Given the endless drumbeat of bad news coming out of NASCAR the last six-or-so months, it was something of a relief to see full grandstands at Daytona last weekend. Whether that crowd was the result of lowered ticket prices or the fact that this was the Daytona 500 -- the crown jewel damn well better sell out -- is almost beside the point. It was a welcome change.
However, the brief honeymoon is over, and the sport dives headlong into the teeth of the potential storm this weekend at Auto Club Speedway. The 92,000-seat facility 50 miles east of Los Angeles has never sold out; the last Cup race held at the track, on Labor Day, drew roughly 70,000 people.
More ominous, International Speedway Corporation (ISC), the parent company that owns the track, announced in late January that ticket sales at all its facilities were down 17 percent compared to last year. Though ISC didn't break down the numbers by track, Gillian Zucker, president of Auto Club Speedway, says sales are down about 10 percent compared to Labor Day.
True, 10 percent sounds a bit nicer than 17 percent, but do the numbers: if Zucker is to be believed, there will be approximately 30,000 empty seats on Sunday. Or, another way, roughly one third of the seats won't have asses in them.