CONCORD, N.C. (AP) — Kyle Larson lingered near his car waiting for the race to begin at Dover International Speedway when British television presenter Cherry Healey joined him on the concrete. Kneeling next to a rear tire, Healey snapped a selfie with NASCAR's newest star.
Selfies are all the rage in every age group, and in NASCAR, where fans can rub elbows with their favorite driver minutes before the start of the race, the ability to snap a shot with the stars is just another perk in the fan-friendly sport.
A snapshot of attendance shows a wider problem that social media can't fix.
Dover had swaths of empty seats on Sunday, continuing the trend of declining attendance at the Delaware race track that primarily serves Baltimore, Philadelphia, Richmond, Virginia, and Washington. Longtime observers said the crowd was the smallest in years, something CEO Denis McGlynn seemed to hint was coming in the pre-race driver meeting.
McGlynn told the drivers that fans simply can't afford to attend races at Dover, and warned "you're going to see some holes in the grandstands."
McGlynn and his staff are targeting a younger audience, trying to build a new generation of race fans, and offered kids 14 and under a $10 ticket on Sunday. In an effort to appeal to those kids, who love Facebook and Instagram and Twitter and Snapchat, McGlynn urged drivers to take a moment and pose for selfies with the new fans. Autographs mean little to anyone but collectors and the guy trying to make a buck, so the selfie goes a long way.
Far enough to fix attendance woes?
It still costs roughly $65 to get in the gate at Dover, and all those kids targeted with the $10 seats can't get them without the purchase of an adult ticket, too. Throw in parking, food and drink — even if you bring your own — and it's a big spend.
At least half of Dover's targeted audience could have attended the race at Richmond in April. A huge portion of the fans can go to Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania this Sunday. And the luckiest fans at Pocono can skip the drivers and aim for selfies with the grand marshals, actors Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum.
NASCAR desperately wants to appeal to East Coast fans, but it's a bloated market. There are too many entertainment options already, and NASCAR is cramming in four Sprint Cup races from April 26 through Aug. 3 in one region.
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