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Some of the best action in NASCAR comes at Atlanta, but with some of the weakest crowds: Why?


There was plenty of action at Atlanta Motor Speedway Sunday...but too many empty seats. So what's the deal here? (Greg Biffle, 16, crashing with Scott Speed, 82)(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

   By Mike Mulhern

   Sunday's disappointing crowd at Atlanta Motor Speedway made a distinct impact on NASCAR drivers, sobering them to the severe impact the struggling U.S. economy is having on this sport….but also raising questions as to why more fans were in these grandstands, that can seat 124,000.
   "What I find so discouraging is I think this is one of the best race tracks," Jeff Gordon said after his runner-up finish to Kurt Busch in the Atlanta 500.
   "Even though we're slipping and sliding and having our hands full, right there – you always see a battle here with three to go.
   "We've seen Carl Edwards win this thing by inches. And I've lost a race or two here by inches.
   "We always see it.
   "To me this is some of the best racing we're putting on in the series, of anywhere we go.
   "I know there are a lot of race fans around here…and I'm a little baffled by it.
    "But if just it off the excitement I see in the fans here, with the racing we're putting on here, this place should be packed."
   "We are far from immune to what's going on in our economy," Edwards, third in the 500, said.
   "This is one of the best, if not the best race track, we go to, as far as competition, on-track performance, and passing and action.
   "It's too bad there aren't more fans in the grandstands. But I feel like my responsibility is to go out there and race as hard as we can, deliver for our marketing partners, and deliver for our fans, and do the best we can…and hope that as the economy comes back up those stands get more full. 
    "But there's nothing we can do about it.  I'm just glad for the fans that are here."

Certainly nobody can blame the weather for Sunday's poor turnout at Atlanta (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)



Atlanta Snoozer

As a Southern Californian, Atlantans can no longer say anything about the Fontana race being too long & boring & empty. I guess ya’ll were busy under the seats shopping too!
If it weren't for crew members running onto the track & a G/W/C finish it would have been a waste of an afternoon.

yo, dude: what part of

yo, dude: what part of california -- and what would it take to get you to buy into a long race weekend at atlanta motor speedway? i'm serious. tell me. Less horsepower under the hood, more horsepower under the hood? more downforce, better tires? Mick Jagger singing the national anthem? Friday night shuttles downtown to Buckhead?
i agree sunday was a bore, until the finish. but i still insist the track is a good one, it's just the cars; and i still insist california speedway is a good track, if the right cars with the right tires are racing on it.

Atlanta race weekend

Guess I'm the first to comment. While I didn't attend the race I live in the Atlanta area and have been several times. Some thoughts on why attendance is floundering:

1. The race has to live down some of its rep: a rep for bad, unpredictable weather and for lousy traffic. The traffic issue was solved several years ago but all my race fan buds think it's still a nightmare. Also, everyone I spoke with was flat surprised the weather was good and some were a bit remorseful they didn't go. Still, the track has a bit of a stigma with the locals.

2. Speaking of locals, I didn't see or hear much race promotion during the weeks preceding. Sure, a few billboards along I-85 and some radio spots, but it seemed too much of the same ol, same ol. I didn't see or hear much about show cars, special events with the drivers, fan zones, parties, burnout contests or anything that would generate local buzz. That's been missing for a couple years now, local buzz. Drivers visiting hospitals and schools, while a nice local interest story, don't energize local fans all that much. Time for Ed Clark and team to shake things up.

For the record, I like the idea of selling race tickets for a price based on the Daytona 500 winners car number. $17 race tickets for Atlanta was a great idea. Problem - I had to hear about it from Mike Joy on Fox instead of my local papers and newscasters, both of whom should have been in my face about the promo until I had an aneurysm.

I'd like to see Atlanta become more of a Texas Motor Speedway East. Eddie Gossage and crew seem to do interesting things for a week or two before their events. There's gotta be some good ideas out there. Now is the time for Ed Clark to do something new and fresh, because the old ways which may have been successful are no longer working. With dwindling attendance and a local economy headed into the toilet at a mind-numbing pace (Georgia unemployment rate - 8.6% and climbing like the Space Shuttle), its time to do something more than just "outside the box" - maybe have Dale Jr and Kyle Busch fill the box with toxic peanut butter then light it on fire at Atlantic Station. Something, gentlemen, try something.

you're right, the track has a

you're right, the track has a bad rep to overcome -- but that's what marketing is all about, isn't it. and with coke, ups and home depot in town, there's some marketing horsepower to play with.
one issue -- atlanta relies on a walk-up crowd too much, i would think (like rockingham did); there needs to be a strong push for advanced sales in other parts of the country, and someway to make atlanta 'a destination,' which, with music and restaurants shouldn't really be a stretch. but to make that work NASCAR needs to give promoter Ed Clark a product to sell...just like NASCAR needs to give California's Gillian Zucker a product to sell.
Maybe we can get Dale Jr. a ride in the space shuttle, as a promo?


They say that there were 94,000 people at Atlanta. If you look at the attendance at the track it is still better than 50% of all the other tracks. I guess with the moron mentality of some fans if there is one empty seat more the race to a smaller venue.

yep, i saw where nascar said

yep, i saw where nascar said there were 94,400 sunday at atlanta.....but you saw it -- the stands weren't even half full. and the place holds 124,000. maybe that's too many seats. but i still believe it can be filled -- it just needs a vigorous PR campaign to promote the better highway access and exit times, and more fan amenities trackside, to draw in a good camper crowd like Phoenix, for example.
or maybe just throw restrictor plates on the cars and let the drivers run in those huge packs.

Atlanta: Not That Good A Race, Abysmal Sports Demographic

Here's why Atlanta doesn't sell out anymore -

1 - Its reputation for good racing is more hype than substance. Yes, Atlanta had some very good racing in November 1999 and three straight March races (2000-2) to go with a last-lap pass in March 2005 and a surprisingly good finish in this year's Truck 200 for good measure, but its overall racing has been no better than that of most tracks, and is made substantially worse by the poor condition of the surface.

2 - Atlanta is a dismal sports demographic. None of its pro teams sell out their games and never have. Atlanta sold out when it only seated about 70,000 but since building up it hasn't kept up.

okay, so maybe we're

okay, so maybe we're overplaying just how good the racing can be at atlanta....but it's a drivers track, and i have seen some very good racing there, there are a lot of grooves....but from my vantage point the trucks and nationwide (busch) drivers seem to do generally much better at that track than cup drivers (have you seen that?) so why? i'm thinking it's something about engines and weight and tires.....maybe it's time for plate engines? bunch the field?
the track surface: i asked around about that over the weekend, and i couldnt find anyone in favor of new asphalt. first, it would be lightning fast (remember geoff bodine in 1997?), and that wouldn't necessarily make for multiple-groove racing. Second, the current track does have character....though the tire situation has always worried me -- that track needs a lot of rubber on it to work right by sunday afternoon...so where were the nationwide cars, or late models or anything other than trucks.
OBTW, i thought the truck racers made some good moves on each other Saturday, which would show atlanta can have good racing?
one big problem for nascar in all of this -- from Daytona to California to Atlanta, and on -- is the schedule is so darned demanding, in just logistics, that it's hard to find any good big picture guys with time to sit down and ponder these big questions...
of course that's just what we're hoping to provide here at mikemulhern.net -- big picture analysis....with your help, of course.

Big Picture Analysis

Mike, don't worry about not getting big picture analysis on your site - between your own reporting and the responses you get here, there's plenty of genuine substance to digest and debate - we all learn something here.

When I criticize Atlanta, I am not denying that it is a layout that can, and in fact does, produce good racing; I'm simply pointing out that it gets hyped as better than it actually is. The Truck 200 saw some surprisingly hard racing - some of the three-wide stuff near the end looked like Talladega.

The one area I feel desperately needs changing is the surface - why it has become a tire-eating surface I'm baffled by. When it was repaved it indeed became absurdly fast (and dangerous, as 1998 saw a frighteningly high incidence of crashing that led to injuries and the death of an ARCA driver) but it seems they can treat the surface without making it scary fast.

BTW, whatever happened to Bear Grease?

The plate deal you mention - as fast as the cars run here, the draft absolutely should be a factor (it should at Fontana and the other intermediate to low-banked superspeedways as well) so it would seem that if they ran restrictor plates here (as was done in 1971) they could make some good racing. And yes I'm suspicious of those computer sims Gillian Zucker cited last month regarding Fontana and restrictor plates.

Thanks again.

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