Construction crews at Phoenix International Raceway are working on a $178 million makeover. Renovations are expected to be complete by March of 2018.
Julie Loney has camped out at Phoenix International Raceway during NASCAR races for 16 years.
Year after year, the Goodyear resident and her husband have lined up with their camper to get a spot in the unreserved section of the campground, which operates on a first-come, first-served basis.
There, they meet up with friends from the area and from California and Utah, form a rectangle of RVs, and set up for the whole race week.
“It’s awesome. I have never been anywhere where there’s so many good people,” said Loney, 60.
At each of the two NASCAR races held at the Avondale track each year, thousands of recreational vehicles form an RV city of some 25,000 racing enthusiasts for about a week.
Unlike other live sports-watching experiences, Loney said NASCAR allows families to attend, have fun, and — more importantly — afford it.
But starting in November, PIR is phasing out unreserved camping — which was a more affordable option — and making all campsites reserved sections, according to Scott Rovn, vice president of sales and communications at PIR.
Prices for reserved camping spots start at $175 for this fall’s race. This past spring, Loney paid $75 for her unreserved camping spot.
“We all love NASCAR. But they have priced us out,” Loney said. “Some of us take our kids and grandkids and have a fantastic race week. Now we’ll have a fantastic time camping and watching the race on TV.”
NASCAR track losing traditions?
PIR is undergoing a $178 million face-lift expected to modernize the Avondale sports venue and completely reimagine fan experiences.
The plans include new and upgraded grandstands, an infield where fans can get up close to the racers, their cars and teams, better seats and suites, redesigned entrances and new parking lots.
Loney and other longtime PIR patrons interviewed by The Arizona Republic worry the renovations will do away with tradition.
Rovn said the changes are to deliver “the best motor race experience that a fan can ask for.”
Rovn said unreserved camping was phased out because of the “really high demand” for reserved camping.
“Fans responded to the quality experience that comes with knowing that they have a spot, working with their friends, knowing who’s going to go where and creating that whole experience. That’s what our fans seem to want,” he said.
So far, the roughly 5,000 reserved spots for the November race are almost sold out, he said.
Infield camping going away
When Mark Anthony Urquiza saw his first race at PIR, he was 10 years old and sitting next to his dad on the hillside that overlooks the racetrack.
Over the past 25 years, the Maryvale resident has seen hundreds of racing competitions at the West Valley track that was built in 1964. He has consistently camped in the infield of the track.
But next year, Urquiza, 63, is unsure what he will do.
After next year’s spring race, a few hundred camping spots in the infield will be eliminated to make way for an infield zone where race fans can get up close to the drivers and their teams.
“Basically we are building Disneyland for NASCAR fans in the infield,” Rovn said. “So yes, folks like me who have camped there for a while will have to relocate, but we are building 65 track-side campsites,” Rovn said.
Those new track-side campsites will be along the current three grandstands between the existing turn 4 and turn 1, which will be demolished as part of the renovations. Prices for those have not been set yet.
Urquiza said he understands the changes in prices — he remembers prices going up after the 1-mile oval was repaved in 2011 — but doesn’t want to see “old-timers” pushed out in an effort to appeal to younger generations.
He is still considering what he will do next year.
As for Loney, she plans to pay the higher price one time, making the November race her final farewell to the PIR experience, she said.
What does a day at the races cost?
Considering heading to the Can-Am 500 NASCAR Semi-Final Weekend on Nov. 11-12 at PIR? Here’s what it could cost you:
- Two-day admission: $10-$130.
- Premium parking: $60. Free parking is included with admission.
- Pre-race pit pass: $60.
- Camping in RV City: $175-250.
Source: Phoenix International Raceway
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