Gentlemen, start your steam shovels.
Daytona International Speedway, aka the Holy Grail of NASCAR, aka The House That Petty Built (with a small assist from the France family), has announced a massive redevelopment project. It also has announced it will be removing some seats. More on that during the next caution period.
When Daytona rose from the beach in 1959, it cost only $3 million to build. The 2½-mile oval with the gravity-defying high banks was state of the art. Now it’s getting longer in the tooth than a mastodon, or one of those 600-mile races at Charlotte. Or Cashman Field. Daytona doesn’t have climate-controlled batting cages, either.
The cost of this redevelopment project would have made Fireball Roberts’ head jump right out of gear. Estimated at $375 million to $400 million, it is said to be the same amount the Bud Light movers found between Roger Penske’s cushions when they hauled his old couch away.
So here we go.
Concourse levels will be added. Suites will be added, for Roger Penske’s pals. Seats on the frontstretch will be widened, in case the Kardashian women return. Other seats will be removed.
Lots of seats will be removed.
A total of 59,000 seats will be taken out, reducing capacity at the Holy Grail of NASCAR from 160,000 to 101,000.
Daytona is reducing its seating capacity by 37 percent. As George Costanza said on TV, that’s some serious shrinkage.
You would think Daytona would be the last place where seats would be subtracted for stock-car racing.
It would be like Carnegie Hall removing its balcony seats before the next appearance of the New York Pops. OK, bad analogy. It would be like removing the You Might Be a Redneck section from the High Point, N.C., Funny Bone before Jeff Foxworthy’s next gig. That’s a lot of seats.
Naturally, the announcement soft-pedaled the removal of all these seats. Instead, it emphasized the wider concourses and wider seats and wider sight lines. It said the new grandstands would provide a safer environment for stock-car fans. Provided the Busch brothers don’t go up there.
Wrote a doubting Dale (or Rusty) on one of the gearhead websites: “Why can’t the promoters just be honest and say they cannot fill the seats at today’s ticket prices?”
Because there aren’t any home games in NASCAR, people mostly drive these hulking RVs to stock-car races, because sleeping in a hulking RV is cheaper than sleeping at Best Western. At least it was in 2004, when gas was $1.43 a gallon, and everybody had a job, and NASCAR was going great guns.
A lot of new tracks were built in states where there are limited Pettys and Allisons and Yarboroughs. And then NASCAR supersized them, because right after that Tom Cruise movie about stock-car racing came out, NASCAR got greedy.
So while attendance is good at NASCAR races, attendance also is down.
According to industry sources, 11 of NASCAR’s 23 tracks reduced seating capacity in 2012. And that doesn’t include places such as Las Vegas Motor Speedway, which did its wider seat thing in 2010, even after having announced a virtual sellout for its Cup race.
A lot of free tickets went to the sixth, seventh and eighth callers that weekend, and to a lot of people who test-drove Fusions and Impalas at their neighborhood Ford and Chevy dealers.
When LVMS widened its frontstretch seats, it lost about 10,000 off its listed seating capacity of 140,000. It’s still bigger than any NFL stadium, still bigger than the Big House at Michigan.
The smallest announced NASCAR crowd of 2012 was 63,000 at Darlington Raceway in South Carolina. For comparison sake, the Dodgers lead Major League Baseball with average attendance of 39,496. True, there a lot more ballgames than stock-car races, and also a lot more Bobblehead Nights.
NASCAR, which races just once a week, is more like the NFL in that regard.
In 2012, the 32 NFL teams averaged 67,394 paying spectators, which is pretty impressive in the HDTV era.
In 2012, the 39 NASCAR races and shootouts and Super Duper All-Star Spectaculars at Charlotte attracted estimated average attendance of 95,674, which is even more impressive in the HDTV era. In fact, it’s downright amazing for a series that is said to have an attendance problem.
Yes, a lot of sixth, seventh and eighth callers, and relatives of the Fram Oil Filters guy, probably don’t pay to get in. But that’s still a lot of people eating fried chicken, a lot of people drinking warm Budweiser, a lot of people screaming “Busch sucks!”
That’s an Alabama football crowd. That’s an Electric Daisy Carnival throng, and every bit as pulsating. That’s huge, regardless of the empty seats on the backstretch.
But, after the gentleman start their steam shovels, should it come to pass that ticket prices are increased to offset potential lost revenue from those 59,000 seats being removed, a lot of people driving hulking RVs from Kannapolis and Hueytown and the South Boston in Virginia are going to be upset.
And then the Busch brothers and the track dryer won’t be the only things that suck at Daytona.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski