Richmond International Raceway and NASCAR Reaching New Fans

By Jerry Jordan, Editor

RICHMOND, Va. – Welcome to NASCAR 3.0 and it’s ready for families, fun and fast-paced racing action. This weekend, NASCAR will set the field for its playoffs at Richmond International Raceway and it will be one of the most intense races of the seasons as the clinch scenarios are almost endless.

But it’s not just the racing that has stepped up its game in 2016 – the entire NASCAR experience has been upgraded and fans can get a full helping this weekend at Richmond International Raceway. From better parking and a free transit shuttle service to help get you and your family back and forth from your vehicle to faster Wi-Fi so you can stay connected and keep track of the action on the latest racing apps to an overall racing experience that has improved to attract and keep younger fans attention – NASCAR, its track promoters, race teams and drivers want fans to know there’s something for everyone at the track.

“When I got into motorsports after I went to the first race and then started working in it, being from outside I realized these guys redefined fan access,” said Dennis Bickmeier, President of Richmond International Raceway. “The opportunities that fans have at NASCAR tracks are amazing. From the midway to really cool access during pre-race, the concerts and everything else it is an incredible experience.”

Coming off Darlington Raceway’s “Throwback Weekend” and heading into the first race of The Chase at Chicagoland Speedway, Richmond is caught in the middle of two very high-profile races. The fact that it is one of the greatest short tracks in the country isn’t lost on die-hard race fans, who know they will see great racing but casual fans may wonder if there is something more – and there is. This weekend, the field will be set for The Chase and that all takes place at Richmond but none of the races would be possible without one key ingredient – the fans.

So Bickmeier, who came to racing from stick-and-ball sports, thought of a way to make fans the focal point of the weekend. Actually, he’s giving them their own weekend.

“One of the things we talked about last year was how the throwback weekend honored the roots of the sport with its cool paint schemes and paying homage to the drivers that held build NASCAR’s past,” Bickmeier said. “When I worked for the (Los Angeles) Angels the last game of the season was Fan Appreciation Day and we unloaded everything we had left to give out to the fans. Here at Richmond, we have adopted that for this weekend and we are hosting our inaugural Fan Appreciation Weekend.

“We want to say, ‘Thank you’ to the fans that are the heart and soul of the sport. Week in and week out our promoters around NASCAR do an incredible job of showing appreciation for fans and I can guarantee you that won’t change for any of them but we are putting a brand around it and collectively thanking the fans for their support before the series heads off to Chicago and then on to crown its next champion. This is the last race of the regular season and we want to make a good handoff.”

On tap for this weekend at Richmond, is what is being called Gridside Live!, an event that will happen Saturday at 2 p.m. with 12 NASCAR drivers taking questions from fans and competing against one another in games that everyone is familiar with – and it will take place trackside. This isn’t a “Super Fan” or “Special Access Only” ticket. It’s open to every single fan attending the Federated Auto Parts 400. Then there is the tie-in with M&M’s, which is celebrating its 75th Anniversary and inviting fans to walk the M&M’S Red Carpet at the frontstretch gate where Kyle Busch, M&M’S characters, a giant birthday cake, M&M’s Crispy and SNICKERS Crisper samples will all be available as a way to say “Thank you” to the fans as they enter the grandstands. Plus, there will be new vendors and other fan opportunities along the expanded track perimeter and frontstretch gate area.

For fans with children, which NASCAR is dedicated to bringing into the sport as new fans with incredible opportunities and aggressive ticket pricing, there is the Virginia529 Kids Zone Open. The Kids Zone is open each day and there are fun and exciting learning opportunities to teach children about the dynamics of racing. They even brought in an astronaut from NASA one to explain gravity and G-forces and how the cars speed around the track.

“The visual elements at the track will reinforce the message throughout the weekend with signage, fan messaging and stickers on the cars,” Bickmeier said. “From the drivers to crew to sponsors, everyone has jumped on board with this and there will be lots of fun and giveaways. Mars and Sprint will be giving away gifts and even the race teams have stepped up with autographed items, including an autographed helmet. NBC is giving away a ride to a lucky fan in its two-seater car and Richmond is giving away a trip to the race.

“You know, the racing is the culmination of what can be a really great day at the track because there is so much to do,” Bickmeier said. “We have free parking and concerts and a fan midway, plus you can bring your own food and beverages to the track. That only improves the value of a race ticket and you still get to see a great race. We have turned racing into these full-day experiences for the fans and it is just isn’t at Richmond, it’s true at all of NASCAR’s tracks.”

For example, at Daytona International Speedway the track unveiled the most extensive upgrade in the history of the sport with Daytona Rising. Daytona is now considered the world’s motorsports stadium and features 101,000 wider and more comfortable seats; twice as many restrooms; three times as many concession stands and there is superfast WIFI to keep fans connected. It’s just one example of how the at-track experience is being re-imagined – with more positive change on the way. And since that time, other tracks have stepped up their game and are working to improve their own fan experiences, as well.

Bickmeier also pointed out that just because the tracks are upgrading the experience for the younger crowds and doing things to get more casual fans to the track, it doesn’t mean the hardcore, tailgating NASCAR fan has been kicked to the curb. Richmond, for example, still has a great camping experience as do all of the other tracks on the circuit.

“If you just want to come and hang out and watch the race, you can still tailgate and just have fun,” he said. “The camping experience at our races has become one of those real special opportunities that you can’t really get elsewhere.

“I think so much of it goes back to the fact that we love our fans and I think every track promoter will be talking talk about all the cool things for fans at their tracks.”

For fans who thought it was too late to get in on the fun this weekend at Richmond, tickets are still available and the easiest way to get them is by visiting www.NASCAR.com/tickets it’s the one-stop-shop for tickets to all of the action in NASCAR.

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