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NASCAR Notebook for February 4th

by Dave Grayson
Wednesday, February 04, 2009

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Before there's any misunderstanding here let me assure you that I am a very big fan of Bruton Smith, Chairman and CEO of Speedway Motorsports Inc.-SMI. For many years now I've watched his many corporate moves with awe struck wonder. I also appreciate his sense of humor and smiled at the frequent times when he would stir up a pot of special ingredients and serve it to NASCAR executives.

But every once in a while the Bruton Smiths of the world accidentally steps on it too hard and are taken to task for it. In recent days Smith was taken to task by none other than Dale Earnhardt Jr. With that thought in mind let's begin with:

What's up with Bruton Smith and his claims that NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers need to do more to help speedway owners and promoters. This comment came from a recently held round table of SMI track Presidents.

The featured topic was finding a way to make it easier for fans to attend races in the midst of a depressed economy. During the session Smith reportedly felt that the "drivers need to do more. I'm very upset with drivers who avoid the fans. This idea of running, hiding and not signing autographs, I just don't like it."

Dale Earnhardt Jr.
A short time later, while doing an interview with "Sports Illustrated" Magazine, Dale Earnhardt Jr was asked for an opinion on Smith's statement and it was apparent that NASCAR's most popular driver was not happy with it.

From that interview Earnhardt suggested that the speedway's executives have enjoyed several years of sold out races and perhaps they had forgotten, or never even learned, how to come up with promotions for selling tickets. He went on to say "they need to get back to working hard at doing their promotions and putting together ticket packages for the race fans.

They don't want to cut ticket prices but they probably should. They also need to get area hotels to quit gouging people. That can dump that responsibility on drivers all they want to but the responsibility lies in their hands to sell race tickets and they have to get creative in doing it. We, (the drivers), already do a lot. We do [bleeping] plenty and they're full of [bleep]."

Along those same lines, Thumbs up to NASCAR speedways who have already taken steps to ease ticket prices for their fans. Topping this list is the Phoenix International Raceway-PIR who has presented a super plan for their NASCAR weekend scheduled for April 16-18th. PIR is offering selected reserved seating for the Sprint Cup Series' Subway Fresh Fit 500 for only $25. Making the deal even more amazing is the fact that a fan a purchase a reserve seat ticket for the Nationwide Series' Bashas Super Market 200 for only $7. That means you can take in Gatorade Pole Day and both series races for a grand total of $32.

Also belonging on this particular Thumbs up listing is the Auto Club Speedway for their Pepsi Rock N Rows promotion. When the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series arrives in Fontana-California for the February 22nd running of the Auto Club 500 the fans can get tickets in rows one through five for only $35 each. Plus there's the fact that kids 12 and under are admitted free. Because of the layout of the speedway's massive D shaped oval, rows one through five are actually very good seats and will allow fans a wide vantage point of the race. These seats normally run $55.

Also making this list is the Daytona International Raceway for dropping prices, in their super stretch area, from $99 to $55. In recent days the Martinsville Speedway announced a $25 ticket plan for their backstretch grandstands. Also along these lines is an offer from the Atlanta Motor Speedway and Lowes Home Improvement Centers. Any Lowes customer who makes a purchase of $25 or more will become eligible for the buy one ticket get one free promotion for The March 8th Kobalt Tools 500.

Thumbs up to Sterling Marlin for placing higher education ahead of going racing. It seems that Marlin's daughter, Sutherlin, wants to join the famous Tennessee racing family's legacy. But Marlin and his wife wanted a special set of circumstances placed in this deal. They said they would back her debut in racing, at a local quarter mile track, on the condition that she enrolls in Columbia State College.

Thumbs up to 74 years old James Hylton and his attempt to earn a starting berth in this year's Daytona 500. Celebrating his 50th year in NASCAR, Hylton will be driving the John Carter owned EM Motorsports Dodge in the Gatorade Duels qualifying events. He made a similar move in 2007 and got as high as second in the running order before a faulty clutch eliminated his chances. Hylton said that his return to Daytona this year fulfills a promise he made to his fans two years ago regarding coming back for one more Daytona 500. He said he's looking forward to becoming the oldest driver to ever start the Great American Race.

The final What's up goes out to the very same man who gave us the first What's up. In a case of Bruton Smith revisited it seems that he thinks it would be a great idea to impose black outs of live NASCAR broadcasts, in the community that hosts the race, if the events are not sold out.

Here's an example of how this idea would work: if the March race at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, owned by Smith's corporation, failed to sell all of its seats then the fans in the Las Vegas vicinity would not be able to receive the live broadcast of the race. That means that race fans who really wanted to see the event would have to purchase a ticket for one of those unused seats. NASCAR executives said that such an idea would create nothing but problems and don't want anything to do with local blackouts.

By the way this is hardly an original idea. The other major sports tried this concept very briefly back in the 1970's and the result was a public relations nightmare within the cities that hosted the events. There an old proverb that states "if we don't learn from history then we are doomed to repeat it." This is an idea that needs to become history really quick.

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