Story continues below this advertisement
So, what does the attendance of both racers and fans at these three events mean to the business of drag racing? Well, in the case of the ADRL doorslammer series, you have to believe, based on the drop in attendance the series had last year and the terrible attendance for the first race of 2012, that the only way they will get the crowds they had in the past would be to return to the “free ticket” policy their series was built on.
I have personally witnessed ADRL races in the past that filled the grandstands to near capacity at Houston, Dallas, and Rockingham, but when that happened spectator tickets were free. I don’t think that will ever happen again as long as the fans are charged for parking and admission. The ADRL, which has no sportsman classes, had around 130 entries in eight classes at Houston. The real problem for this race was the lack of spectators. In the past I have personally been to ADRL races at that track when the stands on one side of the track were at least 90% full and there was gridlocked traffic stretching from the front gate as far as you could see on any road in any direction.
The drop in fan attendance at ADRL races in recent years when compared to what the numbers were in the League’s salad days seems to indicate that only the hardest core doorslammer racing fans will pay $15 or more to watch an ADRL doorslammer-only, eighth-mile event.
On a larger scale, but equally troubling, would be the steadily declining number of fans and racers supporting NHRA national events. By most estimates, the NHRA fan and car count is down 10-15 percent at all NHRA national events. Last weekend there were many visibly empty seats at Bruton Smith’s Las Vegas speed palace. It’s a good bet that Smith’s organization made money on the event, but not what they might have had the weather forecast been better.
I’ve said before that the NHRA show is old, tired, predictable, and, for evidently more than a few fans, just too expensive. But according to what some NHRA track operators and NHRA management say, evidently the biggest problems the NHRA has are simply bad weather and bad luck. Not to be too sarcastic here, but apparently, based upon the overall drop in gross receipts and television ratings, the NHRA is on a three- or four-year bad luck “schneid”.
One fact is inescapable. In 2008, the NHRA had gross receipts of over $120 million, while, according to their 2010 tax returns, the gross was just over $104 million. I will give long odds and take bets that the 2011 return will show a gross of well under $100 million.
Which brings us to the Feld Motorsports Nitro Jam at the 10,000-seat San Antonio Raceway. It was the only “national event” of the weekend that could be called an unmitigated success by any measure you use. Also, you have to say that the Nitro Jam series is the only national drag racing series to show steady growth over the past few years regardless of weather.
Admission tickets to Nitro Jam events aren’t cheap. On Saturday, an adult would have to pay $30, and I think it was $25 on Friday. Feld did offer discount tickets for 10-year-old patrons and a free ducat for those kids seven and under with an adult purchase.
So why did that race and some other Feld events basically become SRO (Standing Room Only) events? In my opinion, it is that the show is about four hours long and they offer a wide variety of nitro-burning racecars, plus entertaining “circus acts.” One of the biggest attractions in motorsports, monster trucks, were featured at San Antonio with the Grave Digger and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles monster trucks racing each other four times. They also had a Jet Funny Car race against Dale Pulde’s AA/FC.
In short, what those Texas fans paid their hard-earned bucks to see was a clone of weekend races that Bill Donner and Steve Evans would have delivered in the seventies at one of their West Coast tracks, or that promoters like Broadway Bob Metzler would have at Union Grove, Scott Gardner at Cordova, or the Napps at Englishtown.
I really don’t know for sure what drag race fans prefer these days. Is it the NHRA Big Show? Or is it Feld’s Nitro Jam? Or is it AA/FCs, Fuel Altereds, and Top Fuel bikes?
So, as a journalist/promoter/racer, I ask myself: are fans still willing to pay close to $100 for a single good ticket to an NHRA national event? Is the ultimate drag racing attraction monster trucks burning nitro? Can an all-doorslammer event featuring any class of cars you can think of get 10,000 fans to buy tickets at any price to watch them race?