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Ingram: Slap Promoters For Traffic, Parking Woes

Jonathan Ingram | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, July 18 2011

Bill France Sr. had a hands-on approach to taking care of traffic problems. But, he had smaller traffic problems to deal with. (Photo courtesy of NASCAR)

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

Bruton Smith, owner of Speedway Motorsports Inc. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Tami Kelly Pope)

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

Les Richter studied time and motion for NASCAR.

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

Traffic was a mess at Kentucky Speedway. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

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 jingram@racintoday.com

Jonathan Ingram | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, July 18 2011
5 Comments

5 Comments »

  • Steveo says:

    Simple solution for Brutons arrogance: Take his Kentucky race away and give it to Iowa. The fans are happy, Nascar is happy, and Bruton is unhappy. I can’t think of a better scenerio than that and will put Bruton ego in check a bit. After using the fans as pawns in his game to get Kentucky politicians to pay for roads, his overall attitude towards the fans by not allowing cash refunds, he deserves to have a race taken away. And if he asks nascar why they don’t want to go to his track anymore, Nascar can say “because we don’t want to”

  • scorer27 says:

    Traffic issues at these events have sucked for many years before downturn in the economy (and the downturn in the quality of the racing). There are many more problems out there other than traffic issues.

    The Chase is a joke and always will be a joke.

    Ticket prices are insane, not to mention the crappy food, the cost of any of the souvineir items and the fact that you have to pay to park at any cup event is just pure greed. $$$$$$$$$$ is all any of this is about. Yeah, that’s the real Fan Experience!

    At one track in particular you go to your seat and ushers come to you to try and move you to make it look better for the TV cameras….that’s nuts! You’re not fooling anybody you’re just pissing people off.

    Promoters trying to force states into improving the roads leading into their speedway with tax dollars borders on criminal.

    Boring racing in events that should be shortened, mystery cautions to bunch up the field or to help out certain drivers, giving laps back under caution to have more cars on the lead lap…it’s mindless! And the powers that be in Daytona & Charlotte just don’t seem to get it.

    Cup racing is a great sleep aid on a Sunday afternoon after a late night at a good short track event!

    • ed g says:

      Why come around and piss on my parade? I get that you don’t like this era’s Cup racing. So go enjoy your short track racing. Good for you. More power to you!

      Support what you think is good and leave the rest alone.

  • Mojoman2 says:

    Given the improved quality of racing on the track and a better Chase format. Really???? You really thought you could slide that one past???? LOL The chase sucks, always has always will, chase championships are bogus!! “racing” with corporate kids in high powered gokarts that look nothing like cars on the streets is okay for some,I personally haven’t been to a race or watched a race since Elliott was kicked out of his ride, that breaks a 30 year streak for me. Daytona sycronized dancing with the cars. NOT RACING!! I just come on these boards to see if anything is changing, so far, it’s still headed down hill.

    Nascar should have checked all the track logistics out before they awarded a date to a new track! But, if that were in place some of France’s tracks may be in jeopardy,also, so let’s blame the promoter?

  • Don Peters says:

    Talk about traffic? What about Infineon at Sonoma? One lane road in and out East and West.The track does pretty good with what they have for roads.