If you watched yesterday's race at Dover you'd have to have been blind to have missed all those empty seats at the track. Unfortunately that is a sight that has been very common at the Monster Mile since about 2009.
It's hard to say what could be the cause of the rapid decrease in attendance at Dover. Is it the economy? Ticket prices? The racing? What can be done to fix it? And what should be done if the problem is never fixed?
My family goes to the September Dover race every year. I've been going since 1996, but my father has been going even before the track surface was changed from asphalt to concrete in 1995. Since then the track has added an incredible amount of seating. The seating capacity at Dover is about 140,000, which gives Dover one of the highest seating capacities in the sport.
But the ticket prices increased at the same rate as the seating capacity. When my father started going to Dover at the start of the 90s he was paying around $75 to sit near the 30th row in turn four. Up until three years ago we were paying $95 a ticket to sit in row 36 in turn four. Dover is certainly not the only track to raise ticket prices, and some tracks are even more expensive than a good ticket at Dover. It is certainly possible that ticket prices played a factor in the decrease in attendance at recent Dover races.
However, if that is truly the case, why have the fans not come back since Dover changed their ticket pricing structure two years ago? If you buy a ticket for the September race before the start of January, you can have my seat for $75 again. If you buy before August ends, it's $85. If you buy any time after that you're back to full price. But to be paying $75 again for that seat is a steal. I've been to many race tracks and I've never paid below $90 to have a seat of that quality. So if the fans have yet to come back after the drop in prices, that clearly isn't the problem.
Is the problem the racing? It's certainly plausible, but then again the racing at Dover really hasn't changed much since the race distances were shortened from 500 to 400 miles.
One thing that could certainly be keeping the fans away are hotel prices. If you plan to stay within 25 minutes of the race track you will be paying at least $250-300 a night with a two-night minimum requirement. My family stays an hour south of the race track because it's the cheapest we can find for what we consider to be a quality hotel.
I've been going to Dover for a long time. I've seen the track sell-out for a long time, even at 140,000 seats, and now I'm watching the attendance decrease. I have to say that it is quite depressing. I love Dover. It is my Disney World. I hate seeing so many seats around the track. But I'm thankful for the fact that Dover is a privately owned track, otherwise it would have lost a date by now. I really hope that doesn't happen.
Tony Stewart finally broke his dry spell. He made it back to victory lane for the first time since Daytona last July. And he did so at a race track that he has been terrible at for a while now, in a season that he has greatly struggled.
It appears that Stewart might finally be turning things around. Stewart now has two straight top-10 finishes. He finished seventh at Charlotte two races ago.
Stewart got the win by chasing down and driving past Juan Pablo Montoya with three laps left. Those were the only laps he had led all race long.
Even more impressive than Stewart's driving was Steve Addington's pit calls that put Stewart in position to get the win. Addington has been under pressure recently since rumors started swirling that he would be fired if Stewart's performance didn't improve.