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NASCAR postpones May races at Dover

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Dover International Speedway’s May race weekend has been postponed by NASCAR, but it hopes to reschedule. | PHOTO COURTESY OF WIKIMEDIA

DOVER – NASCAR has called off its races at Dover International Speedway scheduled for May 1 to 3 due to the anticipated impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the racing association announced Monday night.

In fact, NASCAR has postponed all races until May 10, meaning that Dover’s Cup Series race weekend would be the last to be affected. Races planned for Martinsville Speedway in Virginia on May 10 would be the first that NASCAR hopes to hold after the postponements.

“The health and safety of our fans, industry and the communities in which we race is our most important priority, so in accordance with recent [U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] guidance, NASCAR is currently postponing all race events through May 3rd, with plans to return racing in Martinsville. We appreciate the patience of our fans and we look forward to returning to the racetrack,” the association wrote in a statement Monday announcing the postponements. “What is important now transcends the world of sports and our focus is on everyone’s safety and well-being as we navigate this challenging time together.”

Those in Dover who hope to see two race weekends in 2020 still have hope, however, as NASCAR added that it “intends to hold all 36 races this season.” How or when NASCAR would make up the seven races it has postponed – including Dover, Atlanta, Homestead-Miami, Texas, Bristol, Richmond and Talladega – remains to be seen, as races are scheduled for every weekend through Nov. 8.

“We fully support the decision NASCAR has made for our track and the industry,” said Mike Tatoian, president and CEO of Dover International Speedway, in a Monday night statement. “We share in the disappointment for our fans that were planning their trip to the Monster Mile in May, but this decision is in the best interest of everyone. We are experiencing an unprecedented time together and the health and safety of our fans has always been our priority.”

The economic impact of not holding the spring race in Dover as planned will likely be huge for businesses around the state capital that are already hurting from decreased patronage among the pandemic. Hotels will no longer host racing fans, restaurants and bars will no longer be serving them and retailers won’t have a weekend of tens of thousands stocking up to camp at the racetrack.

Estimates for that impact are hard to pin down, a 2001 study pegged the races’ impact at $94 million annually although a 2019 Delaware Department of Transportation economic impact study on state airports pegged it lower at about $60 million.

According to the 2019 annual report for Dover Motorsports Inc., the publicly traded owner of Dover International Speedway, the races made about $4.9 million in admission revenue – that continues a more than decade-long decline as NASCAR deals with falling attendance. In 2008, admissions revenue was more than $31 million.

Tellingly, Dover International Speedway spent about $1.5 million last year to decrease its seating capacity from 83,000 to 54,000. At its height a decade ago, the racetrack had a capacity of about 135,000.

Despite falling attendance, the races’ TV broadcast rights have become more valuable every year, totaling $34.2 million last year. According to the 10-K filing, Dover Motorsports is scheduled for a 4% increase in broadcast rights fees, but if the races cannot be rescheduled it would be a major blow to revenues.

With the NASCAR races making up a reported 96% of Dover Motorsports revenue, the racetrack’s owner could depend upon some gap funding between the postponed and rescheduled Cup Series race by drawing from an available credit facility. As of Dec. 31, it still had more than $16 million in its credit agreement as well as about $7.5 million in cash on hand.

Meanwhile, another event hosted at Dover International Speedway is also among those concerned about a long-term, coronavirus-spurred closure: the Firefly Music Festival.

Firefly is scheduled for June 18-21, and as of Tuesday its promoter AEG had not announced any plans to postpone or cancel the annual event. The cancellation of Firefly would be another big blow to the Dover-area, as a 2014 study estimated its economic impact on the region at $68 million.

By Jacob Owens

[email protected]

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