Speedway mulls installing lights for NASCAR race

July 27, 2012
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Despite attendance struggles at the Brickyard 400 (now known as the Crown Royal presents the Curtiss Shaver 400 at the Brickyard) over the past five years, there’s no talk from NASCAR or Indianapolis Motor Speedway officials about discontinuing the race.

IMS officials said the commitment on both sides couldn’t be stronger for continuing the race long-term and making it stronger than it currently is.

“I don’t think either party could be more secure in its relationship with [the] other,” said IMS spokesman Doug Boles. “There is no thought internally or within NASCAR that this race shouldn’t continue.”

To bolster sagging attendance, Speedway officials are breaking new ground this year and may be willing to break even more ground in future years. For the first time, the IMS will host Grand Am and NASCAR Nationwide races over the weekend in conjunction with the Sprint Cup headliner on Sunday.

More radical changes could be coming. Speedway officials this week told IBJ that they have discussed installing lights at the massive facility—a project that would cost tens of millions of dollars—to allow races at night, particularly NASCAR events.

“Those types of discussions are more common now than they were even a year and a half ago,” Boles said. “One consideration is it would allow us to get fans out of the heat of the day.”

Erecting lights would be a major departure for Speedway officials, who previously have shunned the idea. IMS stands as one of the few major race tracks nationally without lights.

The Grand Am cars this year will race on the Speedway’s 2.6-mile road course Friday, and theNationwide qualifications and race will be held Saturday. Saturday will also feature Sprint Cup practice and qualifications.

Speedway officials are confident that this year’s race weekend will see a10-plus-percent attendance increase over last year’s weekend line up. Much of that increase will be attributed to the two new races. The Nationwide race last year was held at Lucas Oil Raceway just to the west of IMS. This year the Nationwide race will get a big boost from former IndyCar driver Danica Patrick.

Racing industry experts think 25,000 to 35,000 people will attend the first Nationwide race at the famed Brickyard, and Speedway officials said 200,000 is a reasonable expectation for the three-day weekend. The average Nationwide race brings in about 20,000 fans.

NASCAR officials estimated that 140,000 attended last year’s Brickyard 400. This year’s ticket sales for Sunday’s headline race are tracking close to last year’s, IMS officials said, but they are hopeful that cooler temperatures blowing into Indianapolis will drive strong walk-up ticket sales and push attendance over last year’s Sunday total.

Facing a decade of attendance declines, IMS CEO Jeff Belskus told IBJ that a Brickyard 400 overhaul was one of his top priorities when he took over as Speedway CEO for Tony George in July 2009.

“In 2009, we sold half as many tickets as we did in 1999,” Belskus said. “That’s a painful trend.”

IMS doesn’t divulge attendance numbers, but NASCAR estimated 2010 Brickyard 400 attendance at 140,000. Attendance was 180,000 in 2009, 240,000 in 2008, and 270,000 in 2007. In 1994, the very first Brickyard 400 at IMS drew more than 300,000, according to NASCAR.

Despite attendance declines, Speedway officials indicated that the event is still profitable. An infusion of sponsorship support from Kroger and Crown Royal at this year's event should help keep the event financially healthy.

Indianapolis is far from alone in NASCAR attendance declines. While Brickyard 400 attendance started to lag in the late 1990s, Belskus said, they were accelerated by the tire problems that occurred in 2008, when teams were forced to pit every 10 to 15 laps to replace shredded tires. The post-2007 economic swoon hasn’t helped.

IMS has added myriad popular music acts and other entertainment to try to bolster the weekend. This year will be the first time the Speedway road course and oval have been used during the same weekend.

  • If they want to bring me back
    I've not been to that race in several years and I had GREAT seats. But it just got BORING. If I want to watch a parade I can watch an F1 race. Put the $ into modifying the track so the cars can actually pass all the way around the track. A night race would be fun but it would still be a parade.
  • Easy answer to the problem? Tell NASCAR to quit stangling the golden goose. NASCAR in its heyday had races at traditional tracks like Rockingham and North Wilkesboro along with the superspeedways. Then NASCAR went big time expanding where ever the dollar took them. Running races in Texas, Chicago, Kentucky, Kansas Vegas and on and on. This alienated many of their fans. It also dilluted the product. They moved races into the backyards of other tracks. Indys used to have one neighboring race at MIS. Now you have three tracks within 4 hours that host 5 races. 3 of those races were held within a month before or after Indy. As with any fad, the random fan is finding other things to do and many of the traditional fans have left because the racing is no longer what it used to be. Couple with that the fact the cars are templated cars that run at relatively low speed, there is not much to keep interest. NASCAR needs to cut 10 races off the schedule. They need to let the cars be real sheet metal again and not identical skins on identical bodies. NASCAR has some deep rooted problems that will not change without some major changes.
  • Well there soes that argument
    Michigan Speedway - 203.241 MPH A fresh repave of Michigan International Speedway in 2012 set the stage for Marcos Ambrose to shatter the old track record by nearly nine MPH. His lap of 203.241 MPH in June of 2012 put Michigan International Raceway solidly on top of this list. The top 38 drivers in that race all posted speeds higher than previous number one Texas Motor Speedway's record lap of 196.235.
  • Not sure what arguement you are talking about. MIS had two races in 2007 that sold out at 145,000. 2011, two races in the 80,000 range. Crowds almost halved in 5 years. This has gone on across the board for NASCAR. Arguement stands. NASCAR is killing itself.
  • rumors
    Awesome!! I hope they permanently install lights on every inch of that place. The "Place Fans" are going to love it! Maybe the rumors are true and the France family did indeed buy the speedway. Now they need to nascarify the place buy adding banking! WOOT!!
  • And what did the IRL
    get the last time it was there 15,000 maybe. there goes that argument
  • When did this become a story about the Indycar? Its about the Brickyard and the fact that NASCAR is losing attendance across the board. ISC has cut an average of 15% of its seats across its tracks. You don't do that because you are selling out. NASCAR has a major issue and without actually confronting it, the slide will continue.
  • Move the Race
    Maybe NA$CAR should move not only the nationwide race back to IRP but also have the Sprint Cup race there. I think two things stood out today... first how empty the stands were and second how mind numbingly boring the race was. NA$CAR has some big problems they are going to have to fix.
  • It'll be fixed
    when the current backstretch becomes the tri-oval and the front stretch becomes the new backstretch and with about 20 degrees of banking installed
  • Indy's 5 time winner list
    Whilst the debate is over lighting, it is in fact a challenge to the ever eroding traditional values of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The resistance to the addition of lighting at Indy is a thinly veiled objection to the further destruction of these traditions by the Hulmanistic bootlickers of the speedway. I say add the lights, add the banking, add what ever it takes to transform Indy into whatever makes the most money and TV ratings. This, all so we can get Indy's first 5 time winner. Afterall, the racing "dilution" of Indy has killed racing in general anyway. Why not just kill it more so the fans can git their Indy 5 time winner? It apparently doesn't matter if it's a NASCAR driver anyway, does it anymore?
  • Burl was there
    With nine other friends and relatives. The Speedway was a ghostown compared to the Indy 500. The race was boring. Terribly boring. With the exeption of restarts, it simply resembled a practice session. In fact, the first couple of Brickyard 400's had practice day and qualifying day crowds roughly the same as we saw yesterday at the race itself. This race is in terrible decline. It is too long, too boring, and too irrelevant. The Daytona 500 is NASCAR's big race, epic. The Indy 500 is IndyCar's big race, epic. Never the twain shall meet, and this never should have happened. To think the IMS would alter the Speedway even more to accomodate a loser is really telling. I am losing interest fast in this facility as it is changing from what made it special and different. Unique. Not so much anymore. We will not be back for the NASCAR race. Indy 500, yes. For now.
  • Real changes
    Burl, don't forget real change can't occur until you do not attend the 500. Like Leaving Las Vegas, IMS doesn't make changes unless forced to. So, expect kowtowing to increase for continued acceptance of NASCAR's dollars.
  • Go to LOR
    Lets move both races to Lucas Oil Raceway. That would be much more exciting to watch. The fans kinda said to move this weekend when the did not show up to watch the NNS race and they used to have standing room only at LOR. So dont waste money on lights fans still willnot come to watch single file racing.
  • Go to LOR
    Lets move both races to Lucas Oil Raceway. That would be much more exciting to watch. The fans kinda said to move this weekend when the did not show up to watch the NNS race and they used to have standing room only at LOR. So dont waste money on lights fans still willnot come to watch single file racing.
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