Fans tired of tandem racing
A post-race survey following July's Coke Zero 400 suggested a growing number of race fans are becoming weary of tandem racing, Daytona International Speedway President Joie Chitwood III said Wednesday.
After the race, the Speedway sent surveys to 1,000 race fans, asking them to rate 12 points of their experience. The survey covers everything from the quality of food to restrooms to parking and the race itself. Chitwood said the results from the Guest Experience Management survey showed two-thirds of fans would recommend a race to friends and only 8 percent were dissatisfied.
While overall the marks were high, the survey showed the number of fans who were dissatisfied with the race itself grew from 3 percent last year to 10 percent this year. Chitwood attributed that to fans growing bored with tandem racing, in which two cars run nose to tail to increase speed, instead of racing in a pack.
"The two-by-two racing was a novelty that has worn off," Chitwood told The News-Journal editorial board.
Chitwood said race fans can expect to see a different type of racing for Speed Weeks, when the cars return to Daytona with fuel-injected engines.
The Speedway's grandstands also will be smoke-free beginning with the 2012 Coke Zero 400. For the 2012 Speed Weeks, the track will encourage tobacco users to use smoking areas behind the grandstands.
The grandstand smoking ban stemmed from a conversation Chitwood had with a race fan during July's Nationwide Series race, the DRIVE4COPD. COPD stands for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
"The man told me, 'You support COPD, but allow smoking,' " Chitwood said. "We were slow to look at that."
But after the race, Chitwood brought up the issue to other Speedway officials, who agreed with a smoking ban. They decided not to impose it for Speed Weeks because tickets already had been sold and fans should receive advance notice. That notice went out recently with the ticket renewals for next July's race.
Chitwood also shared fans' outlook on the U.S. economy, which is bleak. "We had 57 percent respond with a negative outlook on the U.S. economy," he said. "That's almost six out of 10."
That number may be the most pessimistic since the Speedway began the surveys in 2009, he said, and was bleaker than after this year's Daytona 500, when 46 percent of fans felt negative about the national economy.
Still, Chitwood said he was optimistic about ticket sales for the next Daytona 500, pointing out the percentage of ticket renewals has been higher than in recent years.
As the economy has soured, the Speedway has begun offering incentives to buy tickets. This year, for the first time, officials allowed children under 12 to attend the Coke Zero 400 free with an adult ticket purchase. For 2012 Speed Weeks, they offered a special parking pass for fans who renewed their four-day tickets. The four-day ticket is for the Gatorade Duel on Feb. 23, the Craftsman Truck race on Feb. 24, the Nationwide race Feb. 25 and the Daytona 500 on Feb. 26.
The survey showed the track improved in many areas. Fans at the July race appreciated being able to bring in bigger coolers. They enjoyed country music star Martina McBride. And they also were positive about the conditions of parking areas and traffic flow into the racing event, according to the survey data.
But they complained about long backups getting out of Lot 7 at the end of Bill France Boulevard and about high room rates and minimum stays of three or four nights at local hotels.
Chitwood said the addition of the Dunn Avenue extension over Interstate 95 should help ease traffic flow after the next races.
Chitwood said he shared the results of the survey with local hoteliers and also plans to meet with the Daytona Regional Chamber of Commerce.
"This is really about transparency and trying to help everybody understand we want to get people here and want them to stay here and we want them to come back," he said. "We hope they (area businesses) understand and try to do the same thing." Daytona Beach News Journal