Packin It In

I love hearing from the fans. As a media person, you can sometimes get a bit removed from what the folks who support auto racing are really thinking.

But through my work with RacingOne as well as my broadcasting jobs, I get a chance to hear what's on the minds of fans. Whether it's e-mail (pete@racingOne.com) or questions from callers on radio and television, I'm fortunate enough to have at least some insight on what race fans are thinking.

And lately I've been deluged with cries from many upset fans with a recently introduced ticket policy called the "Track Pack." Introduced by Chicagoland Speedway and its sister track Kansas Speedway a couple years ago, the "Track Pack" policy forces fans to buy tickets for the entire season of events rather than just choosing individual races to attend.

If you want to witness this year's Tropicana 400 at Chicagoland Speedway in July, you have to buy tickets for that weekend's Busch race as well as the September IRL/ARCA weekend. Same with Kansas Speedway which also hosts a Cup/Busch doubleheader as well as an IRL weekend. You simply cannot just buy a ticket to one race without signing up for the track's whole schedule.

Both these tracks were added to the Winston Cup schedule in 2001 and the policy has been in effect since Day One. And, not surprisingly, both have sold out their "Track Pack" plans every year, which means 75,000 or so fans have been willing to plunk down the necessary cash for the whole package.

But in reality the only reason these plans sell is because of the Winston Cup weekend. How else can you explain that despite the race being a "sellout," the September IRL race at Joliet has seen a half empty grandstand both seasons. Never mind that the IRL puts on a great race at Joliet every year, lots of people wind up eating perfectly good tickets. And although the stands at the Kansas IndyCar events have been more than half full, they've been far short of SRO.

Imagine going to the movie theater this weekend to see the new John Cusack movie "Identity" and being forced to also buy a ticket for "The Real Cancun." That's pretty much the movie version of the "Track Pack" policy.

Now as I said, I've heard lots of cries from fans this season in particular, even more than when both these tracks opened, claiming the policy stinks and it is little more than being held up in broad daylight. But I guess for every fan who feels that way there are two more willing to lay down the extra money. It's free enterprise and if the market will sustain the cost then the tracks are well within their right.

But you have to wonder how long there will be enough demand to meet this supply. Especially in this economy of downsizing and layoffs and inflation, how long can these high ticket prices (not to mention jacked up RV rentals at the race tracks and inflated area hotel prices for those who choose to travel to the races) continue? Other sports are suffering at the gate this year big time and rather than looking at the current picture, the people in NASCAR-land should really be looking down the road.

I predict it won't be long before Winston Cup racing becomes more of a television event than a live in-person one. More night races and other concessions to the television "partners" will continue to erode the fan base that actually show up in the grandstands. (Can you believe they would even consider taking the Southern 500 off the schedule and move Labor Day to Fontana?)

NASCAR, its drivers, team owners and track owners are always quick to point out how great the fans are. But then why are they always treated so poorly?

Oh well, I can ponder that while I sit through "The Real Cancun."

Related Topics:

NASCAR Sprint Cup, 2003

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