Looking at the weekend schedule at Texas Motor Speedway caused me to do a double take. One of the major problems IndyCar has had is oval track attendance. Fans on social media clamor for more oval track racing, but outside of the Indy 500 attendance is minimal. Take Texas as an example, the track can host over 100,000 people but IndyCar will only have 30,000 fans show up for it. When you watch the race on television, it literally looks like 5,000. The fans are engulfed by a sea of aluminum contained to the front stretch. IndyCar can’t even fill the seats between pit road entrance and pit road exit.
One of the biggest issues facing all oval track attendance, regardless of the series, is how to get fans to attend the race. As I look at the schedule for Texas over the next two days, what are they offering that will draw fans to the track? I don’t see anything that would make me want to go to the track all day and spend my hard earned money. IndyCar practice starts at 11am, then a Legends Race at 12:30, then nothing until qualifying at 3:15pm. At 5:15pm there is the Nascar Truck Series qualifying, then IndyCar final practice at 6:45 and then the Truck race at 8:00pm. As you can see, there are a bunch of gaps where there is literally nothing out on the track.
I went to Chicagoland Speedway for IndyCar races that had the Truck Series race on the same weekend. Let me tell you there was a lot of dead time and have you seen how many Nascar fans actually attend a Truck race? It’s smaller than IndyCar. On Saturday there is a Legends Race at 12:30, then a pre-race concert at 5:30, with the IndyCar race at 7:30pm. Why would fans come out early? If they are going to the race, they will get there an hour before the race because there is nothing to do. Do you notice that none of the Mazda Road to Indy are racing at Texas? No support races and yet people will be shocked due to the low attendance? It’s no surprise that the MRTI is not there, as Dan Andersen has stated oval races are too costly due to the likelihood of crashes.
So how does Eddie Gossage draw fans to Texas Motor Speedway? How are other oval tracks going to draw fans to spend an entire weekend at their facility and spend money? That is the million dollar question and there are no easy answers. Milwaukee and Andretti Sports Marketing has done a tremendous job at giving fans plenty of things to do for the weekend. One advantage is that Indy Lights racing so there is one ladder of the MRTI. They have also brought in carnival rides in the Fan Zone plus music. Admittedly, the track only holds 35,000 but they are putting a lot of effort into selling the place out. This is not just an IndyCar problem as Nascar, due to shrinking attendance numbers, has removed seating from all their oval tracks so that it looks like a bigger crowd on television than it really is.
It’s getting harder and harder to attract fans to an oval track but if oval racing is to survive, those who own the tracks need to start thinking outside the box to get fans to attend. If not, IndyCar may be left with just the 500 and Nascar will be forced to shorten their schedule and continue to remove seats. I really hope they can reverse this trend as I miss going to Michigan, Chicagoland and Kentucky. We need to keep Pocono, Texas, Fontana, Milwaukee and Iowa while figuring out how to add a few more ovals. I’d enjoy hearing your take on the oval attendance conundrum @davidindycar @Open_Wheels