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Printup keeps up Watkins Glen fan recruiting

Michael Printup had NASCAR and its Buffalo fan base on his mind as he made his way through Western New York Friday on a media blitz to promote the upcoming NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Cheez-It 355 at The Glen event that gets the green flag at Watkins Glen International next weekend.

Printup, a Hamburg native, has been the president of Watkins Glen’s fabled road course since 2009 and he came to the area Friday hoping to give a final boost to his native area’s ticket sales. While he says he appreciates all the fans that arrive at The Glen from all regions for the NASCAR stop, he is on a mission to push the Buffalo market ticket sales to the top of the list.

“I’m enjoying my day back here in Buffalo and in fact in 20 minutes I’m going to be having lunch on the waterfront at Dug’s Dive,” said Printup Friday.

When it comes to ticket sales for the annual NASCAR weekend at The Glen, Printup says that the Buffalo area market is currently number two in terms of fan ticket purchases just behind that of the neighboring Rochester market.

While no attendance figures are announced, the NASCAR Sunday Sprint Cup Series race day crowd at The Glen the last several seasons has been estimated to be around 90,000.

“From my memory as I do the math about 15 to 20 percent of the crowd that comes to our NASCAR weekend at The Glen each year is from the Western New York market,” Printup said. “Currently the Rochester area is at the top of the list as far as the NASCAR ticket sales but I’m a native of the Buffalo area and I’m doing everything I can to make the Buffalo market number one.

“Most of the fans that come from Western New York come from within Erie County and a few trickle in from Cattaraugus and Wyoming County and a few other places.”

Printup has a theory about the fan ticket purchasing situation which he believes is driven by geographic location.

“I think the major reason why Rochester is number one over Buffalo right now is that in my personal opinion it’s about people’s perception based on location,” Printup said. “The Glen is only about an hour and a half from downtown Rochester while it is two and a half hours away from downtown Buffalo. It’s only an hour more to get from Buffalo to The Glen then from Rochester but it may be enough to make a difference in people’s minds. I’ll keep knocking on the Western New York door to try to get more of the Buffalo area NASCAR fan base as well as the Buffalo general population to The Glen.”

Like any sporting event, the NASCAR weekend at Watkins Glen is a mix of fans that either bought their tickets in advance or waited to the event weekend.

“Analyzing our ticket sales is a dynamic process that we work on all year,” Printup said. “Right now, about 60-65 percent of the fans for our NASCAR weekend purchase their tickets in advance, which is considered a ticket purchased up to the Thursday leading into the race weekend which for this year’s event is this coming Thursday.

“When fans purchase their tickets in advance, we get a good database of where they are coming from because when they order tickets on the phone or our website it better helps us gather data and not just this year but from year to year so we can market accordingly. We get the geographic and demographic data we need.

“When fans buy on a walk-up basis which is fine, which makes up about 33 percent of our NASCAR crowd, we don’t get the same kind of data.”

Friday, Printup also addressed the safety of The Glen’s 2.5 mile road course after a few serious accidents have taken place there in the recent Sprint Cup races there. That includes one a year ago in Turn 10 involving Ryan Newman and Michael McDowell among others. After the incident Newman stated that The Glen in his opinion “is a very antiquated race track” and “the safety is not at all up to NASCAR standards.”

Printup challenged Newman’s perception.

“Ryan spoke out against us but the fact is that everyone involved in the accident walked away uninjured with no one taken to the hospital,” Printup said. “The guardrails and safety fencing all did their jobs and the cars in the accident held up well because of NASCAR’s strict car safety requirements.

“Since then we have put up stretches of additional safety fencing in Turn 10 and 11 as well as the short chute and we also paved over some of the areas of grass along the side of the track. We have had some drivers take some hard hits here in the NASCAR races over the last five or six years, it’s true. But again, no one has ever been seriously injured from them. We continue to be as proactive as we can be with our safety program.”

Printup also talked about one of The Glen’s other annual events which has a big Buffalo connection, the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen which was run in June and featured the IMSA Tudor United Sportscar Championship. That event weekend enjoys sponsorship from local businessman and racer Joe Sahlen of Elma. This year’s event was plagued by heavy rain.

“In one word, this year’s Sahlen’s event was incredible but at the same time I’ve never seen it rain as heavily for a race as it did that weekend,” Printup said. “What I was glad about is that the fans stuck around because they know this can happen. We keep trying to grow the event along with IMSA and make it bigger every year. I hope in my time here, however long that may be, because I love sports cars so much, that the Sahlen’s event one day will be right up there in attendance and other things with our NASCAR weekend. That’s the goal but with NASCAR here this coming week, my focus is entirely on that right now.”

For Printup, part of that focus has been and will be making sure that hopefully more NASCAR fans arrive next week who live at Western New York addresses.