NASCAR track owner might shed more seats amid pricing ‘quagmire’

As many as 13 NASCAR speedway tracks, including the Dayton International Speedway, could lose more seats because the tracks have been operating with too much inventory, according to the president of the International Speedway Corp. John R. Saunders.
(Peter Cosgrove / Associated Press)

A major operator of NASCAR speedways, citing a “quagmire” of too many empty seats that’s keeping a lid on ticket prices, said Wednesday it’s looking at removing more seats at some of its 13 tracks.

“We just simply have too many seats in the inventory and it’s time to do something about that,” John R. Saunders, president of International Speedway Corp., said on a conference call with Wall Street analysts.

ISC’s tracks include Daytona International Speedway -- site of the next NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race, the Coke Zero 400, on Saturday night -- and Auto Club Speedway in Fontana.

The comments by Saunders and other ISC executives were a tacit acknowledgement that NASCAR’s on-site popularity, while still relatively large among U.S. sports, would not soon return to the exalted levels seen from 1996 to 2006.

After rapid expansion in that period, NASCAR was hit particularly hard by the economy’s collapse and the sport has struggled since with flattening attendance and television ratings.


At the 92,000-seat Auto Club Speedway, for instance, attendance was about 80,000 for its race in March.

“At the end of the day, to get out of this quagmire, we got to get our [seating] capacity down,” Saunders said.

Removing seats also would enhance the race experience for the remaining spectators and help encourage patrons to return, the company said.

ISC, which is controlled by the France family that also controls NASCAR, did not say which speedways were being targeted.

The evaluation process is “still in the exploratory phase” so it would be “premature to speculate” which speedways might reduce seating, ISC spokesman Charles Talbert said via email.

The cuts would be in addition to a major seat reduction at Daytona that ISC announced last month.

ISC said a planned renovation of Daytona would include removing the grandstands on the 2.5-mile speedway’s back straightaway, slashing the track’s total seating by 31% to 101,000 from 146,000.


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