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Volume 22 No. 32
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Charlotte discusses removing grandstand

Charlotte Motor Speedway has discussed tearing down its backstretch grandstand, a move that would eliminate almost 40,000 seats and make it the latest in a series of NASCAR tracks to reduce capacity.

CMS President Marcus Smith has talked about the idea of eliminating the Diamond Tower Terrace and funneling fans into the main grandstand, where they can see the facility’s video board and pit road, according to sources.

The Diamond Tower Terrace, on the Charlotte Motor Speedway backstretch, holds 37,000 fans and 37 suites.
The terrace, which runs from Turn 2 to halfway down the backstretch, holds 37,000 spectators and 37 suites. The track has 140,000 total seats.

Speedway Motorsports Inc. owns the track, and the decision would require approval by Bruton Smith, its chairman and largest shareholder. Sources said it’s one of several ideas the track is considering as it looks at ways to improve the race-day experience for fans in the future.

Scott Cooper, Charlotte Motor Speedway’s vice president of communications, said the idea of getting rid of the Diamond Tower Terrace is not under consideration. “We don’t have any information to share at this time regarding potential capital improvements,” Cooper said.

But over the past month, sources said, track officials have proposed the idea of replacing the Diamond Tower Terrace with a concrete slab for motor homes, and have told the sales staff not to sell tickets for that space for the Coca-Cola 600 race in May. The revamped space would serve as an extension of the 600 Terrace between Turn 1 and Turn 2 that typically sells out for fans bringing motor homes to races.

The potential seat reduction at CMS falls in line with what other motorsports venues are doing to eliminate thousands of seats they haven’t been able to sell for NASCAR races during the past several years.

For example, International Speedway Corp.’s Daytona International Speedway, as part of the track’s $400 million renovation, is reducing its capacity to 101,000 from 147,000 by eliminating backstretch seats and increasing the size of new seats tied to the upgrades. Richmond International Raceway, also owned by ISC, will reduce its capacity by 10,000 before next season.

John Saunders, president of ISC, said the company will be reducing capacity at other tracks in the future in hopes that limiting ticket supply will increase demand. He added that details on other track reductions will be released at a later date.

Combined ticket revenue at ISC and SMI, which host the majority of NASCAR’s Sprint Cup races, has decreased by more than $175 million since 2007, or roughly 41 percent. “To get out of this quagmire, we’ve got to get our capacity down,” Saunders said.

In Charlotte, seats in the Diamond Tower Terrace rank among the speedway’s least desirable because they have no views of pit road and the giant video screen the track installed along the backstretch in 2011. As a result, those seats often go unsold and are tarped off for NASCAR events. The suites above are mostly used for trade-outs with corporate partners instead of being sold on the open market, sources said.

H.A. “Humpy” Wheeler, a consultant and Charlotte Motor Speedway’s former president and general manager, said eliminating the “second-turn seats” would help the facility get back to the days when the facility sold out 24 consecutive May races.

Wheeler was in charge when SMI built the Diamond Tower Terrace. The first expansion added 26,000 seats in 1997 followed by an 11,000-seat addition the following year. It came during a time when NASCAR was booming and tracks were drawing full crowds at 100,000-plus-seat facilities.

Not all superspeedways have seating along the backstretch, which Wheeler equates to the right-field bleacher seats at a ballpark. Wheeler said he debated the issue with Bruton Smith, Speedway Motorsports’ owner and CEO. Smith won out in the end and the Diamond Tower Terrace was built, Wheeler said.

“It was a bold move,” Wheeler said. “But I remember what [former NASCAR Chairman] Bill France Jr. once said — don’t ever add more than 5,000 seats at a time, and if you sell out two straight years, then add another 5,000.”