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Brad Keselowski says NASCAR leader should be at track every weekend

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Former champion Brad Keselowski’s comments this week that NASCAR’s leader needs to be at the track more often is a refrain that has hounded NASCAR Chairman France throughout his reign.

Unlike his father, who was at the track each race and ruled from a perch near the NASCAR hauler, France has repeatedly said that the demands of running the sport are different and require him to be elsewhere. France, who became NASCAR Chairman in Sept. 2003, also notes that NASCAR executives are at the track each week when he isn’t.

Even so, Keselowski raised the issue when asked Wednesday what he would change if he was a NASCAR official for a day.

“If I could make one change it would be that the leader of the sport is at the race track every weekend,’’ the 2012 Cup champion said. “That would be my change.”

Keselowski explained why:

“It is important for any company that relies so heavily on outside partners to have a direct interface. This is such a big ship with so much going on week to week. With some respect, I would say that it is impossible for the sport to be managed with someone being here every week because of the travel situations being what they are and different things that come up. I completely understand that. But to some extent you have to be here.”

Asked about the sport’s future, Keselowski said: “There are some bright spots and some dark spots too. I think we would be arrogant to not think there aren’t some spots that could use some work. The sport isn’t going away tomorrow.”

Keselowski’s comments about NASCAR’s leadership come two years after Tony Stewart told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that drivers “never see Brian France” and were worried that he was not hearing their concerns.

“I want to see Brian France at the track more,’’ Stewart said in Jan. 2016. “I want to see him walking through the garage more. I want to see him being more active than just showing up and patting the sponsors on the back and going up in the suite. I want to see him down in the trenches with everybody and understanding what’s truly going on. I think that’s where he needs to be for a while.’’

Stewart also called for France to attend a driver’s council meeting. France indicated he had not attended those meetings to avoid stifling discussions between drivers and NASCAR.

“I want to see he cares enough to be there, not sit there and get a report from somebody,’’ Stewart told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio then.

France attended a driver’s council meeting in April 2016 at Talladega Superspeedway. France was in the meeting for about an hour before leaving for a prior commitment.

“There’s a tremendous amount of good faith that is earned when Brian comes to a meeting,’’ Keselowski said after that meeting.

This week wasn’t the first time Keselowski has raised questions about how NASCAR’s leadership operates. In 2013, Keselowski discussed his vision of the sport to USA Today and raised questions about how well France and his sister, Lesa France Kennedy, then president of International Speedway Corp.) worked together for the sport. Shortly after his comments, he met with both Frances separately.

In Nov. 2008, amid questions that were growing more prevalent about his absence in the garage, he was at Phoenix and spoke to the media for about 25 minutes in one of the longer sessions with the media that year.

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Report: Two race attendees sue NASCAR, Daytona for 2015 Coke Zero 400 crash-related injuries

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Two additional persons have filed suit against NASCAR, International Speedway Corp. and Daytona International Speedway for injuries sustained in a July 2015 race crash, according to a report by ESPN.

Austin Dillon’s No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet was involved in a last lap crash that resulted with Dillon’s car flying into the catch fence during the July 2015 Coke Zero 400.

Debris and fluids from Dillon’s car got through the catch fence and impacted several fans in the seating area. One lawsuit has already been settled, and two other men – Florida residents John and Wayne Vanpatten – have now filed suit for injuries they claim they suffered as a result of the crash.

MORE: Austin Dillon talks about Daytona crash on Today show

MORE: 5 fans treated, one at hospital for injuries from Austin Dillon’s airborne crash at Daytona

 

According to the ESPN report, the Vanpatten’s claim they were hit by a toxic fluid from Dillon’s car that was ingested by John Vanpatten and which sprayed onto Wayne Vanpatten’s arm. The men claim they are still recovering from their injuries.

The Vanpatten’s lawsuit falls within the four-year statute of limitations to file such a claim per Florida state law.

According to ESPN, NASCAR, ISC, DIS officials and the Vanpatten’s attorney all did not comment on the suit.

ISC welcomes ‘stability’ in attendance, admissions for Cup events in third quarter

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The president of International Speedway Corp. described attendance and admission at the company’s Cup races in the third quarter as comparable to the same point last year and “a welcome sign of stability.’’

International Speedway Corp., which owns 12 tracks that annually host Cup races, reported its third-quarter earnings Thursday morning.

ISC hosted Cup races at Daytona, Watkins Glen and Michigan in the third quarter.

Admissions revenue was $22.8 million, a decrease of less than $100,000 compared to the same period in 2016.

Greg Motto, senior vice president and chief financial officer for ISC, said on Thursday’s call with investor analysts that attendance in the third quarter was down slightly for those events but admission revenues were close because of ticket prices. The average ticket price for those events was $85.60, an increase of three percent from last year.

ISC noted that admissions revenue increased at Daytona in July and that reserved grandstands were sold out a third consecutive year at Watkins Glen. John Saunders, president of ISC, said that “some softness” at Michigan’s Cup events offset totals at Daytona and Watkins Glen.

Saunders said that races in the fourth quarter at Darlington, Richmond and Chicagoland Speedway were “in line with expectations.’’ He said advance sales for the remaining races at ISC tracks — Talladega, Kansas, Martinsville, Phoenix and Homestead-Miami Speedway — are “trending comparable to prior year quarter.’’

Saunders later said on the call that ISC advance ticket sales are “trending just up a tick versus last year.’’

“We remain confident our consumer-focused marketing and sales strategy are working to bring ticket sales in line to deliver stronger results,’’ he said.

Saunders noted that ISC is “pleased with the year-over-year to-date increases in the younger demographics attending the events.’’

Asked about challenges for 2018, Saunders said: “Our most popular driver (Dale Earnhardt Jr.) is retiring, while we don’t have any visibility into (first quarter 2018) on any impact there, the good news is that Dale Jr. is going into the booth with NBC, so he will be at the race tracks. Jeff Gordon is in the booth with Fox.

“One of our primary focused areas, in partnership with NASCAR, is we’ve got great young talent coming along. I mentioned Ryan Blaney, there’s Chase Elliott Kyle Larson, Daniel Suarez, William Byron, a very young, very talented driver. … Building their brands are a key focus area. All sports go through a period of time where big stars … retire and we’re seeing Jeff and Tony Stewart and Dale and others stepping out of the car and so I wouldn’t call it so much a challenge as an opportunity.

“They are very engaging people, they resonate with younger folks. They’re active in engagement in social and digital platforms. I would say that is one of our greatest opportunities for the first quarter and going into 2018.’’

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Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s final Cup season could lead to greater ticket sales

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Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s announcement Tuesday that he will retire from the NASCAR Cup Series after this season could help minimize attendance declines that have become common at tracks.

Asked about the impact Earnhardt could have in the final 28 races of the season, Marcus Smith, chief executive officer and president of Speedway Motorsports Inc., likened Earnhardt to another famous athlete.

“Dale Jr.’s announcement yesterday is significant, it’s similar to when Michael Jordan decided it was time for him to retire from basketball,’’ Smith said Wednesday in a conference call with investor analysts. “The opportunity for fans to see Dale Jr. race one more time is certainly special and something we expect will be inspiring to a lot of fans to come to races.’’

Speedway Motorsports Inc. reported that admissions revenue was down 4.5 percent in the first quarter this year compared to the same time last season. The first quarter covered race weekends for Atlanta and Las Vegas. SMI reported that attendance at Atlanta was “up a little bit” and attendance at Las Vegas was “down a little bit” but did not provide numbers.

Earnhardt will be the fourth major NASCAR driver to leave the Cup series since last year Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart ran their final races last season. Carl Edwards announced before the season that he would not race this year.

International Speedway Corp., which owns tracks such as Daytona, Talladega, Darlington and Homestead-Miami Speedway, cited the absence of Gordon, Stewart and Earnhardt (when he missed the last 18 races of last year) as impacting admission revenue last season.

ISC reported its fourth-quarter admissions revenue was down 9.3 percent last year from the previous season. The company hosted Cup races at Darlington, Richmond, Chicagoland, Kansas, Talladega, Martinsville, Phoenix and Homestead during that quarter.

“The impact of Jeff Gordon’s retirement was underestimated, which was compounded with Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr. missing races throughout the season,’’ said John Saunders, ISC president, in January about one of the reasons for the decline.

Earnhardt’s announcement that this will be his last Cup series already has some fans purchasing or looking to purchase tickets.

Richmond International Raceway reported an increase in interest for this weekend’s race after Earnhardt’s announcement. Richmond also is selling tickets to its fall race weekend. Earnhardt is scheduled to compete in both the Xfinity and Cup races there Sept. 8-9.

The series heads to Talladega next weekend and Grant Lynch, chairman of Talladega Superspeedway, anticipates more Earnhardt fans showing up.

“If you’re going to go see him one more time, why wouldn’t you go to the track where he runs the best,’’ Lynch said. “We think that’s the a positive for Talladega. He’s always been great at Talladega. It’s an Earnhardt track. I hope folks will take the attitude that ‘Wow, I’ll get two more chances to see him,’ see him next weekend and come see us again in October.’’

The greatest demands for tickets likely will come for races at the end of the season.

Earnhardt’s final Cup race will be Nov. 19 at Homestead. The track is selling three-day weekend packages. Deposits for single-day tickets, which go on sale May 5, are being taken. That race sold out last year.

The week before Homestead, the series races at Phoenix Raceway. The track is in the renewal process for the Nov. 12 race with fall race ticket holders. The track is selling tickets to its new Club 64 section above Turn 1 now. Grandstand tickets and camping go on sale June 2.

The week before Phoenix, the series races at Texas Motor Speedway. The track is selling weekend ticket packages only at this point. The track will sell individual tickets to its fall Cup race in June. A date has yet to be determined but it will come after the June 10 IndyCar race there.

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ISC cites attendance decline in recent Cup events; increase in some younger demographics

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International Speedway Corp. reported Tuesday that attendance was down about 7 percent on average for NASCAR Cup events at Phoenix, Auto Club Speedway and Martinsville, but officials are encouraged by increases in some younger demographics.

International Speedway Corp. owns 12 tracks that host NASCAR Cup events, including Daytona International Speedway. The company reported its first-quarter results in a conference call with investor analysts Tuesday. The first quarter covered only the Rolex 24, Daytona Speedweeks and the Ferrari World Finals.

John Saunders, president of ISC, stated that advance ticket sales for NASCAR Cup events at ISC tracks in the second quarter — Richmond, Talladega and Kansas — are down 7 percent.

“We’re seeing the rate of decline slow, which is good news,’’ Saunders said to investor analysts. “We’re just in this transition with new drivers coming online, younger drivers resonating with younger audiences. We’re very committed to the initiatives. We’re starting to see them bear fruit, particularly in the younger demographics.

“I would also point out that both in venue and on broadcast, for the first time, we’re seeing double-digit increases for the 18-34 (category). That bodes very well for us. Some bright spots there but a lot of work to do. We remain optimistic that we’re going to stabilize it and grow it from there.’’

Saunders highlighted some areas that have shown increases. He said TV viewership of the Daytona 500 increased about 5 percent from last year and was up 16 percent for males 18-34.

Saunders cited new series sponsor Monster Energy as helping increase the 18-34 numbers. Saunders also said the Daytona 500 saw an increase of about 5 percent in youth attending the event.

In other ISC matters:

— Saunders was asked if ISC is looking to move a Cup race from one track to another: “Currently, we don’t have any plans to realign a date from one facility to another.’’

— ISC stated that attendance and admission revenues were up for this year Daytona 500. The stands were sold out for a second consecutive year.

— The average ticket price for Cup events during the first quarter (Daytona) increased 3.5 percent to $165.

— ISC’s motorsports revenue in the first quarter was $103.5 million. ISC’s domestic TV broadcast and ancillary revenues were $62.7 million for the first quarter.

— ISC had a decrease of 1.6 percent in net admissions for its events in the first quarter of 2017 (Ferrari World Finals, Rolex 24 and Daytona Speedweeks)

— As of March, ISC states it had sold race entitlement sponsorships for all but three of its Cup events, all but two of its Xfinity events and all but one of its Camping World Truck events this season. At this time last year, ISC had not sold or announced entitlement sponsorships for one Cup and two Xfinity races. ISC expressed confidence at selling its race entitlements this year.

— ISC reiterated that it will spend up to $500 million on existing facilities from fiscal 2017 to fiscal 2021. Included in that is the Phoenix Raceway redevelopment, which is scheduled to be completed in late 2018, the first phase in development at Richmond International Raceway and other improvements at other facilities. The Phoenix project is expected to cost $178 million.

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