Built as the largest racetrack in the United States, and second only to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway will now resume its downsizing plans.
Outgoing TMS president Eddie Gossage said the track still plans to undergo a series of upgrades that was delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Additional plans now include further reducing the number of suites, and seats. The demand is simply no longer there for a 100,000-seat facility virtually anywhere in the world.
“I don’t want to say 50,000 because I think that’s too low but I’d think the sweet spot for us is about 75,000,” TMS assistant general manager Kenton Nelson said Monday. “Think of this as a re-modernization of Texas Motor Speedway.”
TMS’ unofficial seating capacity is just over 100,000. It also has 204 suites.
“I think what you’ll see is taking out a row of seats and replacing it with a drink and food rail in front of it,” Nelson said. “We could expand the size of the seat from 18 inches wide to 22 inches wide, so it’s more comfortable.
“Fans want to be comfortable, and we will offer something that is a hell of a lot more comfortable than (current grandstand seat).”
When TMS was under construction in the mid-1990s, the original plans were for a 70,000-seat facility.
But Gossage kept selling more tickets and track owner Bruton Smith kept adding more seats.
More than 20 years later, TMS’ 1.5-mile oval track is fine; it’s the size of its stands that is outdated.
When it opened in 1996, the track could seat approximately 160,000 and accommodate another 50,000 in the infield.
About 10 years later, all of sports began to fight the trend of smaller attendance figures in facilities that were built for a different era.
In 2013, the track removed all of its seats on the backstretch. It used the space for larger, more high end RV pads, and the slot for its giant video screen.
In recent years, the grandstands that cover the frontstretch from Turn 4 to Turn 1 have been empty even for the signature NASCAR events.
The attendance for the Indy Car races at TMS have never come close to the NASCAR events. This year’s IndyCar XPEL 375 on May 2 looked to have between 20,000 to 30,000.
A crowd of 30,000 in a venue that seats 100,000 is a bad look.
On Sunday night, TMS hosted NASCAR’s All-Star race. The overhead shots from the blimp above the grandstands showed large sections of empty seats.
It’s just more anecdotal evidence that while NASCAR is not dying, its popularity is nowhere near what it was in the mid-’90s. It has successfully expanded well beyond its southeast roots, but has returned to its niche status.
On Sunday night, Fox Sports had the broadcast rights to both the NASCAR All-Star race and Westminster Dog Show, and its main priority were the pups.
Fox put the dog show on its main network, and the NASCAR race on Fox Sports 1.
What has happened at TMS has occurred at every NASCAR track in the U.S., including Daytona International Speedway.
With the sports world rapidly changing, along with the challenge of luring people to leave their living rooms to watch a basketball game in an arena or a movie in a theater becoming increasingly harder, large venues all over the U.S. are taking out seats.
Fans want a seat that’s close to the action. They want a comfortable seat. If they can’t get either, they will only go if the seat is inexpensive.
The TMS suites will undergo some type of update as well. TMS would like to turn more of the suites into a “man cave” type of a feel.
The irony is that NASCAR is moving back in the direction of the roots it mostly abandoned when it lustily chased the cash and went to the larger speedways that were built all over the U.S.
NASCAR is no longer just a southeast sport, but it is evolving back in the direction of the seating capacity of the venues that it left, most notably places like North Wilkesboro, N.C.
In the ‘90s, NASCAR left almost all of the charming venues that gave the sport its character, including North Wilkesboro Speedway. That knock on the facility was that it was “too small,” because its capacity was 40,000.
Today, a 40,000-seat venue that sells out may be quite appealing.
Texas Motor Speedway wants to be smaller, but not that small.