Morning Sun

Speedway Motorsport­s vows to keep Dover on NASCAR slate

- By Dan Gelston

DOVER, DEL. » Chase Elliott took note that Dover’s grandstand­s passed the eye test and looked fuller on Sunday before rain washed out the conclusion of the race.

A track that scaled down in size — and races — in recent years had full sections, hundreds of fans crowded the entertainm­ent events chasing driver autographs, and the turnout for a country music concert seemed fitting for a popular act on the property’s yearly music festival.

At least one Delaware native loved the scene.

“This is like a festival atmosphere,” actor and pace car driver Ryan Phillippe said. “What’s going on outside with the concerts, and inside, it feels like way more than just a race for me.”

The advertisin­g tarps that once covered empty sections at Dover Motor Speedway went the way of the rain on Monday: Totally gone.

“That was a great crowd we had yesterday,” Elliott said after he won the race on Monday. “Biggest crowd I have seen here personally since I’ve been racing, which I thought was really cool. Proud to see that.”

Dover’s attendance rebound following two years of pandemic restrictio­ns — and shrinking turnout for more than a decade even before 2020 — was the boost the track needed in its first race under new management.

Long independen­tly owned, Speedway Motorsport­s bought Dover Motorsport­s late last year and added the Monster Mile to its growing collection of tracks. And who doesn’t want to impress the new boss, especially when the boss — in this case, Speedway Motorsport­s President

Marcus Smith — worked the Dover gates and greeted fans Monday with the track short-staffed.

Dover had already moved its fall race to a new location. Perhaps a poor showing this weekend would have made Speedway Motorsport­s strongly consider bumping Dover off the slate completely to a sexier new site. The old mile concrete track still has legs: Speedway Motorsport­s COO Mike Burch said the plan was to keep Dover on the NASCAR schedule just as its been since 1969.

“Nobody has ever looked at making changes to thriving events,” Burch said. “If the fans want us to continue to have races here, the racing is good, the support is here, yes, absolutely.”

Dover’s second race was transferre­d last season to Nashville Superspeed­way. Speedway Motorsport­s property New Hampshire Motor Speedway, a track with anemic attendance, kept its summer date but had its September race weekend moved to Las Vegas in 2018. Pocono, which ran doublehead­er weekends each of the last two years, lost a race this season to the Raceway at Gateway in the St. Louis region.

For those keeping score, that’s three lost dates in the Northeast corridor in a span of just four years. But the bleeding may stop.

“Given where we are, there just has never been any kind of discussion about us losing a race,” Dover President Mike Tatoian said. “I have no reason to believe we will not be racing here for a long period of time.”

Burch said NASCAR’S footprint in the region may have changed, but the series isn’t intent on deserting the area. The road course at Watkins Glen in New York races in August. NASCAR dumped tracks in the Chicago area and Kentucky over the last few years in favor of reinvigora­ted markets like Nashville, or tried bold ideas in new ones like racing on an asphalt track inside Memorial Coliseum.

The industry has remained bullish on reimaginin­g its schedule, leaving no guarantee the same old tracks your grandparen­ts visited will be around for you to take your grandkids.

“I don’t think there’s any desire to leave a market,” Burch said. “But if you want to open up new markets, unfortunat­ely, in order to go to different markets, you have to look at losing a race. But you really have to think long and hard before you abandon a market altogether.”

The reality is, no developer is building tracks, meaning any potential new dates would have to be held in man-made entertainm­ent sites (like in Los Angeles), city street races, or millions would have to be invested in rehabbing old tracks such as the Nashville Fairground­s.

“Can you support it long-term? I think you can be successful almost anywhere with an inaugural event,” Burch said. “We certainly saw that when we went to Nashville last year. Or the Circuit of Americas. The key is, is it sustainabl­e?”

Speedway Motorsport­s’ purchase of Dover leaves Indianapol­is Motor Speedway (good luck getting the key from Roger Penske) and Pocono Raceway as the last independen­t tracks. When it comes to Pocono, Burch said Speedway Motorsport­s is always open for business.

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