Dover, Dale – Chase Elliott noted that Dover’s grandstands passed the eye test and looked fuller on Sunday before rain washed away the race’s conclusion.
A track that became smaller in size – and races – had full sections in recent years, with hundreds of fans chasing driver autographs, crowding at entertainment events, and voting for a country music festival at the property’s annual concert. seemed fitting for a popular act.
At least one Delaware native liked the view.
“It’s like a festival atmosphere,” said actor and speeding driver Ryan Phillippe. “What’s going on with concerts outside, and inside, it seems like much more than just a race to me.”
The advertising wires covering the once empty sections at Dover Motor Speedway went on a rainy Monday: completely gone.
“Yesterday we had a big crowd,” Elliott said after winning the race on Monday. “I’ve personally seen the biggest crowd here since I’ve been running, which I thought was really cool. Proud to see it.”
Dover’s attendance rebound after two years of pandemic restrictions – and shrinking for more than a decade even before 2020 – was to boost the track needed in its first race under new management.
Long independently owned, Speedway Motorsports bought Dover Motorsports late last year and added Monster Mile to its growing collection of tracks. And who doesn’t want to impress the new boss, especially when the boss – in this case, Speedway Motorsports president Marcus Smith – worked at Dover Gates and greeted fans with track short-staff on Monday.
Dover had already moved its fall race to a new location. Perhaps doing poorly this weekend will have Speedway Motorsports considering bumping Dover off the slate to a sexier new site altogether. The old mile concrete track still has legs: Mike Burch, COO of Speedway Motorsports, said the plan was to keep Dover on the NASCAR schedule, as it has since 1969.
“Nobody ever looked to make changes to the concluded events,” Burch said. “If the fans want us to continue racing here, the racing is good, the support is here, yes, absolutely.”
Dover’s second race was moved to Nashville Superspeedway the previous season. Speedway Motorsports property New Hampshire Motor Speedway, a track with an anemic presence, kept its summer date, but the September race weekend was moved to Las Vegas in 2018. Pocono, who ran doubleheader weekends in each of the last two years, lost a race this season at Gateway Raceway in the St. Louis area.
For those keeping score, there are three lost dates in the Northeast corridor in a span of just four years. But the bleeding may stop.
“Given where we are, there’s never been any sort of discussion about us losing a race,” said Dover president Mike Tatian. “I have no reason to believe we won’t be running here for long.”
Burch said NASCAR’s footprint in the region has changed, but the series does not intend to leave the arena. The road course at Watkins Glen in New York runs in August. NASCAR dumped tracks in the Chicago area and Kentucky over the years in favor of revived markets like Nashville, or tried bolder ideas in new ones like racing on asphalt tracks inside Memorial Coliseum.
With the industry excited to revamp its schedule, there’s no guarantee your grandparents will be around to pick up your grandchildren from the old tracks you watched.
“I don’t think there is any desire to leave the market,” Burch said. “But if you want to open new markets, unfortunately, to go to different markets, you have to look at losing a race. But you have to think really long and hard before you leave the market altogether.”
The reality is that no developers are building the tracks, which means that any potential new dates will have to be held at man-made entertainment sites (such as in Los Angeles), city street races, or millions of people on old ones. Investing in the rehabilitation of tracks such as the Nashville Fairgrounds will have to be invested.
“Can you support this long term? I think with the opening ceremony you can be successful almost anywhere,” Burch said. “We definitely saw that when we went to Nashville last year. Or Circuit of the Americas. The key is, is it sustainable?”
Dover’s purchase of Speedway Motorsports leaves the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (good luck getting the key from Roger Penske) and Pocono Raceway as the last independent track. When it comes to Pocono, Burch said Speedway Motorsports is always open for business.
Burch spoke about Dover’s staff, guest services from upper management, as well as the Monster Mile’s proximity to major cities, within walking distance of a casino/hotel, and the attractions of the Firefly Music Festival. Fans ride off the birch on golf carts to the parking lot and pick their brains for the reaction. After Sunday’s rain, fans just needed an earlier start time. You can also throw it in the light.
“We are very pleased with where we are with all those key performance measures,” Tatian said. “Admission is one of them. Corporate participation. Sponsorship is another.”
NASCAR and its tracks do not reveal attendance numbers.
Burch said from what he saw in Dover, where Monday’s turnout was a better than average Xfinity Series race, it’s as sustainable as a NASCAR weekend in the long haul. And in Dover, which had a free gift-giving kiosk for fans locking in on-site 2023 tickets, drivers are stumped as to keep the race on schedule. But as fans from across the field hopped on golf carts, Birch had an easy solution for those concerned about the fate of the track.
Next time, bring a friend. Or two or three. Because Dover is a great place to race, “as long as it’s supported.”
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