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Dover Not Immune From Downturn

Bill Fleischman | Contributing Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, May 14 2010

The grandstands at Dover. Like those at other tracks, they may be less than full this weekend. (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)

By Bill Fleischman | Senior Corrspondent
RacinToday.com

Dover, Del. – Denis McGlynn has worked at Dover International Speedway since 1972 when he started in public relations and promotions. Now, he’s the president and CEO.

So McGlynn, 64, knows auto racing can be a roller coaster ride: you’re up for a few years, then there’s a dip. This time, it’s taking a little longer for the sport to get back up to speed.

McGlynn watches the NASCAR Sprint Cup races on television and sees the empty seats. On Sunday, McGlynn expects to see vacant seats at Dover for the Autism Speaks 400 Cup event.

“Nobody’s selling out,” McGlynn said this week. “When you see 40,000 empty seats at Bristol (Tenn.), it tells you it’s the economy and the impact it’s having on ticket buyers.

“Many NASCAR fans have blue-collar jobs. There are signs the economy is improving, but employment is the last thing to come back. You just have to be patient.”

Races at the Delaware oval haven’t sold out for several years. Some sections of grandstands, which seat a total 140,000, have been closed for races and covered with advertising banners.

Realizing that the races aren’t sold out, many fans wait until the weekend to decide if they’ll show up.

McGlynn said Dover’s most expensive seats sell first. With lower-priced seats available, McGlynn said, “That tells me that people just can’t afford to come right now.”

Previously, the quality of the racing also was an issue. But this season, the racing has been much better with riveting finishes.

“Race fans had been disenchanted with the racing,” McGlynn said. “But NASCAR has solved that issue. The racing is good and the TV ratings are starting to climb.”

Sign of the times: Pocono Raceway signed on Gillette as the title sponsor of its June 6 race. The last time a Pocono Cup race had a title sponsor was in 1996. Dr. Joseph Mattioli, Pocono’s board chairman, preferred calling the races the Pennsylvania and Pocono 500s to maintain the Keystone state brand.

The mid-May date for Sunday’s Cup race doesn’t help Dover’s attendance issues. Sunday’s race is two weeks earlier than normal. Since there are only four June weekends this year instead of five, NASCAR asked Dover to move to May 16.

Children are still in school and many fans aren’t travelling yet. Of course, with the battered economy, regardless of the race date families can’t afford several nights in a hotel plus meals and gas.

The bad news for Dover is, this probably isn’t just a one-year situation.

“Our 2011 (spring) date is not confirmed,” McGlynn said, “but the 2011 calendar is almost identical to this year.”

The good news for Dover is, the speedway still has its regular date for its fall race, the AAA 400 on Sept. 26. The race is the second event in the Chase for the Championship.

Racing fans have their choice of all three of NASCAR’s top series at Dover this weekend. The Camping World Truck Series race is Friday at 4:45 p.m.; Saturday, it’s the Nationwide series event at 2:30 p.m.

– Bill Fleischman is the long-time auto racing beat writer at the Philadelphia Daily News and a frequent contributor to RacinToday.com

Bill Fleischman | Contributing Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, May 14 2010
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