Atlanta Motor Speedway will open new Restart Bar in late February in time for second big race in NASCAR’s racing season. PHOTO: ATLANTA MOTOR SPEEDWAY

Atlanta Motor Speedway using new bar to entice social racing fans

The Atlanta Motor Speedway is removing dozens of grandstand seats to create a new standalone bar and hospitality area, a move that recognizes the desire of customers to hobnob more during races, the track’s president says.

While racing fans of the past were content to grab food and drink at the concession stand and return to their seats, today’s supporters are more social and want to dine and mix with friends as they watch the cars roar by.

“The way people experience events is a little more mobile,” AMS president Ed Clark said. “This is a first step for us. You’re going to see our company look at other opportunities and avenues to reach the changing consumer.”

The addition of the Speedway’s Restart Bar and its accompanying hospitality area are the latest updates among Atlanta’s sporting destinations over the last five years, although on a much smaller scale. (Clark declined to provide costs for the project, which will be completed in late February in time for the second race in the NASCAR season.)

VIDEO: Upcoming events

Feb 3 — Hall of Fame elections announced, Minneapolis Feb 4 — Super Bowl in Minneapolis Feb 8 — NBA Trade deadline @ 3 p.m. Feb 9 — Winter Olympics begin in PyeongChang, South Korea Feb 18 — NASCAR season starts with Daytona 500 in Daytona Beach, Fla. Feb 18 — NBA All-Star game in Los Angeles Feb 19 — Baseball teams begin spring training full-squad workouts Feb 25 — NASCAR’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway

Last year, the Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta Braves opened a $1.5 billion and almost $700 million stadium respectively. Philips Arena, the home of the Atlanta Hawks, is undergoing a $192.5 million makeover — expected to be completed later this year — that will include new bars, updated premium seating and a barbershop run by Atlanta rapper Killer Mike.

The changes at the speedway come as the racing industry overall struggles to regain the popularity it had in the early 2000s. Ticket sales have fallen more than 10 percent in the last few years and viewership is off as much as 45 percent since 2005, according to published reports. NASCAR stopped reporting attendance figures in 2012.

“TV ratings, as for all sports, have dropped a bit,” Clark said.

Atlanta Motor Speedway’s seat removal is part of a national trend at tracks to slim down grandstands and convert the seats to new ways to generate revenue. Restart Bar will accommodate about 300 people and joins the track’s already established One Club — which can hold more than 700 visitors — in diversifying AMS’s offerings.

“We are not just a racing facility, we’re an entertainment and event facility,” Clark said. “We do a lot of catered events. We do a lot of corporate events and this will be perfect for those things.”

Debby Cannon, director of the hospitality program at Georgia State University, said Atlanta Motor Speedway is smart to branch out.

“It makes a lot of business sense,” she said. “They have analyzed how crowd and spectator behavior is changing and answered that. They also see that it can be a 365-day facility beyond big races and offer another place in metro Atlanta to hold social events, corporate business and capture business from loyal racing enthusiasts.”

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