"We started seeing a downturn in revenue with the Allstate 400," said IMS and IRL spokesman Fred Nation. "Ticket renewals for that race are way off."
The beginning of a deep economic swoon coupled with racers' tire troubles apparently turned NASCAR fans away from renewing tickets in droves. Nation declined to detail the ticket renewal downturn, but said it is significant.
Sports marketers said race fans still haven't forgotten about the Speedway's 2005 Formula One Michelin tire fiasco, and that memory coupled with tire problems at last year's NASCAR race had a cumulative affect. Tire problems forced NASCAR to throw a caution flag after every nine laps of green flag racing to try to prevent blowouts at this year's Allstate 400.
Annual revenue from the NASCAR event is estimated by various industry sources to be more than $35 million. Much of that money falls straight to the bottom line. Motorsports insiders think NASCAR money has been used to bolster the IRL.
Nation declined to say exactly how many people were let go because of the economic downturn, but said there were layoffs across the IRL, IMS and IMS Productions. "The percentage is more or lessprobably a little lessthan what you've seen with what other companies are doing," Nation said.
The IRL has 70 employees and IMS has 300. The National Football League recently laid off 14 percent of its staff. Using the NFL as a guideline would mean about 50 people at the IRL and IMS lost their jobs.
Amid reports that various IRL teams began laying people off in December and that teams that have run multiple cars may be paring down, there's concern that the IRL car count may be down next year. "It won't be 26 like it was last season, but we still expect car count to be in the 20s," Nation said.