Pikes Peak International Raceway (PPIR) had the checkered flag waving for the first time this year on May 19. The running of the NASCAR Rocky Mountain 200 Craftsman truck race and the NASCAR 100 Featherlite Southwest tour series race started a season of events that includes a Busch series race, an Indy Racing League (IRL) series race and an AMA Superbike weekend.
These four weekends of racing are the bread and butter for a race track that has struggled at times to find its way out of the financial issues that a young business must contend with. Nonetheless, attendance for each of these events is on the rise. Most notably, the IRL and Busch series races have increased their draw by an average of about 10 percent over the past few years.
The steady upswing in popularity that PPIR is enjoying is partially attributed to the overall boom in fan support that the sport of auto racing is receiving. However, PPIR President Rob Johnson and Public Relations Manager Clark Curtis are also doing their part to ply the wares of their racetrack.
Johnson and Curtis recently returned from a week long, three state holy mission trying to convert non-believers to the excitement inherent in watching a 150 mph marathon around their one mile oval track. This front office duo is hoping that an increase in event popularity and fan support will translate into a future of stability and expansion.
The fastest way this expansion will take place is for PPIR to land a Winston Cup Series race. Rumors have surfaced that the Winston Cup Series may split into two leagues and that PPIR would be awarded a race as part of a second league. Johnson doesn’t see this happening and believes that his track would figure into a different expansion plan from Winston because, “How do you put Jeff Gordon on one track and put Dale Earnhardt Jr. on another track?”
NASCAR has been looking for ways to expand it’s flagship Winston Cup series into new markets; the trick is that the series cannot expand beyond its already full line-up of 38 weekends a year. The likely solution for Winston is to relocate some of their races to new facilities. This is where Johnson figures PPIR will come into play.
“NASCAR has indicated that they have an interest in growing in this market, so our challenge has been to show them that PPIR can handle a Winston Cup race, that fans would support a race and that we would make the necessary improvements at the facility to be able to accommodate a Winston Cup race.”
The improvements that PPIR would make to host a Winston race would come mostly in the form of doubling the capacity to 80,000 plus, as well as expanding the overall facility to handle such a large scale event.
For the region surrounding PPIR, having a Winston Cup stop is in the same light as hosting the Super Bowl each year. In an economic impact study that the track is currently developing, without a Winston race this year, the track will have a $53.1 million impact on the region. Conversely, if in the year 2005 PPIR has a Winston stop, that impact would grow to around $101.9 million for the region.
Johnson went on to explain that the economic difference between auto racing and other team sports is that when a NASCAR event takes place, 2500 team folks, people that work for the racing teams and the series, come to the region and stay in the hotels and eat at the restaurants over a four or five day period. Compare this to a 30 member hockey or baseball team staff that visits the Springs for usually only one night, and we begin to see how the economic benefits of a racetrack can far outshine those of other sports.
Aside from what the Winston Cup would add to the Fountain region, PPIR itself means a great deal to the surrounding areas, most notably Colorado Springs. “You won’t find another venue in Colorado Springs this summer that provides the visibility to this market like we do,” Johnson stated. “We will be live on ESPN and ABC, so from a national audience stand point, there is nothing in Colorado Springs that will give that type of awareness to the town.”
As PPIR continues courting a Winston race, the track is estimating that their four weekend schedule will draw around 120,000 fans this year. And, although NASCAR does not release official attendance numbers, the Rocky Mountain 200 and the NASCAR 100 Featherlite crowd was up from last year. Combine this with the fact that pre-sales are up significantly for the Busch series race and that non-race related track rentals are up nearly 400 percent since 1998 and PPIR begins to show some of their own signs of economic improvements regardless of Winston.
If the track can continue this positive trend, small scale expansion will gravitate from the drawing board to execution and PPIR will continue to raise eyebrows from NASCAR and fans throughout the Pikes Peak region.