NASCAR risks losing fans without making significant changes

The fan experience of going to a NASCAR race is very unique, but it is time for the sport to revitalize race day at the track.

A trip to Martinsville Speedway is like taking a step back in time: loaded hot dogs for just $2, parking on a hill just outside of the racetrack, and packed grandstands full in the middle of Appalachia. Martinsville is NASCAR’s oldest track, and for as charming as the classic facility is, it’s one of a number of race tracks that desperately need to be modernized.

On a recent weekend trip to the “Paperclip”, it was a little hard to enjoy certain elements of the fan experience. Long lines to grab food formed the second the entrance gates opened. Lines for the bathrooms formed at a rate I’ve never seen at any other track.

The cold weather made the metal bleacher-style seating miserable to sit on. The seating arrangement itself was extremely poor, just barely giving me enough room to squeeze between the people who sat on either side of me.

On top of it all, I couldn’t send or receive any texts or access the internet on or around the premises of the track, except for a small window of time that preceded the Xfinity Series event.

All in all, the fan experience at Martinsville Speedway, as well as other tracks where similar issues are experienced, needs to be improved.

Negative details in a fan’s experience, no matter how small or large, are a risk to the race track in terms of not being able to retain that fan’s ticket sale the following year, and with tickets getting more and more expensive, it’s imperative to race tracks that they can provide fans with the best possible experience in order to retain those sales.

Some tracks have been slowly making renovations to enhance the fan experience. Daytona International Speedway received massive upgrades in 2015, including stadium-style seating in many existing areas as well as an overhaul to the multi-level concourse, which enhanced the fan experience tenfold.

Bars, seating areas to relax and recharge your devices, and memorabilia stands now all sit in multiple spots along the concourse at Daytona, which stretches from the exit of turn four and goes down to the entrance of turn one.

There are multiple show cars, both street vehicles and race cars, that are placed throughout the concourses, setting the Daytona fan experience far above any other track.

One thing that is overlooked and underappreciated about the fan experience at Daytona is the fact that the phone signal is great.

When I’m at the track on race days, I like to hop on Twitter to get the latest breaking news before the race and see what drivers and teams are saying. I also occasionally send pictures to friends and post to social networks.

When I can’t even send a one-sentence text, it’s pretty frustrating.

For as charming as it is, Martinsville Speedway needs an upgrade. It doesn’t need to have cars hanging from the ceiling of the concourse or a patio with cornhole just off of turn one, but doing something as simple as upgrading from bleachers to stadium seating could be a massive improvement

Of course, it’s easy to argue the points: you can get a seat cushion for the bleacher seats so they don’t become unbearable to sit in. You can bring your own food and tailgate to avoid the long lines on the concourse. You’d be undoing tradition and history at some of the older tracks by modernizing the facility. You don’t need to use your phone during a race.

All of these points are valid.

But it isn’t feasible to think that everyone can bring a grill and some burgers to every race they go to, or that you can stay off your phone during your entire time at a race track.

In fact, track owners should want fans to have the ability to be on their phones and posting about their race experience during the weekend.

Fans are the best form of free marketing that any sporting organization or facility could have, and fans posting from the racetrack about their experience could be the difference in selling a few extra seats at the next race.

Martinsville Speedway isn’t alone. A handful of tracks I’ve visited in the past handful of years, including Darlington Raceway, Richmond Raceway, Bristol Motor Speedway, among others, all share at least a few of these aforementioned issues.

It’s time for not only the cars, but for the fan experience to join the modern age of NASCAR. Tracks need to be working with cell phone providers or get WiFi, seats need to be upgraded, dining options need to be added, and other facilities need to be added. Overall, continue to improve the fan experience.

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