of those fall finales an Atlanta where I woke up in my tent with damn-near frostbite on my toes.

No offense, Bruton, but I’d much rather be spending the final weekend of the Cup year in the sunny Miami-area, in a sold-out racetrack, sipping a pina colada (or whatever tropical drink the track may be offering). I suggest you do the same.


Anonymous Ed said...

Matt on most points you are correct. But on one point you and most of the news media are off point. Just because something that is written and repeated doesn't mean it's true. Bristol has been a tough ticket to get because of a dirty little secret for so long forgotten or overlooked by the press. It's the heavy hand of NASCAR as usual. These sponsorships, which have gotten way out of control, had in them either a written or unwritten rule: you corporations have to buy loads of tickets. I guess they call that "activation", which is one of the most overused words in the industry now.

Well as it turns out corporations have been "activated" to death by NASCAR and by their own customers who can't "activate" their own pocketbooks to buy the goods and services that corporations sell. We all know the economic details very well. In fact your print paper, if there is one, is drastically changing as we speak. The newsprint "bidness" model is broken across this land and news companies are working hard to keep afloat. What that means as we all know is that if you don't sell newspapers you can't fund other budget items, jobs, health benefits and sponsorships in the community. For race car sponsors it's that ticket they can't buy right now to give out to their employees or customers. My point? This whole NASCAR attendance thing has been way false for years:

1. NASCAR always always overinflated attendance somewhere between 15%-25% or more.
2. Many many tickets purchased at each race have been bought by corporations, thereby actually reducing the number of actual ticket buying fans.

So Bristol has never been a true sellout because about 30,000 or more seats have been purchased by companies and given out. Be that as it may the butts are in the seats and they can call it a sellout.

But please Bristol ain't no slouch, they could put 180,000 fans in that place in a good economy if there was enough room to park um around the property. Bristol and Richmond are so popular with fans because they are high-speed short track frammin and bammin as opposed to long and fast, cookie-cutter-D-shaped ovals with boring racing for the most part. NASCAR doesn't learn either. I think that Pocono could be dug up and put up a Richmond-Bristol style race track and it would be a gas or in Atlanta or in Watkins Glen.

But Bristol isn't the hardest ticket to get. Take the corporate freebies out and you have a lot of inventory. And by the way when I worked for Texaco back in the 90s their Delaware refinery bought many many tickets each Dover race as part of a race team sponsorship. And those were expensive tickets, for instance there was the ticket price of let's say $75 bucks then there would be a fee added on to that for the hospitality tent then a "service fee" on top of that. So a $75 ticket cost companies about $150 each. And they would do tens of thousands of those tickets each year. Doesn't take a math expert to see how in a down economy companies are shedding that cost as quickly as they can.

Hard ticket to get? Maybe not. Put those 30,000 freebie tickets back in the inventory then your 20,000 person waiting list goes away quickly and you still have 10,000 tickets left over.

March 18, 2009 at 7:54 AM 

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