Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, site of this weekend’s NASCAR race, has slashed its grandstand capacity by 26% to 68,000 seats from 92,000, a track spokesman said Friday.
The 24,000-seat reduction reflects the pullback in NASCAR’s popularity from its peak levels in the mid-2000s, which partly was caused by the severe economic recession that started in 2008.
Auto Club Speedway’s parent company, International Speedway Corp., had told Wall Street analysts last summer that it planned to cut capacity at certain tracks to escape the “quagmire” of too many empty seats.
It did not identify the tracks at the time. But the company’s most famous track, Daytona International Speedway, also is undergoing a renovation that will slash its grandstand seating by 31% to 101,000 from 146,000.
International Speedway Corp. is controlled by the France family that also owns NASCAR.
At the two-mile Auto Club Speedway, site of the Auto Club 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race Sunday, the grandstands stretch from Turn 4 through the main straightaway and along Turn 1.
Most of the removed seats were located at the end of Turn 1, track spokesman David Talley said. Those seats had gone unsold for the last few NASCAR Sprint Cup races and covered with a tarp. No seats were removed in Turn 4, he said.
The Turn 1 area where the seats were removed is now being used as a hospitality area that includes the Toyota Speed Zone, where a large video display shows the speed of the cars as they come down the front straightaway, Talley said.
The Fontana track decided that if the seats weren’t being sold, the space could be converted into one “that’s going to drive some revenue and that’s going to get some sponsors interested,” he said.
The speedway also can accommodate several thousand additional spectators inside suites atop pit road and in its infield area where recreational vehicles park.
Auto Club Speedway hosted two Cup races a year from 2004 through 2010, but NASCAR removed one race from the track’s annual schedule starting in 2011 amid sagging attendance.