As a professional sport, NASCAR races are often among the most highly attended events. When the green flag drops, there are times you won’t see an empty seat in the grandstands, along with a packed infield. But you may wonder what NASCAR’s attendance statistics look like.
NASCAR does not release official attendance statistics, but there are some figures out there for specific races. Many NASCAR races, like the Daytona 500, can sell out, while others struggle to reach 25% capacity. It’s estimated that between 2 and 3.6 million people attend NASCAR races each year.
Below, we will fully break down the numbers of people who attend NASCAR races each season. We will then discuss some interesting NASCAR attendance facts, before answering the burning questions of whether NASCAR attendance is dropping and if the sport is losing fans.
How Many People Attend NASCAR Races Every Year?
NASCAR no longer releases official attendance numbers, so there is no way to find an exact average attendance number for races every year. However, the number is estimated to be in the range of 2-3.6 million people, with regular season attendance usually being closer to 2 million.
NOTE: Other websites may quote hard figures for NASCAR attendances based purely off the maximum capacities of the various tracks divided by the number of races in the season. But these numbers are not reliable, as not every race has a full crowd!
Using The Max Capacity
It’s not as simple as taking the maximum capacity of all the NASCAR tracks and dividing by the number of races, as there are many races that see small crowds while others sell out. But to get an idea of the theoretical maximum attendance during a NASCAR season, we must add up the maximum capacities at each track.
There are currently 27 tracks on the Cup Series schedule, and we know the maximum capacity for 26 of them, with the Chicago Street Course serving as the only mystery. When we add the maximum capacity numbers for the 26 tracks, we get about 2,514,000. We also know that some tracks host two events.
These tracks include Daytona, Talladega, Darlington, Bristol, Martinsville, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Atlanta, Charlotte, Richmond, and Kansas. Therefore, we must add the maximum capacity of these tracks to the schedule twice, which gives us a total of around 3,632,000.
We can then divide this by 37 (all regular season races plus exhibition races, but minus the unknown capacity race in Chicago) to get a theoretical maximum average attendance per race of just over 98,000 people. That sounds like a lot of people, but it’s not the real number.
We know that races could fill as little as 25%, which was the case at the 2021 and 2022 Indianapolis Road Course race. Some races, like the Daytona 500, regularly fill out. The non-regular season Clash at the Coliseum in 2022 reached around 65% capacity. So, there’s a lot of fluctuation between events.
The Real Figures
In reality, all we can safely assume is that NASCAR’s yearly attendance figure is somewhere between around 2 million and 3.6 million. From its peak period in the early 2000s until 2019, attendance steadily declined, before seeing an uptick in 2022 after the COVID-19 pandemic saw attendance at all sporting events drop to the floor.
NASCAR Average Attendance Per Race
The average NASCAR attendance per race is likely between 70,000 and 97,000, although some events can host much more than this, while others will see fewer than 50,000 people turn up. Maximum NASCAR capacities at different tracks vary between 18,000 and 257,000.
Factors That Affect NASCAR Attendance Numbers
NASCAR, like all sports, must find ways to maintain fan interest and to keep the number as close to the 3.6 million attendance mark as they can. However, the sport must also evolve, meaning the racing changes in subtle ways from time to time, and even improving safety can affect attendance figures.
NASCAR isn’t as dangerous as it once was, and so casual fans who attended races simply to see massive wrecks will rarely see them compared to in years gone by (although big wrecks definitely still occur).
While safety is good for the drivers, it can cause lack of interest. Therefore, to keep the attendance level higher, NASCAR is always finding ways to strengthen other areas of its product. In recent years, this meant adding more road courses to the schedule (and even a street race), finding ways to promote more side-by-side racing, and to tailor races to better challenge the drivers’ skills.
The state of the economy can be another factor that affects NASCAR attendance. When there is a big shake up in the wider economy, sporting events can take a hit as they need to raise prices to cover higher costs. Higher NASCAR ticket prices can lead to fewer people turning up to races.
KEY POINTS• NASCAR no longer releases official attendance figures
• It’s estimated that between 2 million and 3.6 million people attend NASCAR races each year
• Many different factors affect NASCAR attendance numbers, including the state of the economy
5 NASCAR Attendance Facts
1. NASCAR Attendance Started Rebounding In 2021
Except for notoriously low crowds at Kansas and Texas, the increased attendance in 2022 really started in 2021, but took off in 2022 with strong attendance at NASCAR’s preseason race at the Coliseum. The trend continued through to the Daytona 500, and even in the season finale race in Phoenix.
This was a significant win for NASCAR, considering the declining crowds they were dealing with between 2007 and 2019. Not only were they experiencing a loss of interest regarding attendance, but merchandise and TV viewership were also down during that time. And they too rebounded in some instances throughout 2022.
2. NASCAR Decreased Capacity At Select Tracks
To make the races look as though they achieved fuller attendance during its decline, NASCAR decreased overall capacity at some tracks, including at Daytona. Before 2014, Daytona’s grandstand held a capacity of 145,000, and that has since shrunk to 101,000. This doesn’t boost attendance figures of course, but it can make the grandstands look and feel more packed.
3. The Clash At The Coliseum Had Primarily First-Time Attendees
Of the 50,000 or so attendees at the 2022 Clash at the Coliseum, 65% of them were reported to have attended their first ever NASCAR Cup Series event. This meant the rough estimate of attendees seeing their first race sat at 32,500, and it showed that NASCAR is achieving its goal of not just diversifying its tracks, but also its audience.
4. NASCAR Released Attendance Figures Until 2014
Before 2014, you did not need to estimate the number of people attending a NASCAR race. The sanctioning body freely released its attendance figures, meaning you only needed to check out a report following the race to see how many fans showed up. It is not known exactly why NASCAR stopped releasing attendance figures, but there’s a high chance it’s linked to the numbers going down during that time.
5. The Brickyard 400 Drew Larger Crowds Than Any Other Race
Published attendance figures are few and far between, but the Brickyard 400 race saw numbers encroach 240,000 attendees on eight different occasions. Unfortunately, one of those races was the 2008 event, which is often blamed as the beginning of the end of the event, which ran its final oval race in 2020.
Since 2021, NASCAR still attends the Brickyard, but they race on the road course configuration with an estimated attendance hovering around 65,000 in 2021 and 2022, a far cry from the popular event that it once was.
Are NASCAR Attendances Dropping?
When you watch a NASCAR race, you may see a few more empty seats than you would have otherwise seen in the past. If you were a fan of the sport in the 1990s and 2000s, you might remember crowds that overflowed a venue’s capacity with infield seating. Even as early as the 1980s, video evidence also shows packed houses.
And although we have seen an increase in attendance that started in late 2021, numbers are still low overall. In the above section, we mentioned the high number of attendees at the 2008 Brickyard 400, but that only a fraction of fans have shown up since, with the race often filling up just 25% of its available seating.
Other races, like the season finale at Phoenix, sees regular sellouts. So although NASCAR attendance has dropped substantially in some areas, it has also rebounded in others, with more ups than downs. Time will tell whether this trend will continue, and whether NASCAR will ultimately see its attendance figures increase to the number we saw in the mid-2000s.
Is NASCAR Losing Fans?
The good news is that, in 2022, NASCAR saw its numbers increase. The sport reported a double-digit percentage increase in ticket sales over the season’s first quarter, with some up 20%. That included a sellout of the grandstands for the 2022 Daytona 500.
The 2022 Phoenix Race was also a sellout, and the Auto Club Race also saw an increase in attendance. The Pocono Race saw its highest attendance in years, and both the Atlanta and Bristol Races saw increased attendance too.
NASCAR pointed to many changes they made over the years that they believe are responsible for the boost. One was to add diversity to the sport, which has gradually shifted away from its regional roots in the Southeastern United States and now looks to capture a nationwide audience.
The addition of road courses and new types of tracks, like a street course in Chicago and the stadium preseason race at the Los Angeles Coliseum, along with ways to maximize fan experience, have contributed to the rising attendance figures. They have also experimented with guest analysts for each race on the schedule, and that has seen positive returns too.
NASCAR went through a major shift in the 1990s and early 2000s, branching farther from its roots in the Southeastern United States and invading new markets. In these markets, tracks like Texas, Las Vegas, Auto Club, Kansas, Homestead-Miami, Indianapolis, and Chicagoland joined the schedule.
This shift also saw fewer races in the Southeast, and fewer opportunities for NASCAR’s core fanbase to attend races. NASCAR also shifted away from North Wilkesboro, Rockingham Speedway and, if you go back to the 1980s, the Nashville Fairgrounds.
An Initial Bump
As with anything new introduced to an area, attendance and fan interest often goes through the roof. That’s what happened with NASCAR. They saw an uptick in fans in these new markets, but interest waned because they attracted mainly casual fans.
Such fans took an interest in the sport, but as time moved forward, fewer fans became interested in favor of the next big thing in their respective regions. At the same time, NASCAR’s racing product had a tough time keeping up, as they introduced the ill-fated Car of Tomorrow in 2007. The car went full-time in 2008 with mixed results at best.
Many of the tracks mentioned above became known as cookie-cutter tracks, since Texas, Las Vegas, Kansas, Homestead-Miami, and Chicagoland are 1.5 mile (2.4 km) ovals. Although these tracks had their differences, fans saw the racing product as stale, prompting them to lose interest in the sport as quickly as they gained it during the 1990s and early 2000s.
Alienating The Core Fanbase
This takes us back to the core fanbase. Some felt, understandably, alienated with NASCAR’s decision to branch out to other tracks. Go back to 1996, where 22 of NASCAR’s 31 points-paying events occurred in the Southeast.
Fast-forward to 2006, and that number dropped to 18, but at this point, NASCAR hosted 36 points-paying events, dropping the overall percentage to just 50%, compared with over 70% in 1996.
NASCAR Makes Amends
But NASCAR appears to have at least pointed the arrow back to the Southeast and toward its core fans. Of the 36 points-paying and exhibition events in 2023, 20 events are now in the Southeast, or 55%. Further, NASCAR is also returning to North Wilkesboro for the All-Star Race, moving back toward their core fan base.
In 2021, when NASCAR revamped its schedule, they also returned to Nashville to race at the Nashville Superspeedway. There is also talk of the Cup Series potentially returning to the Nashville Fairgrounds, which will add yet another race to its core area.
The return to North Wilkesboro and bringing NASCAR closer to its core while at the same time reaching out to new markets appears to be allowing it to further diversify its fanbase. While NASCAR lost fans who lost interest in the sport in their respective regions and fans who felt the sport abandoned them, recent attendance increases shows that they may be gaining some fans back.
Consider 21st Century Technology
Attendance figures may also never recover to what they were in the late 1990s and early 2000s, even if NASCAR regains the fan support it saw. This is because there are many ways to tune into a race that don’t involve spending hundreds or even thousands of dollars heading to the live event.
People live busy lives, and some may opt to just catch highlights of their favorite NASCAR events. Others may opt for an online stream, making it easier to access an event than ever before. This means NASCAR could be reaching out to an entirely new group of fans, even if it does mean the attendance figures don’t reach the highs of days gone by.
KEY POINTS• NASCAR attendances are on the rise for many tracks
• The sport doesn’t seem to be losing fans, although it has lost some compared with past popularity peaks
• It’s easier than ever to watch the races at home or on the go, which may deter fans from going to live events
NASCAR Tracks Maximum Capacities
|Indianapolis Motor Speedway||257,325|
|Charlotte Motor Speedway||171,000|
|Texas Motor Speedway||159,585|
|Bristol Motor Speedway||153,000|
|Circuit of the Americas||150,000|
|Michigan International Speedway||137,243|
|Las Vegas Motor Speedway||131,000|
|Atlanta Motor Speedway||125,000|
|Auto Club Speedway||122,000|
|Daytona International Speedway||101,500|
|World Wide Technology Raceway||78,000|
|Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum||77,500|
|New Hampshire Motor Speedway||76,000|
|Dover Motor Speedway||54,000|
|Watkins Glen International||38,900|
|North Wilkesboro Speedway||18,000|
|Chicago Street Course||N/A|
NASCAR attendances over the course of a season are likely between 2-3.6 million in total. We can only estimate NASCAR’s attendance figures since the sport does not release official data. While figures have decreased in the late 2000s and throughout the 2010s, they did rebound in 2021 and 2022.
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