Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Empty seats at Georgia track an issue, and Smith knows it

Bruton Smith blew into the media center Friday at Atlanta Motor Speedway and held court with reporters for quite a while. The military would call this a diversionary tactic.

I drifted in and out of the gaggle, making sure I wasn't missing Smith plowing any new ground. He talked about how NASCAR should take the final race of the Sprint Cup season away from Homestead - or, as he likes to call it, Homeinstead - and move it back to Atlanta or out to Las Vegas. He talked about how the Cup banquet should be in Las Vegas and not New York. He talked about a lot of stuff.

I didn't write about any of it (until now, I guess) because it wasn't anything I hadn't heard before and because I had a good idea what he was up to.

For weeks leading up to Sunday's Kobalt Tools 500, there had been whispers all around the sport about how few tickets had been sold for the race at the 1.54-mile track located south of downtown Atlanta. The weather was perfect and there was a huge walk-up crowd (when compared with other years) and they still might have sold half the seats.

OK, let's be totally fair here. If Atlanta Motor Speedway had 75,000 or so, which is where I would put the crowd I saw (NASCAR's estimate of 94,000 on the official race report was WAY high), that's still more than fans than there would be at a sold-out Homstead-Miami Speedway. It's about what California had, maybe a little less, and about what places like Kansas and Chicagoland will hold later this year.

I say that people who see the stands half-empty at Atlanta and think the crowd is "terrible" need to keep in perspective that 75,000 for any professional sports event in the Atlanta market is not shabby. But it's not good, either.

Smith keeps insisting that the track will sell out its second date this year, which moves to Sunday night of Labor Day weekend. People at the track say they're encouraged by the response to that new date, moved back from around Halloween weekend in previous years.

We'll see.

Some of the drivers were asked about the empty seats after Sunday's race and they said they're baffled. Racing at Atlanta is usually not terrible and it's a great facility. Traffic there used to be awful and maybe that reputation lingers despite the fact that there have been improvements made in that regard. The track has tried everything reasonable in terms of ticket and concession prices in this tough economy.

This ain't Bruton Smith's first rodeo. By chumming the waters with talk about how NASCAR ought to do this and that with other races at other places he got some of the heat off of his track at Atlanta, at least for a little while, over the weekend. But he's smart enough to know that nobody's going to have their attention fully diverted, at least not for long, from how many seats went unsold Sunday.

Smith would like to have a second race in Las Vegas and he's promised up and down that he'll bring Cup racing to the track he bought in Kentucky last year. He might be singing the song that one of those dates "should" come from one of International Speedway Corp.'s tracks, but he knows as well as I do that's not going to happen.

If Kentucky gets a date next year, Smith will put it there from within the Speedway Motorsports portfolio. And after seeing the crowd Sunday at Atlanta, that track has a great big target locked on it, no matter how many countermeasures Smith tries to deploy.


Anonymous said...

It is not a track issue. NASCAR has lost it's fan base. The newness has worn out to the newbies, and the result is a failing product. The racing is MUCH better in the truck series. Teh C.O.T. is a bust for fans. And restrictor plate races remain just a coin flip for a winner. I would rather watch gras grow than a race at Daytona or Taladaga.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like Smith and Poole have a lot in common.Their always trying to tell NASCAR what they should do.
And of course Poole is always telling us who to pull for.Jeff Gordon hasn't won a race in how long?????Now he's at the top of Pooles rankings...I guess he's there because he drives for HMS.
Same ol' stories day after day.

Anonymous said...

This writing is terrible. It was excruciating reading this article. How long has this guy been a writer?

Dann in Ohio said...

why not when you post a comment it is related to the story and not an attack on the writer?

Now to my comment....if those who have attended Atlanta thought that traffic was bad wait until Bruton gets/steals/buys a race for Kentucky. Bruton only does what is best for Bruton no matter how the picture is painted that what he does is good for the sport. Next step for him is to try and strong arm the Georgia government for a stimulas package.

Lloyd said...

Iowa Speedway Period.

Once the nation see's the Trucks and the Nationwide cars at the Iowa Speedway this year I think it will show why it would be a great place to race unlike Kentucky.

Anonymous said...

I wish Bruton would buy NASCAR and shut it down.NASCAR is by far the biggest waste of money and is putting GM in bankruptsy.And if all you fans took Jesus as serious as this so called sport,think how much better off you would be.

Lloyd said...

I wish Bruton would buy NASCAR and shut it down.NASCAR is by far the biggest waste of money and is putting GM in bankruptsy.And if all you fans took Jesus as serious as this so called sport,think how much better off you would be.

That was by far the most ignorant statement I have heard in awhile.

Anonymous said...

So what's ignorant about it?
Nascar,Bruton,or Jesus?

Anonymous said...

NASCAR is not what is killing our American automakers. Apparently you work in an office or a deep dark hole. American automakers are failing because of about three things. 1. Unions. a guy who made $40 an hour work an 8 hour day is making $40 an hour in retirement. 2. Lack of accountability. Not a single executive of any American automaker has stepped up and said...oops our bad. Sorry we are going to fix this ourselves. 3. Poor quality. Come on a Nissan or a Toyota spend less time in the shop than any Chevy, Ford, or Chrysler.

If you don't know this then don't talk about the automotive industry. You just make yourself look stupid. NASCAR is an optional program that the companies choose to be in. I'm am almost certain that they are getting paid good money for their vehicles to be in the races.

Anonymous said...

GM owns Nascar.May they both fail.

Anonymous said...

I don't know how long he's been a writer.But!He's only been a fan for about 13 years.

Anonymous said...

Well I see the people that hide behind Anonymous are in Force today so here goes. Bruton Smith is doing what any business man should be doing praising his business to the skies while denigrating his competition.
Anon #2 Gordon is in the top of the points standings and if you watch the races looks hungry for a win unlike last season. Anon #3 The answer is many years. In fact on the page that has this blog shows that he has won the National Motorsports Press Association top writer award four times. Anon #4 why in gods name would Bruton buy it to shut it down. His stock is doing poorly. He paid too much for New Hampshire. The rest of you guys well believe what you want except for the fella that believes that GM owns Nascar. I mean come on really? Are you that idiotic? Eat a lot of paint chips as a child?

Anonymous said...

The people are learning that this sport has very little quality and the fan base includes people that what the hoot and hollar and get drunk and quite frankly could care less about racing. Now they have learned they can hoot hollar and drink at home. And besides with the failing health care system no one can afford hearing aids.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Anonymous 2:29 lets go through your points and I call you that as you don't have the intelligence or the testicular fortitude to put down a name.
Quite a lot as it is the premier organization of motorsports writers.

Well there it is sketchy. It is their field and their rules. IE if you don't like it go elsewhere.

As four time Champion and points leader quite a lot.
Spelling error (yours) aside as a eight time champion quite a lot as well.
I agree with you people that don't put their name on what they write are in fact nuts.
Well you got me their I am a Gordon fan. I however have never watched Oprah nor have any interest in her her show or even anything having to do with her.

In conclusion man up and sign your name.

Anonymous said...

I think the first comment was truly the closest to the truth of this problem. I did not attend a race at TMS last year, it was the first time I had skipped a race there since opening, and it did not have one thing to do with the economy. Racing with the COT SUCKS, plain and simple. I can hardly watch it on TV, let alone spend money to go see it. In the past I wouldn't have missed going to Texas, but I won't pay alot of money to watch a COT race. Can't justify it at all. Todd in Oklahoma

jamie in n.c. said...

bruton had the final race of the season and gave it up because they said it had become anticlimatic and hurt ticket sales.

did bruton mention that?

Shawn said...

What no one has mentioned is that all the cheap seats were full (Turn 3). We were shoulder to shoulder. Its economics, There are many different activities that all compete for a shrinking pool of disposable entertainment income.

Foyt in Indiana said...


And much more credibility than you have, Mr/Miss/Mrs Anonymous. Grow a pair and post some kind of name. Same goes for the rest of the Anonymous folk out there.

Anonymous said...

These tracks are going to have to lower the prices. Period. It's that simple. Not to mention the hotels in the area.

Plus Atlanta is more and more a "black town" and blacks don't go for nascar.

Anonymous said...

Thank goodness there are some rational folks in this site, to try to balance out all the ingnorant ones.

I can only imagine that some of these people have no life, no job, no friends, no money, no smarts, and the only thing they have in life is to came to a NASCAR site and show their ignorance.

Georgia is one of the hardest hit states in terms of the economy. The population surrounding Atlanta have some of the highest unemployment in US. Get a life, fools, some people just cannot afford to attend a race.

Wait til MLB starts and you see empty seats all over the counrty.

Go NASCAR, and go Jeff.

Spanky said...

Poole thanx for deciding what is important to us and at what time YOU IDIOT. It seems NASCRAP and SMITTY have both forgotten the one way to get us to spend our money and that is to entertain us. On Monday when those of us that hold yearly tickets, when we go to the mailbox guess whats waiting for us? Order blank for next years race oh and guess what they want their money NOW!!! Atlanta track is just showing whats happening all over the circuit. They are just ahead of the curve!! The entertainment dollar is shrinking and Smiity and NASCRAP are way behind the curve. It might be feasible to pay the outrageous ticket prices if the Quality product is ther but as of this writing it is not!!!!!

Richard in N.C. said...

BSmith is only concerned about what is in his interest - and won't let facts interfere with a good rant. Sure wish someone had asked him about the weather in Atlanta in November versus south Florida, or why he agreed to swap dates with Homestead to begin with, or whether he is determined to bury North Wilkesboro by continuing to ask $12,000,000 for the track when he sold Rockingham for $4,500,000.

bonzzo said...

hiii peopleeeee kansas is the way to go ,new faces !!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Empty seats?We thought you southern folk loved Nascar.
The goverment needs to require that the big 3 pull out of racing before anymore govt. money is given to them.

Ted in Boston

Holleracha said...

Whats wrong with Homestead as the last race??
Its the economy stupid!!
Everybody's belt tightening right now. It is not permanent. When the economy bounces back so will NASCAR. Everybody's doing stupid things in a panic.This just makes things worse. They should concentrate on building the TV audience durring the lull.

Anonymous said...

NASCAR brought this on themselves - not the track owners.

They abandoned their core fanbase in pursuit of the fickle rich.

And that stupid 'race for the chase' does nothing for the sport. If races were like the challenge where everyone raced to WIN rather than not to lose, the excitement of the sport would return and bring the fanbase with it.

Anonymous said...

Let me tell you something about atlanta motor speedway..I walked up to the ticket booth sunday morning and asked for a ticket in winners section,lower lever and away from the crowd since half of the seats were gonna be unsold..The ticket lady said no problem and I paid my 95.oo bucks and went to my seat..It seemed like there was nobody in the grandstands till the driver introductions started and the only section I saw filling up was the one I was in..What happened was the speedway was trying to fill up that section because it was the last section before going into turns 1 and 2 and it would look real good on tv by being full..I wound up moving 2 sections down where there was not a single person sitting in a seat from row 1 to row 18..What gets me is I asked for a ticket in a isolated area but I get sold one to fill up a certain section..I will never buy another ticket from atlanta motor speedway again..Tickets can be bought in the parking lot and at the highway for 20 bucks..AMS..The next time a hardcore NASCAR fan walks up to the ticket booth to buy a ticket just to help the track out because of the race not even being half-sold out I suggest you try to accomodate that fan.

Richard in N.C. said...

I still think the Chase is a good idea - but it does appear to be such a bad idea that the PGA and NHRA have tried to copy it.

Rotten said...

How to save Nascar:
1. Get rid of the Chase.
2. Get rid of the COT.
3. Get rid of the top 35. If you are not fast enough, try again next week.
4. Get rid of the boring prerace comedy show that goes on and on and on telling us things we already know.
5. Get rid of the chubby guy with the spiked flattop who thinks he's humorous.
6. Get rid of Boogity, boog...Never mind.
7. Get rid of unnecessary tv timeouts (unneeded yellow flags).
8. Get rid of Brian France.
9. Put on real bumpers and bias ply tires, put real men behind the wheel, not fluffies like Jamie "hows my hair look today" McMurray.
10. Drop the green flag no later than 1 PM.

shinn said...

So what happens now? What's going on with NASCAR

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