DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — They are slashing ticket prices at the Daytona 500.
In some of the races leading up to the 500, they are offering fans an all-you-can-eat package that includes unlimited hamburgers, hot dogs and potato chips.
Representatives from Daytona International Speedway have been working with local hotels to stop the price-gouging and make rooms more affordable for fans during these dire economic times.
This is all great news, but there's one thing Stan Betts, a NASCAR fan from Atlanta, wants to know.
"Why," he asked before the start of Saturday's tepidly attended Bud Shootout, "weren't they doing this before?"
Why is it that NASCAR and its track owners are only now trying to take care of the fans? Shouldn't this have always been their standard operating procedure?
Ticket prices have been ridiculous for years. So, too, have the hotel scams, where nearby mom-and-pop operations charge a four-night minimum, at $250 per night, for race fans to stay in their thin-toweled roach motels.
These days, though, even the chain hotels are struggling. I stopped by the Days Inn down from the track before Saturday's Shootout — the same hotel I used to call every year about getting a room for this weekend. And every year it was always booked solid — until this year.
"Come here and look at this," said sales manager Mike McDonald, motioning me to the front desk where his computer screen showed vacancies in half of his 160 rooms.
McDonald dropped the two-night minimum and dumped the original $159 rate. If you stopped by his hotel late Saturday night, you could have booked a room for 79 bucks.
"It's terrible," McDonald said. "Shootout Weekend is not even close to what it once was."
Surely the national economy is to blame, but so is NASCAR's arrogance. The powers-that-be never fathomed there could be 10,000-15,000 unsold Daytona 500 tickets only a week before a race that for last year sold out the previous October. They never thought they would have to cut the price of some 4,000 backstretch tickets from $99 to $55. And they never thought they would have to cut the price of a hot dog from $4 to $3.
New NASCAR motto: Nothing says fan appreciation like a $3 wiener.
The amazing thing is that even now some track owners, including the powerful Bruton Smith, don't quite get it. They are blaming the drivers. In a meeting of track promoters recently, Smith said, "Drivers need to do more. I'm very upset with drivers who avoid fans. This idea of running, hiding and not signing autographs, I just don't like it."
Dale Earnhardt Jr. rightfully fired back at the track owners this past week. "People aren't coming to the racetrack not because the drivers don't give a (expletive)," Earnhardt said. "People aren't coming to the racetrack because it's expensive."