Attendance at Rolex Series Races Looking Up

May. 6, 2010

Nate Siebens, Contributing Writer


Fans crowd around the No. 99 GAINSCO Auto Insurance Chevrolet Riley during the Fan Walk at Virginia International Raceway for a pit stop demonstration.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – One of the most positive trends through four of 12 races in the 2010 GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Cask No. 16 season has been the impressive number of fans in attendance at each race.

The two most recent races – the Bosch Engineering 250 at Virginia International Raceway on April 24 and the Porsche 250 at Barber Motorsports Park on April 10 – both had their best Rolex Series crowds ever. It hasn’t gone unnoticed.

“I think that some of the initiatives that GRAND-AM started a couple years ago are starting to pay off,” says Michael Shank Racing owner Mike Shank, who has fielded a full-time Daytona Prototype team since 2004. “Now it appears that we are seeing real world gains as proof. You could see it from the pit stand at Barber how much bigger the crowd was, and I’ve never seen as many people at VIR as we had on race day, so there seems to be some momentum. Hopefully, that will continue to grow.”

“It really seems like GRAND-AM is gaining some good momentum,” adds Dempsey Racing owner/driver Patrick Dempsey. “We’ve always had nice crowds at Barber and this year’s was the best yet since we were there along with the IndyCar Series. It’s always fun to race our Mazda RX-8 in front of a big crowd, and I think we will continue to get a fabulous turnout even if we go back there on our own again.

“It’s been a few years since I’ve been to VIR, but it seemed like the crowd was much bigger than it was the last time I was there. Even though VIR is right in the heart of NASCAR country, the fans there are very knowledgeable about sports car racing, which is always good to see.”

The crowd at Barber, where GRAND-AM has raced since 2003, was estimated at 25,000. No attendance estimates were available for VIR, but Rod Short, VIR’s director of marketing and public relations says, “All the employees tell us, ‘Yes,’” in response to the question of whether or not attendance was up.

Of course, the 2010 season began, as all the others have, with the Rolex 24 At Daytona on January 30-31, and that race had its usual impressive crowd. What might have been even more encouraging, however, was the turnout of hearty race fans for the three-day Roar Before The Rolex 24 test sessions on January 8-10. That weekend saw record low temperatures and even a few very rare Central Florida snowflakes.

“I was really impressed by the number of people who showed up for testing even though it snowed in Daytona that weekend,” said Dempsey. “GRAND-AM definitely has a lot of dedicated and passionate fans.”

Dempsey was one of many Rolex Series stars to participate in fan forums throughout the Roar Before The Rolex 24 weekend. The fan forums are one of several activities and promotions that GRAND-AM and its host tracks have offered to race fans throughout the 2010 season to enhance their experience beyond the exciting on-track action.

Of course, driver autograph sessions have been a GRAND-AM staple for several years and happen at every race. Newer promotions that have drawn a positive response from fans include ClickIt Photography, where fans get their photos taken for free at the track and can download them later from; the GRAND-AM Mobile Fan Zone at each race weekend, which includes full-motion racing simulators and show cars; car corrals and other activities for car clubs; and the pre-race Fan Walk, which allows fans to roam the starting grid just minutes prior to the drop of the green flag.

“One of the tremendous things is the Fan Walk, where people can actually go out there on pit road when the cars are staged and just look and at least think they can kick a tire,” Short says. “That’s a huge deal. Next year, I want to promote that more than we have. The access in the pits and the Fan Walk means an awful lot to people. We had live music during the thing, too, and that just added to the atmosphere.”

Another unique promotion this year came at March’s Grand Prix of Miami at Homestead-Miami Speedway, which was hosting its first “standalone” Rolex Series weekend since 2004.

For $40, fans received a ticket and paddock pass for the Grand Prix of Miami, and exclusive group meet-and-greet with Dempsey Racing drivers and an autographed team hero card. For each ticket sold as part of the package, the track also made a $20 donation to the Patrick Dempsey Center for Cancer, Hope & Healing and the Seattle Children’s Hospital.

“I know the people in Homestead worked very hard to promote the race there and we participated in one of their promotions,” Dempsey said. “It seems like they’re making good progress there.”

All of these activities and promotions, combined with the unparalleled on-track excitement in each Rolex Series and GRAND-AM Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge race, now appear to be resonating with race fans. The series continues to work hard on exposing GRAND-AM to newer and larger audiences.

Just last week, several GRAND-AM drivers and teams visited Grand Central Terminal in New York City to promote the upcoming Memorial Day Classic at Lime Rock Park. Track officials passed out flyers for its Grand Central promotion; for $53, people can ride from Grand Central to Wassaic, N.Y., be shuttled to Lime Rock and enjoy the race.

“The volume of people going through Grand Central Terminal is massive, and putting the cars in front of them was productive,” said No. 66 driver and Long Island native Andy Lally, who was one of many drivers on the scene. “It was a great idea, and I expect several people we talked to will attend the Lime Rock race.”

Time will tell if Lally is correct, but if the early-season trends are any indication, it’s definitely a good bet.


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