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NASCAR Media Conference

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Stock Car Racing Topics:  NASCAR

NASCAR Media Conference

Clay Campbell
March 26, 2008

DENISE MALOOF: Today we have a very special line-up of three teleconference guests. Kicking things off will be Martinsville Speedway President, Clay Campbell. He'll be followed by former NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Champion Todd Bodine. Then at approximately 12:30, Greg Biffle, who is currently second in the NASCAR Sprint Cup point standings will join us.
We'll start off with Clay Campbell, who operates the only track on the NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule that was part of the very first NASCAR schedule way back in 1948.
Clay, welcome.
CLAY CAMPBELL: Thank you, Denise. Appreciate you having me.
DENISE MALOOF: From your perspective, how important is the history of Martinsville to the history of NASCAR?
CLAY CAMPBELL: I think it's very important, obviously going as far back as we have gone. This is our 61st year. I think it speaks a lot for what we have done here at Martinsville and I think it speaks a lot for our relationship with NASCAR.
Obviously the fans still love this type of racing. And, really, if you look at the Speedway here, nothing has changed on the track itself, shape-wise, size-wise, or anything like that, from the very first day it opened back in 1947.
So I think here you've got a little bit of mix of the past and the future all bundled in together.

Q. Clay, first of all, is in this era, this economic time, what are the challenges for track operators? And are there things you have to be creative at trying to get people to your track and on top of that just kind of where you guys feel like you are at this point just a few days out in regards to ticket sales? Looks like on your website certainly there are plenty of good seats still available.
CLAY CAMPBELL: Okay. Yeah, that's something that we're all faced with this year. Obviously the economy has affected just about everything and everybody.
Yes, we still do have tickets available. And normally we do up to this point. But it's been soft this year versus years in the past.
And I think the biggest reason that track operators have a challenge versus other professional sports, our people have to travel from such a great distance to see our events. It's not like a professional sports team where the majority of the fans are local.
So it's a challenge for fans to come in via campers or flying in or driving. Gas prices being what they are, it's just -- I haven't seen it like this in a long time, since I've been involved in the sport.
So that's our biggest challenge now is just getting people to travel. And then you tack onto that the accommodations and ticket prices and on and on and on, it's just tough times right now.

Q. I think last year I think you guys were about a thousand short of a sell-out or something kind of like that, that type of a number. If you have fewer this year, what does that tell you? What do you have to do and what kind of a concern does that start to become?
CLAY CAMPBELL: Well, I think the way we look at it, the economy is one thing that we have no control over. Things that we do have control over, then that's what we address. And we have actively promoted the event and we always do. But we have gone probably outside that box this year in trying to reach other markets and trying to retain the ones that we've had.
So we've really been putting forth the extra effort, realizing that times are different now than they have been in the past. Like I say, the economy is one thing that we can't control. But we do everything that we can to make our events attended by as many as possible. And the ones that do attend it, they enjoy their experience and thus they come back the next time.

Q. Do you worry if you don't sell out that the talk again is about the future of the track and what happens and what the track will need to do to maintain its position on the NASCAR calendar?
CLAY CAMPBELL: Well, if we don't sell out, I don't like that, but, no, it doesn't concern me as far as that question. If you look back to some tracks that didn't sell out in the past, that was when everybody else was selling out.
It's different now. If we were the only ones not to sell out, then, yeah, I would have concern. But it's a challenge that, like I say, we all face at this point in time.

Q. It's still free parking on the track grounds?
CLAY CAMPBELL: Absolutely. All parking we have on the Speedway grounds is free.

Q. What are some of the things you're going to do, you're hoping to do or some of the projects you have in plan after this?
CLAY CAMPBELL: We have numerous things on our wish list. Being a part of a public company, we have to go through the process of having it approved at the board meeting in April. So I can't really announce what we're doing. But there's numerous things we're looking at. We hope to get our pit road resurfaced, either concrete or asphalt.
The one thing that we are doing, the cross-over gate, we're redoing that to a safer barrier system, extending safer barrier coming out of Turn 4. That will start probably the week after the event. So it will be starting in 10 days or so.
So we've got numerous things we're doing. Certain things in the grandstand we're putting in stadium seats, fold-down seats. They'll go in starting probably next month. So there's a lot of things going on. A lot of things we want to do. And as we go forward into our five-year plan, you'll see considerable changes.

Q. Clay, you've sort of covered this in your opening remarks, but I wonder if you could elaborate a little bit on for those who have not been fortunate to cover races at Martinsville, what is the appeal of I guess not just the racetrack and everything, but the whole area there? I mean everybody just seems to enjoy going there.
CLAY CAMPBELL: Well, I think it's -- you know, you come -- I don't know -- back to the future. That kind of sums it up. But when you come to Martinsville -- in fact, somebody said it the other day. One of the race drivers said it. I don't remember which one. But he said he loves coming to Martinsville because, unlike some places, if you want to leave the track to go get a burger or leave to go to a drugstore or whatever, you don't have to drive far.
We're pretty close to everything around here. Obviously it's a small town. And when we have the events here our population is pretty much doubled. We put more people in the Speedway than we have in Henry County and Martinsville. So it's a real big city that day.
But I think that's the appeal. Our location with the Blue Ridge Mountains close by. We have a lot of scenic things to see and places to go. You're not out in the middle of nowhere. It's a pretty neat place. It's not a big city by any stretch of the imagination.
But, like I say, there's things you can see and do. As far as the racetrack goes, I think the biggest thing people like about that, when you sit in the grandstand here you get to see the action up close and personal. You don't really need binoculars to see from one side to the other.
It's old-fashioned racing like it used to be. And touching on what we were talking about earlier with Dustin's question, one thing that we offer that most don't, we probably have the cheapest ticket prices of anybody.
And like I said before, I'm not talking about the last-minute slash prices. Our standard prices are lower than some people's highest -- our highest is lower than some people's lowest.
We want it to where a family can come here, enjoy the day and do everything they want to do and buy what they want to buy and leave here and still have money in their pocket.

Q. What do you think the drivers like and dislike most about your track? And what do you think they respect most about the history of your track?
CLAY CAMPBELL: Well, I think there are a few -- and it's getting fewer and fewer -- that understand the history of the sport. But you've got some -- this track is unique in the fact that drivers either love it or they hate it. Because, number one, it's not an easy track. Although it's a half-mile track it's a short track. It's unlike any short track you'll find anywhere in the country, with the long straightaways, the tight turns. Very minimal banking.
It makes for a long day. From what I understand, if you've got a car that handles, a car that works good, it can be fun. If you've got one that's not doing too good, it can be a real long day. It's a lot of work. Versus, you know, some other places where you're not in tight confines all day long. You're not in traffic all day.
Let's just face it, you put 43 cars on a half-mile racetrack you're going to be in traffic most of the day and it's mentally demanding and physically demanding.
So we're in that part where, like I say, they either love it or they hate it.

Q. Clay, how important is it to keep a family-owned track on the schedule?
CLAY CAMPBELL: Well, Jim, as you know, we're part of ISC International Speedway Corporation now. I think the ownership doesn't matter as much as your values and the way you approach the families that come to your event. That's the main thing that we look at. This track is not now owned by my family. We still have the same values and we still approach things the way we did pre-ISC. And this has always been a family atmosphere-type facility. And that's the way we continue it today.
And like I say, we want it to be where a man can bring his wife and kids and have a great time, affordable. And I think we accomplished that.
Back in the '70s, I believe we were referred to as the "Walt Disney World of Speedways." And that was a pretty doggone good compliment. And today we still adhere to those values.

Q. So fans should not be concerned that a couple of large kind of corporations are taking over all the speedways, in your opinion?
CLAY CAMPBELL: Absolutely not. In fact, it's good. Because pre -- before we sold to International Speedway Corporation we were kind of the lone ship at sea. And, trust me, that's not fun at times.
So it's been much better. And I said it at the time that we were purchased, for the long-term viability of this speedway, it was in the best interests of everyone concerned that we became part of ISC. The resources that we now have, whether it be capital, whether it be personnel, just everything together, we're a much better facility now than we ever had a chance to be before.

Q. So being part of them has allowed you to do some of the upgrades you were talking about before?
CLAY CAMPBELL: Absolutely. And just from a personal standpoint, you know, being president of this place before ISC and now, it's much better now because if I have a problem, if I have an issue, all I've got to do is pick up a phone because nine times out of ten somebody in this company has already experienced it and I can get an answer and I can get it resolved. So I think it's much better now and I think it's the way to go, definitely.

Q. Clay, you talked about the economy causing a lot of problems with ticket sales. That's true. I'm down here in Michigan. We see it also. But one thing that comes to my mind is NASCAR's always looking to build other tracks around existing tracks. Has there been any talk, first of all, what about adding extra tracks close to yours, that in my opinion would present a big problem other than even ticket sales?
CLAY CAMPBELL: Now, the only tracks I've been familiar with in the past were the ones in New York and Washington. Besides that I'm not familiar with anything else.
But that's an issue for the companies involved in this sport and for NASCAR to determine. I've got my hands full with what we can do here. But I think it's good that the sport of NASCAR has the different tracks that we have now.
And if we expand, so be it, that's good too. I said the other day, I believe that's the appeal of NASCAR versus other sanctioning bodies and other motor sports in this country and the world, for that matter. We've got something for everybody's taste. We've got the short tracks and road courses and super speedways, so I think that's really caused us to be the leader in motor sports.
And all of us have our place in this sport. And by growing -- and I don't think that NASCAR wants anything too close to another track. They've always been cautious of that. So I don't foresee that happening where you would leach off something else.

Q. What is the history and the story behind the Martinsville hot dog?
CLAY CAMPBELL: That's something that just kind of evolved. I think it goes back to earlier days when we ran our own concessions. And my grandfather, Clay Earl, formed the speedway, that was something going back to what I said earlier about making the experience nice for a family.
Food was one of the priorities then. And at that time we made a hot dog and just didn't put a wiener on a bun and that's all you got; you got the whole works.
As time went on, it took a life of itself and it became the World Famous Martinsville Speedway Hot Dog. It wasn't intended that way but it has evolved that way. It's something that folks look forward to seeing and having when they get here. It's just different than what you would find at most sports arenas. And it's something we're proud of. But it just happened. Just nothing really intended that way.
DENISE MALOOF: Clay, thank you for joining us today. Good luck this weekend.

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