Racing turnout suffers

Posted: Thursday, October 25, 2001

HAMPTON, Ga. -- Billboards throughout the south side of Atlanta many within earshot of the Atlanta Motor Speedway have promoted the races at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway for the past two months.

Competition for the racing dollar has become so fierce in a suddenly fickle economy, raceways are reaching beyond their own turf to generate business.

Nearly 50,000 seats sat empty earlier this month at Lowe's Motor Speedway near Charlotte, N.C. About 40,000 seats went unsold for Sunday's race at Talladega.

As of Wednesday, this week's race at Phoenix In ter national Raceway was not a sellout. Neither were No vem ber races at Rockingham, N.C.; Home stead, Fla.; and Atlanta.

When money gets tight, apparently racing is an expendable luxury.

''It is tougher,'' said Atlanta Motor Speedway president Ed Clark. ''And there are a lot of factors. But it will pass.''

Clark can be optimistic be cause he believes in the quality of the product. Racing, especially at Atlanta, can be breathtaking. Two of Atlanta's past three races have ended in photo finishes the kind of conclusion that at least attempts to justify the cost of attending a race.

Thousands of Atlanta Braves fans were angry about $41 up per-deck tickets for the National League Championship Series against Arizona, and they showed it by staying away from the park.

With more than 10,000 empty seats for Game 5 on Sun day, Turner Field held the smal lest crowd ever to see a league championship series game.

Tickets for the NAPA 500 on Nov. 18 will cost at least twice as much as the ones for the baseball playoffs. The expected crowd could be the smallest for a fall race since the raceway expanded in 1997.

Clark said the reduction of corporate tickets has hit the speedway hard. The same happened at Lowe's Motor Speed way, where the majority of seats on the backstretch and turns were unused.

''Corporate sales make up about 35 percent of our business,'' Clark said. ''We've seen the effect of that. The thing is, it's not just us. It's everybody. It will pass. What we have to do is tighten up our belts, and we'll get through it.''

The financial pinch is being felt inside the garage area. Eight teams are looking for new sponsorship, and each is finding the search to be more difficult than ever before.

''Sponsorship has gotten so expensive,'' said Stacy Compton, driver of the Melling Racing Dodge. ''I've said it before: I hope they don't kill the golden goose. It's gotten so expensive where there are a lot of people that can't afford this anymore.''

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