When it comes to NASCAR’s top racing series at Bristol Motor Speedway, you have to go all the way back to 1982 to find a race that wasn’t a sell-out. This weekend’s Sprint Cup Food City 500 should, according to Track President Jeff Byrd, be the venue’s 54th consecutive sell-out. Its official capacity (since 2003) is 160,000, and if Bristol keeps the streak intact, it was not without a serious effort on the track’s part.
In an exclusive interview, Byrd told TicketNews, “This is uncharted territory for us,” meaning the track hasn’t had to hustle so much to sell tickets. Bristol dramatically boosted its advertising efforts, especially in Ohio. The track’s research found that’s where the second-most number of Bristol NASCAR race fans come from. Radio and the internet are the primary media. Byrd admitted, “We’ve never had to do this before!”
Byrd said that grandstand sales to corporate customers were down, putting the streak at risk. So the venue took those tickets and made them available to the regular race-going public. Byrd was quoted as saying that “when corporations returned tickets, they went into the hands of fans, and that’s not a bad thing.” As of March 18, the track estimated less than 1,000 tickets remained for the Sunday, March 22 Sprint Cup race.
Historically, getting tickets to a Bristol Sprint Cup race – there are two each year – has been one of the toughest tickets in sports. Even with its massive capacity of 160,000, Bristol sell-outs came fast and early. The stands surround a .533-mile, all-concrete (as opposed to the typical asphalt) oval race track, and that short track-length, combined with very steep banking (up to 30 degrees), results in a unique “bull ring” motorsport spectacle when 43 snarling Sprint Cup race cars are unleashed.
Unlike some other NASCAR venues, which have reportedly lowered ticket and concession prices, Bristol said it held the line; $93 to $133 for most grandstand seats. Byrd said Bristol’s fans did not ask for cheaper tickets, but instead “wanted more to do when they got here.” So the track organized additional attractions – wanna watch a half-dozen of NASCAR’s top stars get down and dirty with some popular video games? – and moved its annual Friday Food City Race Night, previously held off-site, back to the track grounds. (“That’s going to be a big, big hit,” Byrd told TicketNews.)
Seating prices (as opposed to RV/Infield tickets, which Bristol, for lack of room, does not sell) at other 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup venues range from $75 to $85 at Pocono International Raceway and $40 to $110 at Michigan International Speedway, to Atlanta Motor Speedway’s $39 to $135 and Daytona’s $80 to $140.
Byrd said Bristol’s 197 skyboxes remained full despite the decrease in grandstand seat sales to corporate clients, although total corporate hospitality sales were soft.
“Here’s the irony,” Byrd said. “If I end up 500 seats short of a sell-out, we’re going to get painted with the ‘failure’ brush. Yet, as usual, it’s still going to be the third largest motorsport spectator event of the year [behind the Indy 500 and the Daytona 500]! But you know, all I care about is taking care of the fans – they’re the ones that sign our paycheck.”