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When people think of NASCAR they usually think of large outdoor stadiums with massive grandstands and spotlights illuminating the night’s racing. But, with the resurgence of track racing, we’re now seeing racing outdoors that is more intimate in size and can be a lot more exciting.

One of the most exciting NASCAR races was the 2019 Kentucky Derby. Attendance fell a little short of 200,000 spectators, which made it the second-smallest attended derby in history. It was the first time in over 20 years that the Kentucky Derby wasn’t held at a massive outdoor stadium. But even with the smaller crowd, the fans still had the chance to witness one of the most exciting races ever. There were lots of twists and turns, and a wide variety of competitors. It was like the Kentucky Derby version of a _Lord of the Rings_ epic, with fans sitting in the stands and feeling the thunderous roar of the engines as live DJs mixed up the perfect playlist.

Now, as we look toward the 2020s, we see more and more tracks taking on the atmosphere of a movie set. We’ve seen this trend emerge mainly as a means of preserving the beautiful night race-viewing experience for fans. But as the racing world turns to a more sophisticated and tech-savvy audience, the appeal of an authentic nightrace venue might just win out.

Attendance Down

According to Rick Brenner, the director of communications for the Kentucky Derby, the racing world saw a decline in attendance as a result of the pandemic. Even before the pandemic, fans had been skipping out on the race, choosing to stay at home and spend time with their families. The pandemic simply accelerated the trend.

“Certainly, the pandemic is responsible for a huge chunk of the attendance decrease,” Brenner said. “You had people choosing to stay at home, wanting to keep a safe distance from other people, which is understandable. But, beyond that, we saw people choosing not to go to the tracks just because it wasn’t convenient for them. There were also a lot of empty seats near the front as well.”

In 2020, the NASCAR industry saw a loss of over a million fans. According to a report by Sports Business Daily, the industry lost over 1.3 million fans in 2020, with the majority of those people skipping the races completely. This marks the first time in history that NASCAR fans have skipped more than one race in a season. With the exception of the military personnel and the elderly, most of the fans that attend NASCAR races are between the ages of 18 and 29 . But this year, even the younger fans are staying away. The decline in attendance has had a major effect on the sport’s popularity, with one sportswriter calling it a “death spiral”. It’s also had a significant effect on the owners and drivers of the competitors. Many feel like they don’t have enough funding to continue racing, so they’ve had to cut down on the number of races they can attend. This, in turn, has made them less interested in driving and more interested in investing in the future of the sport.

Biggest Indoor Racing Venues

While we’ve seen outdoor tracks take on a more sophisticated look in recent years, the indoor tracks haven’t changed much. But, with the introduction of electronic scoring systems and timing devices, the sport has moved indoors to take advantage of the possibilities they offer.

According to the website for the INDYCAR series, which includes races for both men and women, the series held its first race in 1968 at the now-defunct Oakland Speedway in Oakland, California. It was originally a rival series to NASCAR, but became an official sanctioning body in 1972. Today, the INDYCAR series boasts a 12-race schedule held at venues such as the Circuit of the Americas, which is located in Austin, Texas; the Mazda Raceway Park, which is located in Atherton, California; and the Toronto Motor Sports Park, which is located in Ontario, Canada.

The website for the ARCA series, which is an association for small racing teams, states that its members run a full schedule of events, including the Springfield Mile, which is the series’ flagship race. The ARCA series hosts its events at venues such as the Boise Speedway, which is located in Boise, Idaho; the Atlanta Motor Speedway, which is located in Hampton, Georgia; and the Kansas Speedway, which is located in Wichita, Kansas. In addition to racing, the series also holds qualifying sessions for the NASCAR races, so a lot of the crowd comes from that aspect as well. The series even boasts an annual awards banquet to honor the best in the sport.

Impact On The Outdoors

The impact that the decline in attendance had on the outdoor tracks is difficult to quantify. Without enough fans to fill the seats, the tracks don’t make enough money to keep the lights on and the beer flowing. This has serious repercussions for the overall health of the sport. Since the fans are the primary audience, the absence of enough of them will seriously degrade a track’s popularity and, eventually, its value. This is a problem that the outdoor tracks have been facing for years and, as the pandemic has shown, it will continue to be an issue as long as there aren’t enough eager fans to make up for lost attendance. And it won’t just be the venues that suffer. With fewer fans coming to the races, the drivers and owners will have to find a way to generate more interest in the sport, or else they will struggle to make a living.

Indoor Seating

While the majority of the fans who attend NASCAR races are at the outdoor tracks, there has been a rise in popularity for the “grandstand only” series, which still has all of the action take place on the track. These types of races are popular mainly with middle-aged and older fans, who want to relive their youth by watching the cars race on a screen instead of experiencing the noise and vibrations from the stands. But even for these fans, the novelty of being able to observe the action from a more comfortable chair has worn off, with only 44% having attended a grandstand-only race in the last two years.

It seems like the fan base of NASCAR is constantly in a state of change as new generations grow disinterest in the sport while others have found a new found love for it. But whether the sport moves forward or gets cancelled, these changes will continue to affect it, as generations come and go, enjoying sporadic bursts of interest before something new shakes the world of NASCAR.

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