Race Weekend Central

Full Throttle: Don’t Look Now, NASCAR Racing Is Getting Popular Again

This past weekend saw quite a bit of racing around the country as many local short tracks kicked off their 2011 racing seasons and the Truck Series rolled into Darlington, S.C. Not only was the racing exciting, but the fans turned out in droves to see the action on the track. It would appear as though the re-emergence of NASCAR racing among the most popular sports in America is not limited to just the Cup Series.

2010 saw the Camping World Truck Series return to Darlington Raceway, after a six-year absence, however there wasn’t a lot of local publicity in the local area and the crowd was far from impressive. This season the race was moved to the spring due to some schedule shuffling and the track put forth a much more concerted effort toward promoting the race. The media exposure, combined with a $15 general admission ticket and $15 pit pass offer saw the front straight grandstand filled to near capacity. That was easily a 100% increase in attendance from the race late last summer.

But Darlington wasn’t the only track that saw great crowds over the weekend. The NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour and Whelen All-American Series both kicked off the racing season at Caraway Speedway outside of Asheboro, N.C. The combination of the two series, great weather and a drop in ticket price all combined to have one of the largest crowds seen in quite some time at the track.

The first turn grandstand was completely filled, the main grandstand was at least 75% filled and the outside fence parking was not only filled but people were on the hill sides beyond the backstretch trying to catch a glimpse of the on-track excitement.

South Boston kicked off their racing season with a Saturday afternoon show (March 12) that saw former national champion Peyton Sellers break a nearly six-year drought at the legendary speedway. Not only was it a great day for Sellers, but it was a great day for the track with a crowd very comparable to the packed houses that they routinely see when the season comes to an end. The race also saw 26 cars take the green flag, which is a very solid field for a weekly race show.

The increase in numbers did not stop there. The UARA series raced at Hickory Motor Speedway and not only was the racing exciting at the Birthplace of NASCAR Stars, it also saw a tremendous crowd that not only filled the stands but spilled over to the outside of the fence in turns 3 and 4. The crowd was witness to a new track record in qualifying by Kyle Grissom, the son of former Nationwide series champion Steve Grissom, and the debut of George Miedecke, driving for Marcos Ambrose, who finished second in the race.

Additionally, Greenville-Pickens opened their season with twin 50-lap Whelen All-American races that played to a full house. Anderson Speedway held their season opener with the PASS South Super Late Model series on Saturday. Like all of the other tracks, the stands were loaded with enthusiastic race fans.

The ratings for the Cup Series have been up for the first three races of the season. The number of people attempting to make the races in the national touring series have been up with multiple cars being sent home from most of the races on the first three weekends including three trucks this past weekend from Darlington. Ticket sales for the Daytona 500 were up over last season, and the Phoenix Cup Series race was a sellout. The local short-track season is starting up and the initial attendance has been up over previous years at most of the venues.

The economy may be crawling out of the recession but there is no doubt that the racing recession is coming to an end and the result is more fans in the stands and more people spending money on race cars to compete. If the rest of the year can continue the gain in momentum our sport will be even stronger by the time we head back to the tracks in 2012.

About the author

What is it that Mike Neff doesn’t do? The writer, radio contributor and racetrack announcer coordinates the site’s local short track coverage, hitting up Saturday Night Specials across the country while tracking the sport’s future racing stars. The writer for our signature Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Friday with Tech Talk. Mike announces several shows each year for the Good Guys Rod and Custom Association. He also pops up everywhere from PRN Pit Reporters and the Press Box with Alan Smothers to SIRIUS XM Radio. He has announced at tracks all over the Southeast, starting at Millbridge Speedway. He's also announced at East Lincoln Speedway, Concord Speedway, Tri-County Speedway, Caraway Speedway, and Charlotte Motor Speedway.

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