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High gas prices affect NASCAR attendance

Racing fans are feeling a severe pinch because of rising gasoline prices and are staying home from the races.

NASCAR fans — famous for traveling long distances for races — have been hit hard by gas prices, now above $4 a gallon. The cost to fill the tank of a recreational vehicle, the preferred choice of many fans, has doubled in only a year.

NASCAR and the tracks that host Sprint Cup races do not release official attendance figures, but the “New York Times” cited NASCAR estimates that state attendance figures have been lower at 10 of 17 races this season. Attendance went up at only one race — the season-opening Daytona 500.

Attendance has dropped at four of the last six races, most notably at the LifeLock 400 at Michigan International Speedway, where an estimated 115,000 fans attended a Sprint Cup race June 15. A crowd estimated at 145,000 attended the same race a year ago.

“Michigan was an eye-opener for us,” NASCAR spokesman Jim Hunter told the “Times.” “That’s the heart of the automobile industry. That one hit home more than any other because of where it is.”

Attendance for the Coca-Cola 600 on Memorial Day weekend at Lowe’s Motor Speedway, near Charlotte, N.C., dropped to 160,000 from 175,000. A week later, attendance at the Best Buy 400 in Dover was 133,000, down from 145,000 in 2007.

The only winner seems to be television. Ratings for races televised by FOX increased 2 percent over last year — something Hunter said could be attributed to the rising gas prices. “Our hardcore fan, if he’s feeling pinched, he’ll cut back on the number of races that he goes to, because he knows he can see it on TV,” Hunter said.