Watkins Glen International is on track for a grandstand sellout and more campers than ever for its annual NASCAR showcase despite a later date and economic challenges being faced by fans.
Three days of competition in NASCAR Go Bowling at The Glen weekend begin Friday and continue through Sunday, culminating with the headlining Cup Series race at 3 p.m.
An ARCA Menards Series race at 6 p.m. Friday and a NASCAR Xfiniity Series race at 3 p.m. Saturday are also part of an event that is among the largest annually in the Northeast in terms of spectators. Qualifying for both NASCAR races is scheduled for Saturday.
WGI President Michael Printup said Friday he expects the NASCAR-owned track to sell out its more than 38,000 grandstand seats. Last year the road course sold out grandstand seating for the sixth consecutive race even though it wasn’t announced until early in the summer Watkins Glen would be allowed to be at full capacity after COVID restrictions in New York were eased. Watkins Glen’s 2020 race was canceled because of the pandemic.
“Our goal for 2022 was to match 2019,” Printup said of ticket sales. “We’re going to be just about there. We may be short literally 400 or 500 tickets off of 2019. Nobody’s going to notice. We anticipate Friday, Saturday at the latest – it’s typically around then – that we’ll have our grandstand sold out.”
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NASCAR no longer announces attendance figures. The largest official crowd figure released for a Watkins Glen race was 95,800 in 2002. Without giving out exact numbers, Printup said after the 2015 race they exceeded the record that year.
As is always the case with the sprawling road course nestled within 1,900 acres above the villages of Watkins Glen and Montour Falls, general admission tickets will still be available if grandstands sell out.
Campers will exceed last year’s number
Last year the track sold out camping for the first time with an unspecified number, leading to the addition of more reserved camping sites. Campers have taken advantage of the additional openings, with campgrounds set to open Wednesday.
“We’re going to exceed last year’s number, which was a sellout,” Printup said. “We opened up some more areas for camping. That’s great news when you think about the economy and RVs and the price of gas. People are still committed to come out and get some great entertainment.”
The NASCAR-determined Aug. 21 date for the Cup race is two weeks later than what it has been in recent years and the latest in the race’s history. The date shift adds to the race’s significance in shaping the 16-driver field for the series’ 10-race playoffs. Next week’s Saturday night race at Daytona International Speedway is the final race before the cutoff.
Printup said he has heard from perhaps four people who had scheduling issues caused by the later date, which bumps up against the start of school for more states than in years’ past. New York doesn’t begin the school year until September.
He said he likes the new date, adding it’s “exciting and scary all at the same time.” Watkins Glen has been an early to mid-August event since NASCAR returned to the track in 1986, the type of stability not all events in NASCAR have had.
“I’m really supportive of this move,” Printup said. “As long as we stay in that summer vacation window with our kids, with our kids not getting out until the week before Fourth of July and going back to school (in September). And staying away from the Buffalo Bills’ schedule is always nice. I wouldn’t want to compete with the Bills and the NFL period, but I think this is a great way to round out the summer.”
Printup added he has received “maybe two” personal notes from fans who might be kept away because of higher costs of gasoline and fuel this year. He hasn’t noticed a lot of concern on the track’s social media sites.
“I think everybody is adjusting,” Printup said. “I know personally I’ve adjusted, like everybody else. You spend the same amount of money, you just spend it a little differently. I think that’s what our fans are doing. This is pent-up energy. People want to get out, experience something big. We’re a big outdoor sport, so it’s not like you’re confined in an arena either. I think people are ready to get out and party and have a good time.”
Go Bowling sponsor through at least 2023
Go Bowling has been title sponsor for The Glen’s Cup race since 2018 and that deal will continue through at least 2023 after a two-year extension. Go Bowling also sponsored the 2020 race at Daytona’s road course, a replacement for the event at Watkins Glen that was canceled.
Go Bowling is set to become the longest-running title sponsor for the track’s Cup race since it was known as the Bud at The Glen from 1986 to 1998.
Sunoco was recently added as sponsor for the Xfinity race, which had for several years been sponsored by Zippo. General Tire is sponsor of Friday’s ARCA event.
“Go Bowling has been a great partner,” Printup said. “We’re fortunate enough that they like our market, they like what we do globally speaking and how we are able to take their brand to another level by using us and us using them in terms of market share.
“You put it in almost the same category as Sahlen’s (sponsor of June’s Six Hours of The Glen IMSA race) being with us for 20 years and Zippo was with us for 28 years. Pretty astounding stats and I think it just goes to show we take care of our sponsors, they take care of us, and the partnership continues to grow.”