The few campers and RVs at campgrounds around Bristol Motor Speedway (BMS) in Tennessee in preparation for the spring races might be among a smaller crowd, according to several campground owners who say their reservation rates are down from this time last year.
“It’s going very slow,” said Hilltop Camping owner Mickey Baker of reservations this month. “I look to be down over last year.”
He said he’s probably got about 30% fewer reservations for the March 20 race than he had last spring, and those numbers were down from the year before, the Bristol Herald Courier reported.
“I’m a good 30% to 40% down from two years ago,” he said. “I did well in the fall, but spring wasn’t good.”
Part of the problem, he said, is the economy, while the weather is another factor.
“Bristol in the spring is kind of notorious for last-minute decisions,” Baker said. “People kind of wait to see what the week’s forecast looks like. We’ve had some really cold, really windy, really rainy races in the spring.”
He said he has five spaces around his office building with electric hookups, and he usually has three or four of those spots reserved for the spring race.
This year, he said, “it’s about nil.”
The guests he does have lined up are returning race fans, he said.
“Probably of the reservations I do have, 60% to 75% is return crowd,” he said. “I guess that’s where it pays to have some long-term relationships — it helps pay the bills.”
Baker said he lost money during last spring’s race, and to prevent that this year, he’s ordered fewer amenities like portable toilets.
“I’m preparing ahead,” he said.
He said his observation of last year’s stands during the spring races is that they weren’t full.
“I’m not even sure where the track is with tickets,” he said.
Ticket sales for the spring BMS races are “up in some areas, down in some others,” according to Kevin Triplett, vice president of public affairs at BMS.
But Triplett said it’s too early to speculate on whether BMS will sell out.
“We’re selling far better than most racetracks are (on the NASCAR circuit), but that’s not the way we gauge ourselves,” he said. “We’ve always set our standards very, very high. And by those standards, we’re not yet where we want to be.”
In addition to the timing of the race, Baker said he thinks Bristol’s format may have pushed some people away.
“People find Bristol boring now,” he said. “They miss the bump and run. People come to see the wrecks, and they get kind of bored when (the race) is so long.”
Another idea for the lack of reservations this spring is that people aren’t as interested in the new NASCAR drivers.
“A lot of the old drivers are retiring, and a lot of your old diehard race fans can’t connect with the new drivers,” said Eddie Honeycutt, owner of Bristol Race Rentals.
His business is receiving fewer rental requests this season as well.
“We’re not doing as well as last year,” he said.
Stan Lady, owner of Lady’s Equipment Camping and Parking just a few miles down the road, said spring reservations at his campsites are pretty slim this year, too.
Usually, he said he has between 30 and 40 reservations for the sites by his house, and between 60 and 70 for the sites at the office. There are about 130 total sites at the office, he said.
“We probably have five at the house and 30 at the office now,” he said.
He said reservations are typically a little slow in the spring, and he expects to get some more in the week before the race.
Lady’s theory is that the weather affects race attendance in the spring.
“If they would move that race up, it would really help them,” he said.