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Hood: A Sad View From The Grandstands

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, October 24 2011

Clint Bowyer's crew does its thing in front of a large number of empty seats at Talladega on Sunday. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

By Jeff Hood | Senior Writer

TALLADEGA, Ala. – On a sun-splashed 70-degree afternoon, I chose to watch Sunday’s Good Sam 500 at Talladega Superspeedway among the masses in the grandstands instead of from my customary perch inside the comfy pressbox that overlooks the 2.66-mile tri-oval.

OK, perhaps after what I witnessed on Sunday the term “among the masses” is a poor choice of words.

Following a moment of silence for late IndyCar driver Dan Wheldon, I looked up for just a split second prior to the invocation and wondered to myself: “Where is everybody?”

During the 1990s when NASCAR was billed as the “hottest sport” in the nation, seeing the bleachers and infield packed at Talladega was the norm.

But over the past decade, the crowds and seating capacity at “NASCAR’s most competitive track” have been steadily shrinking.

The seating capacity has declined as old seats have been ripped out and replaced with larger ones.

That trend will continue in 2012. Talladega Superspeedway president Grant Lynch announced on MRN Radio Sunday that new, larger seats will be installed at his facility next

It was Talladega but it was not the kind of Talladega crowd that the sport had gotten used to. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)


Sunday’s estimated attendance was 105,000 at a track that, according to NASCAR’s media guide, has a grandstand seating capacity of 130,169.

If 10,000 fans witnessed the race from the infield on Sunday that means only about 95,000 seats were occupied.

And from where I was sitting, I’d say the announced attendance was a generous figure.

For starters, the Allison Grandstand on the backstretch might have been half-filled.

On the frontstretch, a large section of tower seats coming out of Turn 4 and entering Turn 1 were covered with banners.

There was plenty of blue seen in the coveted tower sections overlooking the tri-oval. That translates into empty seats.

And there appeared to be several thousand empty seats in the lower sections on the outer edges of the massive, frontstretch grandstand.

In fairness, this disturbing trend has been developing at most tracks over the past five seasons.

Charlotte Motor Speedway hosted one of its smallest crowds for a points-paying Sprint Cup race last weekend. And its been just as bad or worse at other facilities.

So what gives?

To slightly alter an old political phrase: “It’s Earnhardt and the economy, stupid.”

The crowd at Talladega was disappointingly small. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

It’s no secret that much of Talladega Superspeedway’s fan base is the working-class blue-collar crowd. Aside from their very own Bobby, Davey and Donnie Allison, nobody gets a Talladega crowd on its feet and roaring like a driver whose last name is Earnhardt.

Much like jobs in Alabama, the days of seeing an Earnhardt at the top of the heap has been in short supply.

The majority of those on hand Sunday did become briefly energized when they rose as one with hats in hands on laps 77 and 78 as Dale Earnhardt Jr. was shoved into the lead by five-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson.

But Junior looked more like someone in a witness protection program the remainder of the afternoon as he rode near the back of the field en route to a 25th-place finish.

His lackluster effort seemed to coincide with many fans appearing to be more interested in visiting social network sites on their mobile electronic devices than watching the action on the track.

As a member of the media, it’s important for me to remain impartial when it comes to having a rooting interest in a particular driver run well.

Ask me who my favorite driver is and I’ll quickly let you know that I pull for the underdog. (On Sunday, I let out a cheer when Robby Gordon surged into the lead.)

But for the health and sake of the sport I’ve loved for more than 30 years, I’m actually pulling for the No. 88 Chevrolet to find its way to the winner’s circle this season.

Perhaps it’ll happen in Martinsville, Va. on Sunday. Earnhardt narrowly missed scoring a win there in the spring.

A win by Dale Jr. won’t single-handedly NASCAR’s attendance woes. But it’s certainly a step in the right direction.

– Jeff Hood can be reached at jhood@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, October 24 2011


  • john says:

    If you’re ever concerned there’s no real racing left to watch, I suggest a healthy mix of Australian V8 Supercar and World of Outlaws and Lucas Oil Late Models on SPEED. Makes you forget about Playoffs, fake debris cautions, aero push and wave-arounds in a hurry.

  • Larry says:

    Unfortunatly NASCAR is doomed. It’s demise has been assured by the inept management that has inherited the dynasty.This kid isn’t a racer he’s a banker for lack of calling him anything else. When you have a man at the helm that doesn’t understand the product being produced the corporation is DOOMED. If NASCAR ever needed an Earnhardt (Sr. that is), it’s now. Somebody has got to tell Sir Brian he’s an idiot, and to go home and let someone that understands the product run the corporation without Sir Brian’s interferrence. The COT while a great idea, is a failure as a race car. But it will stay just as it is because NOBODY at NASCAR will admit it’s junk and needs to be redesigned. As far as Talladega’s ridiculous “racing” is concerned, all NASCAR has to do is add another rule that simply states NO BUMP DRAFTING is allowed. I know it’s a radical thought, but someone has to have it. In the mean time “they” continue to run a sport I have followed since 1982 into the ground. Great Job Mr. B

  • Hank says:

    I don’t understand? Isn’t this situation exactly what NASCAR wanted? Empty seats in the stands, nobody watching at home…wasn’t this the plan all along? They did their best to drive off all of the long time fans. Did they think people would plunk their hard earned cash down to watch a bunch of millionaires cruise around at the back of the pack and NOT race. Talladega has been a joke since they put the restrictor plates on. And every change since then has only made the racing worse.
    A less aerodynamic car, a mandated 5 inches of front ground clearance, a smaller cubic inch motor, and laying that rear spoiler back to 20 degrees are all simple & cheap fixes to a simple problem.

    Making the front of the car more boxier and having mandatory sized opening for the brake cooling ducts & radiator is relatively cheap to do. A 305 cubic inch motor doesn’t cost any more to build than a 358 c.i. motor—you just need a different stroke crank & smaller pistons. It’s easy for NASCAR to supply shocks—they do that for the rear of the cars already at Talladega—so that fixes ground clearance & lets air get under the car, thus slowing it down. Laying the spoiler back to 20 degrees will kill rear downforce & show us who can actually drive & who can’t.

  • PeterJ says:

    Geez,,, the whole world is changing and NASCAR thinks it can be immune to everything that is happening around it. If the kids can’t get instant gratification,,, forget it. You lost that bunch. The old fans are fed up with the COT, the Chase, and all the sameness of the cars that have taken any individuality out of the game. The drivers are trying, but the reality is the same,,, just try to keep it on the track for 475 laps, then go for it. Maybe if the Occupy Wall Street crowd showed up protesting the big money boys in Nascar, it will probably get some interest started. I think the NFL is the only sport out there that truly has it figured out, just don’t ask me how.

  • Jerome says:

    The “leaders” of NASCAR have killed NASCAR- I can’t think of one change they have made that has enhanced the sport. Top 35 locked in? crap it. the fastest race. The COT?-has helped safety but has killed any brand idenfication and has hurt the racing; double file resarts were a nice addition but drop the wave around. I can’t believe the NASCAR Brain trust thought that this was needed because having restarts with the tail end cars in the front was too confusing. It may be “confusing” to the casual, short attention span new fans that NASCAR seems to covet over the long-time fans. Let the restarts happen with the leaders in the dirty air of the cars on the tail end of the lead lap and they won’t be so quick to jump out to huge leads so easily. These are some of the big problems I see-throw in questionable cautions, horrible TV coverage, inconsistent enforcement of the rules, an uneven field re the distribution of money amongst teams and you have a sport that now sucks. If Brian france hadn’t done his best to ruin this sport (did I mention how horrible the chase si?) they wouldn’t have to depend on the fortunes of one driver; the product should and would speak for itself.

    I’ve watched this sport since th 60’s but I am so done with it. I don’t go to any races and might watch 15 minutes to get the “high lights” from my DVR.


  • Tom F says:

    1.How many times have we all seen kids inherit their parents companies, think the old man didn’t know crap and screw up a good thing? Ethanol..are you kidding me!
    2.Earnhardt gone, so no one to tell them to get their heads out of their behinds! The rest afraid to speak. 3.The fans have figured out there is no difference or relevance between the COT’s and what the auto mfg’ers make, so in our minds, mostly the mfg battles are gone. How long till mfg figure it out? You think sponsorship is tough now? 4.They killed the base with lack of loyalty, moving races, moving fans(camping) micromanaging races, by prices where families couldn’t afford to bring kids, killed the future fans! Price fixing the souvenir trailers, etc 5.Wedging folks in the stands like sardines to squeeze more then a buck!(You should have come out of the ivory tower a few yrs back if you wanted hob knob) Then allowing them to sit in parking lots or highways for hrs trying to get out of the track to get home without ever looking to improve the situation. 6. Drivers who won’t sign autographs and go out of their way to avoid the fans….etc etc. No Richard Pettys here! Just like with BMO, the regular folks eventually see through the BS.

  • Richard Moore says:

    You want the stands to fill back up, give the Crew chiefs something to work with.
    Better areo body’s so the leader’s doesnt have all the advantage of clean air, let them use any spring/ shock package, let them choose the gear ratio on drivetrain.
    The sport has been taken out of the innovator’s hands in the name of keeping costs down for the smaller teams, give them better body’s and
    lot of choices to choose from and the sport will be better and get rid of the plates.
    Yes some teams will rise quicker but not for long not all drivers like the same box or should I say Car of today, give back options and the crew chiefs and drivers will put on a better show with racing not this riding junk.
    NASCAR it’s not the fans it’s not even the economy it’s your product the COT with very small amount of adjustably and you mandating the packages under the wheels it’s killed the excitement, we all know who has what and who does better in these cars and who doesn’t and it won’t change till you give the choices back and change the damn body’s ugly cars

  • Terry says:

    Trevor and #21 were the fastest FORD out there. He was also ODD man out…..so he pushes YOUR CRAZY ROBBIE all day. For his troubles he gets caught in a KEEP YOUR WORD TO YOUR HERO……and shot at winning the race……or KEEP YOUR JOB and protect your friends Len Eddie and Wingo from JACK ROUSH….
    All because Kenseth needs help. Kenseth would NOT help Trevor or WBR if they were on fire……Matt the Brat is all about Matt….
    A 20 year old good kid is left twisting in the wind with FANS and the MEDIA……..it stinks plain and simple.

  • Russ says:

    I see more action every day on I-95 between Richmond and Washington than at a Nascar race! So why should I bother watching?

  • Mr. Tony Geinzer says:

    Having events go sour like this bugs me and I feel Dan Wheldon deserved more respect than half full seats and I know even the day Senna Passed had more decent attention in a good light. Come on Talladega and I want my races shorter.

  • cleo says:

    yup, we do the same thing. We watch the beginning of the race(??)and then enjoy a hockey game or football until the last say 30 laps of the race. Naps are good too! That riding around the back is such nonsense and if I where the sponsors, I would be yelping like crazy about that. This is supposed to be a race, not a 10 lap dash at the end. There is so much wrong right now with nascar, you simply do not know where to begin to fix it. When I pay to go to a race, I spend my money at the local dirt tracks where they really race every lap and fuel mileage is not an issue.

  • aginn says:

    jerseygirl is spot on with my feelings about nascar. i love racing and am tired of the “product” nascar is providing. i loved the sport when they had a semblance of a real car on the track. and it was much better racing when the rules were loose enough that the teams could inovate. as it stands now i turn the tv up and do other things around the house until the final few laps. then i watch, say maybe 20 laps. sad but true. go back to the old days and you will have some more people who come back. or stay with what you have created and watch this sport DIE. it is well on the way there without drastic changes back to where it used to be.

  • irvan fan says:

    well said jerseygirl

  • jerseygirl says:

    Phooey, NASCAR cannot blame its fall on Earnhardt Jr’s lack of wins any more than they should pin their hope for its rise in popularity again on him.

    NASCAR has become its own worst enemy with a car that, while safe, is a terrible race car and tracks where the majority of the event looks like a high speed parade. My daily commute on the highway has more passing than most “races” these days. Then you add the fake playoff’s into the mix with only 10 races on the same 10 tracks that usually produce boring races to begin with. Essentially I don’t need to watch it on TV until the last 20 laps, so why would I pay $ to GO to a race and be bored for 3/4 of the event? At least at home, I can do other things around the house and yard and watch when it matters.

    NASCAR and its management, or lack thereof, have done this to themselves. This all used to be fun and exciting, now it’s not.