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WAID’S WORLD: Reducing Seats At Tracks Reflects What Has Come To Be

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Have to say it’s interesting that Martinsville Speedway is reducing its number of seats. By doing so, it is following a trend that has been long established by several other NASCAR tracks.

Many speedways have reconfigured their seating arrangements by reducing their capacity. In some cases the changes have been dramatic.

Charlotte Motor Speedway has removed all its backstretch seats, or at least converted them into blocks of advertising accompanied by a massive, one-of-a-kind video screen.

Daytona International Speedway made perhaps the most dramatic transition. It, too, removed seats from its long backstretch.

But, as you probably know, it completely revamped everywhere else. It’s hard to describe, at least for me, but Daytona is now perhaps the most visibly spectacular speedway and the most accommodating for the fans.

However, it does not have the amount of seating it once did.

Martinsville is removing rows of seats from the top of the Bill France Tower between turns three and four, and all of the seats above the press box in turns one and two.

Speedway President Clay Campbell is the grandson of track founder H. Clay Earles and has acquired much of the senior’s business and marketing acumen.

Campbell explained that the seats being eliminated were too high and difficult for fans to reach. This created logistical problems.

Campbell added that it would be far easier for fans not to have to negotiate 10 stories to get to their seats. It took 180 stair steps to reach the top row at the press box. As high as the chairs were, they weren’t high enough to install elevators.

Campbell’s logic is spot on. If you have been to Martinsville and seen those tall towers you might well have reached the conclusion I have:

To wit, if a fan seated near or at the top of one of those towers slipped in the aisle it would result in a harrowing, uninterrupted plunge.

I know, it sounds a bit melodramatic. But that’s what I thought each time I looked up and tried not to get dizzy.

Campbell admitted there was another reason for the removal of the seats. Attendance at Martinsville – or just about any other track – is down, so much so that a reduction in capacity is necessary.

At Martinsville it’s the logistically challenging seats that are being taken away.

At Daytona and Charlotte the backstretch seating, the cheapest and least favorable for fan viewing, were taken away. Other tracks have followed the same strategy.

All of this is dramatically different from what was once a boom in speedway expansion. There was a time – in the early 1990s – when tracks added seats.

They felt they had to. It was a time of booming popularity for NASCAR. What was then its Winston Cup Series had attracted public attention on an unimaginable scale.

The addition of new venues such as Las Vegas, Kansas City and Chicago – each magnificently groomed to lure fans – fueled that.

With booming track attendance, some of NASCAR’s older facilities, several of which were 30 years old or older, found themselves at a crossroads.

NASCAR held all the cards. If they didn’t manage to keep up with the capacity and amenities of the new facilities, their continued existence was doubtful.

So they began making changes, one of which was to greatly increase seating. Nearly every speedway found the means to add capacity, among other things, to protect its place in NASCAR.

Some tracks, such as Bristol and Atlanta, became handsome reincarnations. Most others, including Martinsville, added new levels or towers of seating.

Some of them were marginally successful – in some cases they still lost one of two Winston Cup dates.

Others disappeared. North Carolina Motor Speedway changed from a sleepy, one-mile track into an almost regal facility.

North Wilkesboro Speedway, one of NASCAR’s oldest, added its own tower of new seats.

But it wasn’t enough. Both were gone by 1996, unable to generate enough attendance to survive.

Ironically, today almost all of NASCAR’s speedways have not been able to generate the attendance they once did.

Downsizing, capacity-wise, is the only answer.

And it’s a far cry from what used to be.

I think it is reasonable to assume neither NASCAR nor its tracks ever thought this would come to pass.

EMAIL STEVE AT steve.waid@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW STEVE ON TWITTER: @SteveWaid

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Steve Waid

Steve Waid has been in motor sports journalism since 1972, the year he first started covering NASCAR, when he started his newspaper career at the Martinsville (Va.) Bulletin. From there Waid spent time at the Roanoke Times & World as well as NASCAR Scene, where he was the executive editor for 10 years. After retiring in 2010 he became the Vice President of Unplugged Auto Group for its website, MotorsportsUnplugged.com and has now joined POPULAR SPEED as an editor and columnist. Waid has won numerous writing awards and other such accolades. In January of 2014 he was inducted into the NMPA Hall of Fame.