Tens of thousands of NASCAR fans are flocking to the Valley this week to catch Sunday’s Jeff Gordon-Jimmie Johnson showdown in the next-to-last leg of the chase for the Nextel Cup.
The big race will fill stands at Phoenix International Raceway in the West Valley, but in the days and hours leading up to the main event, the visitors will be filling East Valley hotels and power shopping at Chandler-based Bashas’ temporary, but most profitable, supermarket.
PIR is expected to have an overall economic impact of more than $500 million on Arizona this year, more than the upcoming Super Bowl. That’s based on a study completed in 2006, which calculated an annual economic impact for 2005 of $473 million, and an estimated 10 percent inflationary increase in the last two years, said Tim Hogan of the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University.
“Assuming attendance is the same, the price of hotel rooms has gone up and the price of gas has gone up a lot,” he said.
Hogan conducted the study of the overall economic impact of the track and its collection of eight races, including the two big NASCAR weekends in April and November. The November extravaganza that heats up this week and culminates in Sunday’s Nextel Cup race, was not studied separately, Hogan said.
But it is, by far, always the biggest visitor attraction of PIR’s year, said Paul Corliss, PIR spokesman. And this year, with the NASCAR lead flip-flopping between the two racing superstars, it should be an even bigger draw than usual, he said.
“We are on the cusp of a sellout, and we expect to be sold out by the weekend,” Corliss said. “We’ll have more than 200,000 visitors for the week, more than 100,000 just on Sunday.”
And they will be spending lots of money. Despite old stereotypes, race fans tend to be younger, wealthier and better educated than the overall population, Corliss said.
That’s based on both a national study by NASCAR and one commissioned by the local venue.
According to the ASU study, direct spending by out-of-town visitors to PIR in 2005 was a whopping $253.7 million.
Many of the people from out of town stay in their own RVs on site, loading up on groceries and gifts at Bashas’.
The East Valley grocer sets up a 7,500-square-foot tent at the event.
It’s only about 20 percent as big as a typical Bashas’, but it is packed full of about 1,900 different items, everything from grocery staples to ice, beer and NASCAR souvenirs, said Kristy Nied, company spokeswoman.
“Per square foot, this store does better than any of our (permanent) stores,” Nied said.
But at least half of the NASCAR visitors stay in hotels and eat in restaurants, Corliss said.
Tom Silverman, general manager of the Chaparral Suites Resort in Scottsdale, said his rooms are packed full of fans for the weekend.
“We are very busy Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. It’s a good group, and they want to stay in Scottsdale. They eat in our restaurants and shop in our stores,” he said.
The Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort on the Gila River Indian Community has 200 more rooms reserved than for the same weekend a year ago, said spokeswoman Kristen Jarnagin.
“This is the first year we marketed to NASCAR, and it’s a huge spike,” she said.