Empty Seats, Economic Woes: Don't Blame NASCAR For All Of It

David YeazellSenior Analyst IFebruary 17, 2010

NASCAR’s racing season has started off on a positive note and things are looking up for the coming season.

The economy is still in a less than favorable position and the coming weeks will tell if race tracks on the circuit will return to a bountiful harvest or see more of the drought.

When pointing fingers and playing the blame game people most always accuse NASCAR of the problems.

NASCAR has stepped up and made some changes. Changes brought about by town hall meetings, online surveys, and marketing strategies geared more towards the fans instead of bottom lines.

There is certainly more to be done. As fans, it’s time to think outside the race track.

During my recent stay at Daytona for speed weeks, I made it a point to look at how the racing peripherals affect racing fans.

Food, lodging, and parking are three required essentials for race weekend.

Lodging around Daytona, and most other racing cities, is at a premium for racing events. A three day stay in a mid level hotel can average $200 a night. If Hilton is more your taste, then expect an average nightly charge of closer to $400.

A mid level hotel located eight miles from the track charged $259 for a room on Friday and Saturday night race weekend. That same room was $59 the Monday after the race.

A quick check of Expedia.com show’s hotel rooms for the upcoming Bristol race, if you can find any, averaging $200 plus a night

Raising the prices on product is basic economic strategy. Supply and demand is the core of microeconomics. Price gouging is not.

Restaurants seem to follow this supply and demand practice also: Maybe not as blatant as the hotels, but it is done.

Stopping for an early morning breakfast at a restaurant across from the track, I was handed a special “event” menu. Pricing was not listed. 

The selection was limited to one page and offered a variety of egg and meat combinations. I was told there were no possible deviations from the menu.

I ordered an egg and bacon combo, complete with two eggs, two strips of bacon and a 12 ounce drink. Total cost with tax was $12.60.

Tuesday morning after the race, from a regular menu, that same combo was less than $10. 

There are so many people involved in the race; networks, media, track personnel, parking at the track is usually reserved for those involved, or VIP’s.

The least expensive parking I could find was over a mile from the track and cost $40. The advertising sign was the same as all the others, no refunds, no returns, no rain checks.

It is easier to travel in groups. Costs are split among several people and it makes the financial burden a bit easier. It is however very easy for a race fan to have over $1000 dollars invested for the weekend before ever entering the track. This does not include the price of admission.

If a fan is willing to do a little digging, there are ways to minimize this cost and make it much easier to enjoy a race weekend.

Websites like Craigslist or VacationRentals.com have a variety of rental properties available from locals. Finding the owner and bypassing the rental management companies could save even more money.

A few miles north along highway A1A snaking the sandy shore’s of the Atlantic, lies the town of Ormond by the Sea.

Dotted along this road are condominiums, family owned hotels, and small housing communities.

It was just 23 minutes to the race track from the fourth floor two bedroom condo I found by searching Craigslist. After a few phone calls to the owner and some paperwork, I had a home base on the beach for 11 days at a cost of $850.

Sharing this with another media person brought the total daily cost down to $38.63 per night.

If home style living suits you better, then just around the corner in the bedroom community of Barrier Isle you can find a bed and breakfast owned by Miss Louise.

Nestled inside the contemporary style home are an upstairs apartment with private entrance, home style cooking, family pictures, two dogs, and a woman with a heart of gold.

No worries about the price gouging restaurants, Miss Louise will fix you a hearty breakfast complete with eggs, poached, scrambled or otherwise, coffee, orange juice and, at no extra charge, add a dash of great conversation.

If you long for the family atmosphere and more conversation, that’s not a problem. On any given day Susan, Kevin, or a host of other friends can be found at the round breakfast table soaking up the adventures of the most recent guest and sharing adventures of their own.

Exercise is a big part of life, and staying with Miss Louise is no different. Grab a leash and take one of her two dogs for a walk around this beautiful neighborhood squeezed between the Atlantic Ocean and the inter-coastal waterway.

Need more? No problem. Ask Miss Louise about movie night. Invitations are as unlimited as the movies and the fun. Find yourself relaxing with a glass of wine, cheese cubes, great conversation with imperfect strangers who make perfect friends, and good movies like Fly Away Home or The Bridges of Madison County.  

Relax, enjoy, let things happened and watch them unfold. Create memories.

All this for around 80 bucks a night.

NASCAR has no control on the local economy or how they structure pricing during events. This structure does however have an impact on attendance, especially in tough economic times.  Next time you’re off to a race and money is tight, look around at the local opportunities. You may be lucky enough to find a gem.

I did.