NASCAR tracks trying new ways to draw new fans

Posted: June 06, 2014

AS POCONO Raceway marks its 40th year hosting Cup series racing, track officials are focusing on the future as much as the present. Crowds at Pocono and other tracks have been off, largely because of the economy the past several years.

However, there's also the issue of attracting younger fans.

"It's always been part of what we're doing," Brandon Igdalsky, Pocono's president and CEO, said earlier this week. "We're interested in what our current fans like. Also, we're interested in what future fans want."

For Sunday's Pocono 400, Igdalsky and his brother Nick, the track's executive vice president and chief operating officer, are introducing a "halftime." No, they won't stop the 160-lap race midway. From laps 60 to 120, the track is offering "a place to hang out, watch the race on a big screen," while eating and drinking, for an extra $20 charge per person. The halftime will be held in the track's corporate chalet village near the grandstand.

Like other tracks, Pocono also is dealing with area hotels who price their rooms out of reach of many fans.

"Race fans are wise to that," Igdalsky said, "so they are staying farther away, in Allentown, Wilkes-Barre and Binghamton (N.Y.). We've worked with the Pocono Visitors Bureau on this, and some hotels have agreed not to increase their prices so much."

Hotels near racetracks that don't offer reasonable rates to fans should be ashamed of themselves.

Pocono also continues with track improvements. A few years ago, the 2.5-mile tri-oval track was repaved, boosting speeds. For this year's race, the curbing on the inside of Turn 2 has been replaced with a 15-foot apron.

Previously, when drivers sped through the turn, known as "the tunnel turn," if they struck the curbing, it often caused havoc.

"We had to grind down the curbing for [last year's] IndyCar race," Igdalsky said. "We decided to take out the curbing to make [the turn] safer and racier. Drivers now can run off the track there if there's a problem."

Pocono's second current-era IndyCar series race is scheduled for July 6. Last year's return of open-wheel racing drew a respectable crowd of around 20,000 to 25,000. The July race will be a 500-miler, as were the IndyCar races from the early 1970s until'89.

"We think it's a great addition to our summer," Igdalsky said. "With double points for 500-mile races, the drivers are pumped."

Last year's Pocono IndyCar race, won by Scott Dixon, was 400 miles to fit into a television window opportunity.

Dover repairs planned

Meanwhile, back at Dover International Speedway, officials plan to repair a small area of the track after a pothole in Turn 2 halted Sunday's race for 22 minutes.

"I'm disappointed we didn't catch it," Denis McGlynn, track president and CEO, said yesterday. "We have eyes on the racetrack after each race and race mornings: Nobody said anything."

McGlynn said the entire section of track will be cut out and replaced with fresh concrete. He hopes the new section will provide trouble-free racing for the Sept. 28 Sprint Cup race, the third in the Chase, and in future years.

When concrete was installed as Dover's 1-mile racing surface in 1995, McGlynn said, "we expected to get 30 to 40 years out of it." Before the decision was made to switch to concrete from asphalt, McGlynn said, Dover officials visited a 7.5-mile concrete test track in East Liberty, Ohio.

"The concrete there was 22 years old and looked brand-new," he said.

Dover switched to concrete because an asphalt surface was severely affected by the winter weather. Following Jimmie Johnson's victory Sunday at Dover, several drivers recommended a return to asphalt. Any chance that will happen?

"No," McGlynn said firmly.

While crowd estimates, including the Daily News', for Dover's race were at least 5,000 fewer than the June 2013 race that attracted about 80,000, McGlynn insists attendance for the latest race was "equal to last year's.

"Our races are still successful; they're just not as successful as they were [when 130,000 filled the Dover grandstands]," he said.

"I'll put our attendance up against 90 percent of the tracks on the circuit. We're all in the same boat: It's not about the product, per se. It's the customers can't come, because they can't afford it."

Unlike some racetracks, Dover has not taken down sections of its grandstands. To make races more affordable for fans, McGlynn said Dover is introducing "glamping": glamorous camping. The Firefly music festival, held later this month at Dover, started glamping: for $279, fans can stay in a two-bed tent with tables and carpeting. Free showers and restroom facilities are provided.

Glamping and halftimes: More innovations in the new world of NASCAR.


Email: fleiscb@phillynews.com

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