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Larry Ott’s WNY Auto Racing: Printup praises local fans

Michael Printup says that the only way he will ever stop coming back to his native Western New York to promote his annual NASCAR Cheez-It 355 At The Glen Weekend is if “someone cuts off my legs.”

Printup, who is president of Watkins Glen International and grew up in Hamburg, was in Buffalo Friday on his annual media blitz to get a leg up on promoting his NASCAR weekend at The Glen, which runs Aug. 4-7.

Printup feels that the Western New York area has made him proud due to its continual high level of supporting NASCAR and in particular The Glen’s NASCAR event. In an age where NASCAR race attendance and television ratings have been dropping nationally, The Glen has bucked that trend with huge and growing crowds and great television ratings each year, thanks in a large part to what he termed Buffalo’s love affair with NASCAR.

Last year in a USA Today poll, fans nationally voted The Glen’s NASCAR stop their favorite.

“Every year for the last few years our NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Watkins Glen has seen very large audiences and so many Western New Yorkers are among the many that come here,” said Printup. “I know I’m a bit biased but the Buffalo area NASCAR fans are second to none. The drivers put on a great show and this year our attendance will be even higher than in 2015.”

Printup revealed that the Cheez-It 355 At The Glen NASCAR Cup Series race draws between 90,000 to 95,000 fans annually with a total weekend attendance of around 160,000.

“These types of large numbers only increase the notoriety of Watkins Glen and the success of our race there,” said Printup.

One of the ways that Printup tries to please The Glen’s fans is through personal engagement with them. In 2010 he started a fan breakfast in the campgrounds where he meets with the fans and provides free coffee and Pop-Tarts. This year’s breakfast is slated for Aug. 6 at 7 a.m.

“It’s all about fact-finding to determine what the fans want from us,” said Printup. “I want to know what is right about our fan camping experience and what is wrong. We send our invitations to our 35,000 campers who are at the NASCAR weekend and usually about 4,000 to 5,000 show up at the breakfast.

“It’s been successful. In 2014 I started a similar event during the NASCAR weekend involving a beer social which is an adult-oriented event and is designed to accomplish the same results as the breakfast event. Each year world heavyweight boxing champion Michael Moorer pours the beer and this year Buster Douglas will be joining him.”

While Printup enjoys mingling with the campers, he is definitely not a happy camper with the recent NASCAR announcement made earlier this week that next season many NASCAR Cup races will be getting the green flag at the later Sunday starting time of 3 p.m. The move is being made by the television networks in order to try to have the race’s broadcast end during the higher rated prime-time dinner hour.

Last season The Glen’s NASCAR Cup Series race started shortly after 2 p.m. and this year’s event will go green shortly after 2:30 p.m. Later afternoon starts can discourage fans who live a distance from The Glen from buying tickets because they feel they will get home from the race much too late.

“I’m disappointed about the new start time next year and very concerned,” said Printup. “In the last few days since the announcement was made we’ve received hundreds of complaints from our fans that they don’t like the 3 p.m. start. I’m concerned because in this recent era where we have enjoyed great attendance and event growth for our NASCAR event we don’t want to lose fans and go backwards.

“What fans need to remember is that the race times are determined by the television networks and not by us or NASCAR. Also, if we have a rain delay on race day, we don’t have lights to run later like some other tracks.”

Ordinarily The Glen’s NASCAR Cup Series race is televised on NBCSN but due to their commitments to this year’s Summer Olympics, this year’s Glen race has been bumped over to the USA network. This is both a good and bad development according to Printup.

“As far as numbers go, USA Network actually has more cable and television providers on their network currently then NBCSN,” said Printup. “That means potentially a larger audience. On the other hand, fans have come to know that our race has been on NBCSN and when they tune in and the race is not there, if they didn’t know about the change, they’ll have to start flipping channels and if they have difficulty they just won’t watch the race.”

In May, when the Verizon IndyCar Series race set for this September at Boston was cancelled, that sudden void in the schedule was filled by Printup. The Glen will now run an IndyCar Series event on Labor Day Weekend and that has created huge challenges for The Glen’s marketing team. They have to now promote an IndyCar Series event that didn’t even exist on the Glen’s 2016 schedule just three months ago while still balancing and giving ample promotional effort to their other current season events.

“We’ve been on a fishing line in our marketing department for the last seven or eight weeks,” said Printup. “We’ve had to start to promote the IndyCar race while at the same time make sure that we didn’t over shadow our Sahlen’s Six Hours, Finger Lakes Wine Festival and NASCAR events.

“The way I look at it, if we draw between 12,000-to-15,000 fans for our IndyCar Series races, I won’t be disappointed at all because that would actually not be bad considering we’ve had just three months to get ready. I can’t stress enough that I am on the same page with IndyCar management and we are in contact with them just about every day and they have been great partners so far.”

Printup said attendance this time won’t be the only factor that determines whether the IndyCar Series will return next year.

“There are many more factors than that involved and if the IndyCar series from several standpoints is a good fit for 2017, we’ll bring them back and have a much greater span of time next year to grow the event,” he said. “We’ll see.

“For now, I need to survive the NASCAR weekend and then the day after the NASCAR weekend we will immediately ramp up the IndyCar Series promotion.”


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