News & Media

Bristol not likely to sell out Sunday's Cup race

March 14, 2011, Joe Menzer,

While a "huge" crowd is expected for this Sunday's Sprint Cup race at Bristol Motor Speedway, it's not likely to be a sellout.

That candid admission was made Monday by both Bruton Smith, who is chairman and CEO of Speedway Motorsports Inc., and Jerry Caldwell, who is president and general manager at Bristol.

"I don't know that we'll have a sellout," Smith said. "I'd like to say we will. That would be wonderful. But I don't know that we will. There will be a huge crowd there, though, both Saturday [for the Nationwide Series race] and Sunday [for the Cup Series race]."

Bristol Motor Speedway had its string of 55 consecutive sellouts broken last spring when an estimated 138,000 attended the Food City 500, according to NASCAR. The facility offers grandstand seating for 160,000, and fell just short of filling that for last August's night race that was attended by a crowd estimated at 155,000 by NASCAR.

Caldwell said BMS is still dealing with a sluggish economy that has adversely affected the ability of long-time season ticket holders to renew their packages and attend Bristol's two races every year. And given a choice, both he and Smith admitted that fans tend to choose the August night race over the spring Sunday afternoon event.

"I'm really encouraged. Ticket sales are strong," Caldwell said. "We are slightly down from where we were last year. Year over year, from Jan. 1 to today, we're up. But we're still down with the after-effects of that economy -- especially at the end of last year, last August, September, October when we did our [season-ticket] renewals.

"The things we hear from the race fans continue to play out. They still want to come to the races and they still love Bristol. They may have their job, but they're still very cautious with their money -- so they're probably going to come to one event and not two. Ticket sales are playing out that way."

Smith said he agrees with Brian France's recent comments that the racing in NASCAR has never been better. France is chairman and CEO of NASCAR.

But Smith reiterated his belief that a change in how prize money is awarded to race winners could make it even better.

"There has been too much of this points racing. I have found that it turns fans off," Smith said. "They want someone who is battling to win. Winning, really in any sport, is everything. It's out front and it's all there is.

"I would like to take half of the money from the points fund and give it to the winners of the races. I'd like to see a $300,000 to $400,000 difference between first and second place. That would get the drivers' attention and you know the fans would love it."

"Our August race sales are just awesome. It makes you wonder if they just love night racing more, I guess -- because our August sales, we've been fortunate on our sellouts. But the March race has always been more difficult."


While there is a gap of that much -- and even a little more -- for the season-opening Daytona 500, the monetary difference between finishing first and second typically is more like $100,000 or much less, and last year sometimes was as little as $6,000 when all contingency and sponsorship factors were figured in. In each of last year's Pocono races, in fact, the second-place finisher actually ended up taking home slightly more cash than the winning driver.

Smith said it's too soon to tell if the new point system introduced this year by NASCAR is better for having drivers compete for wins, although he admitted early evidence is encouraging.

"I just think we could do even more," Smith said.

Smith said he also believes that the fact that BMS now is having trouble selling out its March race for the second year in a row may be an indication that race fans prefer Saturday night racing to Sunday afternoon racing.

"Our August race sales are just awesome," Smith said. "It makes you wonder if they just love night racing more, I guess -- because our August sales, we've been fortunate on our sellouts. But the March race has always been more difficult."

Caldwell said he and his staff will continue pushing ticket sales for this weekend's events up until the last minute, with Smith noting that phone operators in the BMS ticket offices will be working until 9 p.m. ET all week.

"Ticket sales for August are strong, and there are a lot of people making last-minute decisions," Caldwell said. "We're selling a lot of tickets these past couple of weeks and, really, even the last couple of months. We sold a bunch of camping spots last week to people coming from Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan who are just making those last-minute decisions. I think they're looking at the forecast, seeing that it's going to be a beautiful weekend."

Caldwell added that a strong start to the NASCAR season -- which has included increased crowds at Daytona, Phoenix and Las Vegas, as well as improved television ratings compared to last year -- is proving helpful in selling tickets.

"There is no better place to have some of these storylines play out than at Bristol," Caldwell said. "I mean, you've got Trevor Bayne [winner of the Daytona 500] -- hometown boy [from Knoxville, Tenn.] coming back to his home track after the Cinderella story in Daytona; his hero Jeff Gordon, winning the next week who has also had very good success here; Dale [Earnhardt] Jr. also is running strong, and he loves Bristol. You've got Danica and Dale Jr. running in the Nationwide race. There are just lots and lots of storylines that will be very exciting."