Tracks double down on camping business
While NASCAR venues have grappled with lower grandstand attendance over the last decade, one area of the business that is booming heading into 2018 is camping, according to track executives.
In a sport known for its Americana ethos and appeal to outdoorsmen, NASCAR is unlike its stick-and-ball brethren in that families and friends routinely camp in and around tracks for days around NASCAR race weekends. In response, several tracks have rolled out promotions, activities and themed camping areas to accommodate this increasingly reliable revenue stream.
Auto Club Speedway near Los Angeles has 2,300 RV camping spots, including 1,900 in its infield. The track has a 97 percent renewal rate with infield campers and a 500-person waiting list for infield camping. It sold out of infield camping for this spring’s NASCAR national series race weekend last November and is close to selling out the other 400 spots located outside the confines of the track.
“Really when it comes down to it, it’s the fans — they’re the ones who create the atmosphere,” said Dave Allen, president of Auto Club Speedway. “Are they watching the race the whole time? No. Are they having a good social time? Yeah.”
To help celebrate its 20th anniversary last year, Auto Club introduced a “Neon Nineties” infield theme. That included activities such as having the hundreds of campers who bring bicycles participate in a “pedal party” where they decorated their bikes with neon lights and glow sticks and rode through areas of the venue, including the track’s backstretch. Auto Club also has a 5,000-square-foot pop-up Vons grocery store in the middle of the infield to serve campers. Allen said the pop-up version offers products at usual in-store prices and “becomes the main artery of the infield.”
At Watkins Glen International in New York, the staff has created about a half-dozen themed camping areas that fans can choose from depending on the atmosphere they’re seeking. The track, which has close to 5,500 camping spots, has one area that’s designed for families; it has earlier quiet hours and is patrolled more often by security. The track last year added a millennial camping area, which had lower ticket prices, concession coupons and drinking games.
“[International Speedway Corp.] is looking at this as a good segment to grow the sport because we’re seeing 20-year-olds buy camping experiences,” said Michael Printup, president of Watkins Glen International, who added that the millennial area nearly sold out. “We see 10 kids come, bring a tent and have a ball; they’re there partying, and they’re just there having a good time.”
Additional twists on the camping experience include tracks offering “glamping,” or glamorous camping, which is a premium experience that comes with tents and amenities. WGI recently added “glamping,” and it’s charging $750 for four cots, $800 for two twin beds and $950 for one queen bed. Bristol Motor Speedway and Indianapolis Motor Speedway recently signed on to experiment with Try it Tiny’s Tiny House Hotel, which is a downsized version of a house that’s dropped off at your camping space. Bristol is charging $2,500 for a five-night package around its spring race weekend. IMS’s package for the Indiapanolis 500, which includes four general-admission tickets to the IndyCar Series race, costs $3,000 for the weekend.
At Texas Motor Speedway, the track typically has tens of thousands of campers each NASCAR national series race weekend, with the high-water mark being 40,000 several years ago, said President Eddie Gossage. Gossage made headlines last November when he told The Fort Worth Star-Telegram that he opposed trying a two-day NASCAR show at his venue because “there will be no camping,” which “is the one revenue stream that is increasing.” NASCAR’s race weekends for its premier series typically span three days.
Gossage said that given the increasing recognition of the value of campers, the track this year is going to start a program where it will go around to campsites during the course of the weekend and give out superlative awards for things like “best use of a tiki bar.”
“It’s something all tracks are enjoying good success with,” Gossage said of camping. “It’s part of the tradition and culture of NASCAR.”