Slower ticket sales for Eldora race no surprise

NASCAR returns to Eldora Speedway for another Truck Series race Wednesday and while the dirt track appears close to a sellout, it certainly is different than a year ago, when grandstand tickets were sold out nearly five months in advance.

The difference is dynamic and some might even be shocked that a such highly publicized event at a track owned by Tony Stewart would have trouble selling 18,000 tickets. But in reality, it shouldn't be too surprising that tickets as of Tuesday were still available, although Stewart said Monday fewer than 1,000 remain.

An inaugural event is typically a prime ticket, but the race was exciting enough and the atmosphere good enough that it would seem that the track should have an easier time selling 18,000 tickets. But with so few seats at Eldora, prices are set at $36-40 a ticket for a Wednesday night race at a track located in the fields of Ohio, where many would need to take at least part of a day off work to get there in time for the heat races.

That’s a lot to ask. A couple would spend about $100 for a Wednesday night out once gas and food is included. A ticket to the Dayton Dragons minor-league baseball game 55 miles away on Wednesday night is $10-20. Tickets for the Nationwide Series race Saturday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway are $25-67.

It is easy to argue that Eldora is different with a unique return-to-roots atmosphere. It’s the only dirt race on any of the NASCAR national series schedules. It will feature heat races, something done at no other major NASCAR touring event.

And ticket prices need to be high enough to help the track recoup its costs. Sanction fees, purse fees and insurance can be huge.

Tracks likely will earn between $85,000-$100,000 in television money for a truck race this year. A Nationwide race is worth much more ($600,000-$800,000) but a Cup race is worth significantly more (approximately $8.5-11 million, depending on the market).

So that’s why even with a purse of $367,276 last year — the smallest truck purse of the year (in part because of 30 trucks instead of 36) — ticket prices have to be so high.

Eldora had to make many changes to the facility last year to have a NASCAR race, changes that included a new medical helicopter helipad and a mobile infield medical center. Those things cost money — costs that need to be recovered. Insurance rates for a stand-alone event (NASCAR typically requires a policy that includes coverage of $50 million) also are high. None of those costs at Eldora or other stand-alone events can be covered by a Cup race.

There’s a reason Eldora is on the schedule for this week and not Lucas Oil Raceway, better known as Indianapolis Raceway Park. IRP is a great racing venue, but the operators there didn’t feel they could have just a truck race and not lose money after NASCAR moved the Nationwide event to the big track at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

That move was to help IMS and certainly was understandable. It is still unfortunate that IRP and NASCAR couldn’t land on a good alternative weekend to have truck and Nationwide races at a track that seats 30,000.

NASCAR had to buy Iowa Speedway — a track that has had crowds for the Nationwide Series that were twice as large as Eldora — to make sure it stayed open. Kentucky Speedway owners had to sell because they didn’t think they would ever recover their costs of building the track, let alone day-to-day operations, without a Cup race, something they weren’t going to get on their own.

The return to Gateway near St. Louis for the truck series earlier this year attracted about 20,000, according to reports, for a Saturday night event. That’s near a big city and at a time when people don’t have to burn a vacation day. It’s no wonder that Eldora is going to have to scrimp and scrape to fill 18,000 seats. Sporting News