SBJ/Feb. 14-20, 2011/In Depth

Walking distance, alcohol tolerance



NASCAR is the ultimate community sport. You may be a fan of the Carolina Panthers or Boston Red Sox or New York Yankees, but when was the last time you spent a weekend camping with other fans of your team? When was the last time you sat down at a ballpark and had the guy in front of you offer you a nacho or a beer? That, at its core, is what differentiates NASCAR from its sporting peers, and it is the underpinning of why our panelists love the sport.
NASCAR is in the process of analyzing nine of its tracks in hopes of improving the fan experience. We talked to our panelists to find out what they would do to improve attending races. The biggest recommendations were that tracks control spectator drunkenness, eliminate smoking and improve communication with fans.

What would you improve about the race experience?

Helen: No smoking in my face, please. That’s probably the only thing. I love that Charlotte’s making improvements. I love that Bristol makes improvements every time I go. I love that there is interaction between the drivers. I wish that they would be less celebrity and more appreciative of their fans.

NASCAR has been analyzing tracks in hopes of improving the fan experience.
: It’s a track-to-track thing. I have criticisms about each track I go to. It would be difficult to say what all tracks should do to make a better experience. I go to races on the East Coast and I go to races on the West Coast. There’s, for some reason, a difference between what you can and cannot bring into a racetrack between the East and West Coast. When I go to Richmond, we can bring a cooler and we can bring food in, but when I go to Phoenix, I can’t do it. That’s just one of them. You can bring a cooler in but you can’t bring beer in. I’m not going to say how much money that costs me.

Terri: The only track that needs some more understanding of fan experience is my favorite track: Darlington. Behind the new Brasington Grandstand, there’s this enormous gate that they have that they let the golf carts in and out. It’s also the closest. They make the fans walk. When I’m looking at the grandstands and looking at this big open gate and I’ve already walked half a mile in this 95-degree heat and you’re going to make me walk another 500 feet … I can do it, whatever, but for some of these people, it’s hard to get around. The one thing SMI tracks do is transportation. Mobility around the track. To see that at other tracks would be good, considering how many people have a hard time getting around.

Bo: I’ve had pretty good experiences at tracks. The one thing I always go back to is: Some people just can’t drink enough. The next thing you know, they’re passed out behind you. The first thing people say about a NASCAR race is, “You get to bring your own beer in.” Well, some people just can’t handle it. I like my beer, but I only walk in with four or five in a cooler. I don’t walk in with a case and get inebriated over a 400-mile race. I wish if there was one thing they could control, it’s the amount of alcohol that’s actually flowing. It ruins the fan experience for a lot of people who are there to enjoy the race.

Could they address that by having a section for drinking and a section for sober fans?

Bo: There’s a part of the track at Richmond that’s nonalcoholic, but you run into the people at the bathroom. It isn’t like an educational experience for your kids that you’d want to take them to, seeing some guy that’s half passed out in the bathroom.

Kevin: That’s an interesting point. I’ve been going to races for a long time. I’ve gone to a lot of IndyCar races, specifically the Indy 500, and it was always, always a big party. More people were there to party than to watch the race. That was one of the things in the early days that attracted me to NASCAR. NASCAR fans were racing fans first and you didn’t have the same sort of uncontrollable drinking at NASCAR races as IndyCar races. And don’t get me wrong, I’m a drinker. I’m not opposed to it, but I’ve noticed over the last five or six years that NASCAR fans are starting to get up there at the same level of rowdiness and drunkenness that IndyCar fans were at 20 years ago.

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