Reconfiguration, marketing pay off for Homestead speedway
By Sherri C. Ranta
Homestead-Miami Speedway's $10 million investment to reconfigure its racetrack and aggressive marketing this year resulted in its first sellout of a NASCAR Winston Cup event.
"The fans were the reason we invested over $10 million to reconfigure the track. The results are beyond our expectations - selling out the first year of the new track," said Curtis Gray, track president.
Homestead-Miami Speedway's reconfiguration likely will be the blueprint for future track construction, Mr. Gray said.
Nextel has committed $75 million a year for the next 10 years as a series sponsor - the largest sponsorship in the history of major sports. The sponsorship will reinvigorate the sport and continue to pump money into race sites, Mr. Gray said.
"That will take the sport to a different level. They can approach a younger fan base and reach more people through television," he said. "There's a lot of potential for growth in general."
About 65,000 fans filled the grandstand Nov. 16 during the Winston Cup Ford 400 race, one of three run during this year's Ford Championship Weekend on Nov. 13-16. The weekend is the track's largest annual event, he said. Tickets sold out Sunday morning and some fans were turned away.
"What it really means is a great future for the race track. It creates a new excitement and energy around NASCAR weekend. People will come to South Florida who haven't come in the past," he said. "So we see future growth, and it will positively affect the economic impact of our events."
A previous study found Homestead-Miami Speedway generates about $120 million in two days of racing, a figure track officials say make NASCAR the largest economic generator in the South Florida sports industry. The numbers have climbed since, track officials said, with last year's addition of the third race.
"We see that getting larger in the future because we have room for growth," Mr. Gray said. "While we won't expand seating in 2004, expanding seating in the near future is a definite possibility."
Track officials said the last sellout at Homestead-Miami was for the inaugural NASCAR Busch series in 1995, when the track opened. Four years later, track officials doubled the grandstands to the current 65,000 seats for the Winston Cup series, NASCAR's top series.
This year's race packed a double whammy for local hotels and restaurants, Mr. Gray said. All the race teams - about 1,500 people - came to South Florida the week before the races to test the redesigned track.
Normally, they don't test at the same time, he said. "NASCAR wanted a level playing field for all the teams."
Homestead-Miami officials marketed the track reconfiguration months before the NASCAR races, even creating a new motto, "The New Homestead-Miami Speedway." The reconfiguration proved popular with drivers as well as fans, Mr. Gray said.
"Every single driver in all three series had positive things to say about the race track - that just doesn't happen," he said.
Mr. Gray said he hopes the new track will pump excitement into its Indy Car weekend scheduled for Feb. 27-29.
The track reconfiguration involved demolishing a mostly flat track and creating a new one with computer-designed variable-degree banking in all four turns - basically creating three grooves for side-by-side racing. The new design allowed for more passing opportunities.
Homestead economic-development officials say the NASCAR races are always good for the area, filling hotel rooms and restaurants from Miami to Key Largo. "We haven't received any figures yet," said Mary Finlan, executive director of the Homestead-Florida City Chamber of Commerce, "but we know they were about 99% full.
"They pretty much bank on that time of year - that and the snowbird season. It makes their season," she said.
Mike Richardson, president of the Vision Council, the area's economic-development agency, said South Dade receives an extra benefit from the season-ending races.
"Many of the race crews stay in the area and vacation for a while. People stay around and enjoy the weather - that's definitely happening," he said.
Homestead Hospital also benefits from the NASCAR races, Mr. Richardson said.
Top NASCAR drivers, speedway officials and the Homestead Hospital Foundation, he said, have raised money for the past two years during the hospital's annual fundraising event, the Pineapple Gala.
The partnership, he said, has raised record amounts of money for the hospital. Last year's gala raised $207,000.
"It has a major impact on the community," Mr. Richardson said. "The hospital foundation has been doing the Pineapple Gala for the last five years. The last two at the race track have raised significantly more money than was raised in the past."
The speedway organization has contributed about $300,000 to the hospital to help fund renovation of the Betty Jane France Pediatric Center, he said. The children's unit is known as Speediatrics and decorated in a motor-sports theme.