Race Weekend Central

Dialing It In: Running on Empty – If NASCAR Attendance Falls, Blame the Gas Tank – Not the Fans

The first three races of the 2011 season have seen incredible action and compelling storylines, producing one of the best starts to a season in years. In addition, attendance and television ratings have already seen a marked improvement over the past few seasons. The estimated attendance at Daytona was 182,000, for Phoenix it was 75,000 and in Las Vegas the estimate was 152,000 – all significant increases over last year.

Along with the attendance numbers, Daytona’s television ratings were up 17%, the Phoenix race was the most viewed in the track’s history, up 56% from its spring event last year and 13% from last year’s race at Auto Club Speedway (then the second race of the season). Las Vegas also showed a dramatic increase in ratings, up 34% over last season.

While some have questioned whether or not the break in momentum caused by the early off week would turn fans away, it seems a much larger issue could curtail attendance not only this weekend, but the remainder of the year.

For those not fully aware, many North African and Arab nations are currently undergoing mass demonstrations and clashes as citizens are fighting for their freedoms long suppressed by dictators and authoritative rulers such as Muammar Gaddafi in Libya. This particular conflict – which is becoming more and more violent – has disrupted oil outputs primarily to Europe, but has also had worldwide effects as well.

Perhaps more unsettling than the conflict in Libya has been the violent crackdown on protests in Saudi Arabia and the fact Saudi soldiers crossed the border into Bahrain this week to help quell that country’s increasing domestic protests.

The more conflict and unrest in these oil-producing areas, the more worrisome the markets become – especially when it comes to the price of crude oil. Due to speculation in the markets, Brent crude raised as high as $110 a barrel, while U.S. crude oil rose to $105, according to Reuters. These prices mean the man changing the signs at the gas station has a busier job than ever and more and more money is going into the gas tank, and not into things such as going to NASCAR races.

With Saudi Arabia sending troops into Libya and clashes continuing in other oil producing regions, it seems there is little relief ahead. U.S. Representative Joe Courtney of Connecticut’s Second Congressional District wrote in Wednesday’s The Huffington Post:

Even as American oil supplies remained secure and ample – even as domestic oil production is at its highest level since 2003 – the price of crude in the commodities market is spiking ever upward. The price of gasoline has gone up more than 40 cents over the past three weeks nationally and it continues to trend higher.

Tom Kloza, head of the Oil Price Information Service, said that not only could gas prices continue to rise, but if unrest continues in the Middle East, the cost per gallon could spike to $5 or more.

Now, what does this have to do with NASCAR? The answer is simple. The broad fanbase of NASCAR is blue-collar working class Americans – we’re not talking about those situated in the fully stocked, all you can eat suites. Families already struggling through some of the worst economic times since the Great Depression are already spending massive amounts of money to attend a race – a family of four would pay over $350 for tickets alone to this weekend’s race at Bristol.

Throw in the outrageous hotel prices in the area surrounding any track and now gas soaring higher and higher, it seems like going to races is only getting more difficult financially.

Currently, gas prices in Charlotte, N.C. are creeping closer to $3.70 every day, while Bristol, Tenn. has prices near $3.40. Typically, gas prices in the summer months and around holidays such as Memorial Day (Coca-Cola 600) and the Fourth of July (Coke Zero 400) tend to see dramatic rises already. If the turmoil half a world away continues or worsens, making the trip to those summer races could potentially cost far more than most working-class families can afford.

If this is to occur and grandstands start to appear thinner and thinner, it will be easy to fall into the situation where pundits and writers criticize NASCAR, blame the racing or even the fans for not showing up, however it is important not to do this.

See also
Matt McLaughlin Mouths Off: NASCAR Racing Against the Media-ocrity

What will be a good indication of whether or not the fans are still paying attention to the sport, however, will be the television ratings. While it may become increasingly difficult for lower and middle class fans to attend the races in person, they can typically find it on their TV sets at home.

Attending a NASCAR race is a luxury and not everyone has the means to enjoy a race in person, especially if economic times continue to worsen. Perhaps there are simply more important things in life such as house payments, utility bills, food costs and putting gas in the car simply to get to work that will get in the way of a trip to the racetrack for the day. If this is true, we cannot blame the fans.

About the author

The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.

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