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Dover prepares for 20K NASCAR fans at sellout race

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Tens of thousands of fans attended the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Drydene 400 at Dover International Speedway on Oct. 6, 2019, in Dover. | PHOTO COURTESY OF NASCAR/MATT SULLIVAN/GETTY

DOVER For the first time in a year, the roar of NASCAR cars will be heard at Dover International Speedway, with Sunday’s Drydene 400 NASCAR Cup Series sold out to 20,000 fans capped by social distance requirements.

Tickets are still available for Friday and Saturday races. Although Dover International Speedway had offered fans the option to roll over their 2020 tickets to the 2021 race weekend or credit for future races, the track never stopped selling tickets for the race weekend, said Mike Tatoian, president and CEO of Dover Motorsports.

“I like to think optimistically, so I never thought we would not be back in 2021,” Tatoian previously told the Delaware Business Times. “The trends in the data have shown us that case counts and hospitalizations are getting lower and people are getting vaccinated, which made it possible to have some fans. We were challenged last year, but this year will be good, and I believe next year will be even better.”

Dover International Speedway can seat 54,000 fans, but under state regulations that require events to submit a plan to adhere to social distance requirements, the Delaware Division of Public Health signed off on the racing event company’s plan to have 20,000 fans in the stands.

That plan also includes requiring attendees to wear masks, using digital tickets for grandstand seats, added hand sanitizer stations, special procedures for social distancing in concession lines. Tatoian told the DBT that ticket holders will be able to sit in pods, but the plan is to have each aisle open for fans, with periodic seats roped off to maintain a 6-foot distance between groups.

There will be enhanced cleaning in high-traffic areas and prohibited infield access except for race teams, track personnel and select media representatives.

“We appreciate the patience and understanding we heard from fans during our reseating process and we look forward to welcoming them back in the grandstands this weekend,” Tatoian said in a press statement. “We thank not only our fans for their continued loyalty and enthusiasm, but also Delaware public health officials for their confidence in us to host this weekend’s races safely.” 

NASCAR’s return comes after a rough year, brought on by canceling its 2020 race due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But then, Dover Motorsports announced it would move one of its two NASCAR Cup Series races from Dover International Speedway to its racetrack in Nashville in 2021. That ended Delaware’s nearly 50-year string of hosting two race weekends per year and costing the state tens of millions in tourism revenue.

In 2019, Dover Motorsports spent about $1.5 million to decrease its seating capacity from 83,000 to 54,000 due to falling attendance.

According to Dover Motorsports’ 2020 annual report, the company lost $3.8 million last year in event revenue compared to 2019, including lower corporate sponsorships, merchandise, concession and parking revenues from the races that were postponed in May and later held without fans in August. That loss was partially offset by increased contracted broadcasting revenue that reached $35.6 million, just as many Americans stayed indoors and opted to watch sports on TV.

Delaware Department of Transportation values Dover Motorsport’s economic impact around $60 million per a 2019 study, drawing thousands of people to the state’s capital and spending dollars to the local businesses.

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