A skidding economy was no reason for Las Vegas race fans to slam on the brakes for this weekend's event. Some, however, have admitted to gently tapping on them.
"We bought Busch Light instead of Bud Light this year because it's a little bit cheaper," said Robbi Foust, one of hundreds of spectators who camped out in the infield during the days leading up to Sunday's big race.
Foust and her friend, Belinda Moore of Wyoming, occupied one of the recreational spaces, which run $1,000 each for three days. They justified their spending because, as Foust puts it, "This is our vacation. We don't go to Cabo San Lucas or anything."
Reveling campers weren't packed into the infield as they have been in years past, reflecting the economy's uncertainty. Typically wall-to-wall RVs, vacant spaces left plenty of room for barbecues or tossing a ball around.
Las Vegas Speedway officials appeared to anticipate fan jitters and made attempts to make the race more affordable this year. Foust said that for the first time, campers were allowed to make payments for their RV slots, rather than pay in full.
Speedway General Manager Chris Powell recently acknowledged that ticket sales were down this year, but track officials were doing whatever possible to draw fans out. Powell would not elaborate on sales of tickets, with prices ranging from about $100 to $1,000.
"In the face of the economy, we've lowered concession prices," he said, noting that drinks were a dollar less. "We're not immune to what's going on with the economy. This is a great event not just for the Speedway, but for the community."
Last year, Powell said the race infused nearly $200 million into the community through cab rides, restaurant meals, hotel rooms and grocery store sales.
"It's going to be such a shot in the arm for our city and state," Powell said.
The father and son team of Terry and Tye Pennington made the trip south from Fallon in one vehicle rather than two. Both men are construction workers struggling to find work. They considered axing this year's event from their budget but decided to take a road trip, without the side stops they typically make.
"We're spending money we shouldn't," the elder Pennington said. "We only stopped at the ice cream store in Beatty."
They are bypassing headphones, costing $25 and up, to hear the drivers communicate with the pits. Also scratched from the list this year are the $150 one-day passes to Neon Garage, an infield attraction where fans can watch mechanics work on cars and hear bands before the race.
Shirts and hats? "We won't be doing that this year," the younger Pennington said.
Three men from the Phoenix area said 30 guys were expected to show up in the infield for a bachelor party, but by the time the race rolled around, only about 18 were there. The kicker was the bachelor had paid for the sites at the RV park.
"We wouldn't pay $1,000 for this," said Tim Kern. "Not now, no way."
A year ago, campers were steaming crabs and sharing their spreads with anybody who walked by. Burgers and hot dogs appeared to be the more common fare at Sunday's race.
Most fans said they would prefer to cut down on other necessities rather than sacrifice a day at the race. A nice dinner out? Maybe once every couple of months. The movies? That's why Netflix exists.
Debbie Alexandre has made the trip to the track since it opened 11 years ago. Most years, she makes a vacation out of the event, renting an infield space and camping out in an RV for a few days. On Sunday, Alexandre was seated in the Dale Earnhardt terrace.
"We gave the infield up. Too expensive," she said. "We've cut back on some things but this isn't one of them. We come out on Sunday, enjoy the race. We come out early to avoid the traffic and leave late."
Race officials and law enforcement recently said they plan on a better year for the fans in 2010. Neither can predict what the economy holds, but they know the widening project on Interstate 15 will be completed and the commute will be far smoother.
"Next year it's going to be really nice getting out here and getting home," said Nevada Highway Patrol spokesman Kevin Honea. "I can't say the same for this year."
Contact Adrienne Packer at apacker @reviewjournal.com or 702-384-8710.