Ingram: Slap Promoters For Traffic, Parking Woes
From the Monday Morning Crew Chief™:
Once upon a time during NASCAR history, a man named Les Richter conducted a time and motion study. As the vice president of competition for NASCAR’s premier Winston Cup series, Richter wanted to know how much time team members spent standing in line each weekend in order to get a garage pass. Once he found that team members were losing upwards of three entire days standing in line during a season, the annual credential process was instituted.
I would highly recommend that Steve Phelps, the senior vice president and chief marketing officer of NASCAR, conduct a time and motion study of access, parking and egress at Sprint Cup events. He might be surprised to find out the average amount of time it takes to get into and out of the races on the Sprint Cup schedule.
For all the various theories about the decrease in crowds at Sprint Cup events over the past four seasons, the parking and traffic problem might be the leading cause of diminished ticket sales after the economy is considered. Some of the hardest hit grandstands during the recent slump are all well known for traffic and/or parking issues, such as Dover and Atlanta, which eventually lost one of its two Sprint Cup dates.
The recent imbroglio over fans not being able to even get into the Kentucky Speedway has finally brought a public response from NASCAR over the issue of traffic and parking, if not
departure problems. In Kentucky, Bruton Smith took the same approach to traffic problems as he did during his early days of operating the Atlanta track – create traffic jams through increased grandstand seating and ticket sales, then plead his case with local politicians to build more roads, which generally takes several years.
There is a coda to this story: Smith eventually got new and wider roads leading to the Atlanta Motor Speedway – then took one of the track’s race dates and moved it to Kentucky, where he was busy building new grandstands at a track with a history of traffic problems. This situation underscores that promoters don’t always pay attention to such issues, which fall under the category of “fan experience.” It seems to me that fans with experience may just well be avoiding some tracks due to the traffic and parking problems.
Smith’s response to the problems at his track in Sparta, Kentucky? “We had a traffic problem,” he said. “We didn’t have a seat problem. Other than that, I think everything was fantastic.”
Instead of the comments we heard in the past week from NASCAR President Mike Helton, why doesn’t NASCAR announce a time and motion study to find out more about how its promoters are handling traffic and parking? It’s not too difficult to establish criteria. Have four cars situated 25 miles from a track the day of the race with occupants who record the time it takes to arrive, park and get to their seats – after starting four hours before the race. These same people should leave the track at the fall of the checkers and determine how long it takes to return to the starting place – theoretically at different points of the compass.
Like Richter, I suspect Phelps would be greatly surprised at the level of sheer dedication it takes from fans in terms of time to get to what are invariably expensive seats – and then the
time to get out of a “facility.”
There was a time when fans suffered through bad food options, poor restrooms and overpriced tickets, problems that for the most part have been overcome under the heading of “fan experience” now that the owners of tracks have become publicly traded. (I’m still not sold on the supposedly fabulous nature of the Martinsville hot dogs, though, which tend to turn my teeth red.)
Racing has always benefitted from the Big Event mentality due to the relatively large size of its playing fields. During the go-go years of the 1990’s in NASCAR, what wowed non-racers (including sports editors and broadcasters) the most was the size of crowds at the bigger tracks compared to turnouts for college or pro football games. In the current scheme of things, NASCAR’s image may suffer more from the diminished crowds and empty seats than from the always fuzzy TV numbers in a new era of electronic gadgetry.
Prices have been dropped and ticket packages have been put together to make race weekends more enticing during the economic downturn, which seems to have helped sales. Could it be that fans like the preliminary races included in packages in part because of less hassle with the traffic? Given the improved quality of racing on the track and a better Chase format, the last cog on the wheels for the Sprint Cup to return to form in the grandstands may well be parking and traffic, although some tracks clearly have handled this problem better than others – usually the fuller ones in my experience.
What if NASCAR decides tracks are wasting fans’ time and energy to the detriment of all involved? There’s no guarantee that tracks’ race dates are renewed each year. There’s
usually some jawboning between NASCAR and promoters over what kind of improvements need to be made. If penalties from NASCAR or the threat of losing a Sprint Cup date were in place, imagine how quickly the traffic and parking problems would get resolved.
At the top of the list should be promoter investment in better parking options at tracks where there are issues according to some verifiable criteria – established by time and motion studies, including details on how close to a “facility” fans can park and how long it takes to get from the lot to the track on race day. If promoters can’t buy more space, they can lease it. And, why not impose a cap on how much tracks can charge for parking at those tracks where fans have to pay – notably those owned by Smith.
When it comes to highways, NASCAR and its promoters are loathe to invest money in what ordinarily are public projects, because it runs contrary to the nature of independent business people who are dedicated to free enterprise – the sort where everybody pays but the aforementioned businessmen. Private investment in public roads around tracks might also be considered a bad precedent. But I’d say seats left empty because people aren’t willing or able to fight traffic and poor parking options are worse precedents.
Quote of the Week:
“I think what we’re after right now is to figure out what happened in Sparta and figure out what the cure is for it. Outside of that, I don’t have an opinion at this point. But we’re working toward a resolution.” – NASCAR President Mike Helton on the traffic and parking issues at the Kentucky Speedway prior to its first Sprint Cup race.
See ya! …At the races.
– Jonathan Ingram can be reached at email@example.com Comments