WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. (AP) - Michael Printup glanced at the rain falling Friday at Watkins Glen International and managed a smile, and why not? As president of the storied road course, he's expecting a near-record crowd Sunday for the Sprint Cup race.
The economic decline has had a telling effect on motor sports and Printup says fans are buying tickets at the 11th hour these days. The forecast for Sunday is sunny with temperatures near 80 degrees, and that's a very good thing.
"We're selling more and more tickets the week of the race (around 27 percent)," Printup said. "So, the better the weather, the better the ticket sales. That's true in the industry. Fans don't want to watch a race in the rain.
"Right now, we're trending to really kick some tail and I hope it stays that way," Printup said. "We've been selling an awful lot of tickets. We could, knock on wood, come close to the record set in 2002. It's been a lot of effort."
Tiger Woods is competing in the PGA Championship this weekend in Pittsford, N.Y., just over an hour's drive north of Watkins Glen. Printup didn't think that would affect turnout for Sunday's Cheez-It 355 at The Glen.
"I'm hoping it won't. You've got to cross your fingers," Printup said. "I think the crossover of fan base is relatively shallow. We've got a lot of attention and I love that."
Former Cup star Geoff Bodine, who grew up in nearby Chemung, N.Y., isn't surprised at the popularity of The Glen and can speak from experience. His family once operated a small track in his hometown.
"The people down South get it (NASCAR) jammed down their throat," said Bodine, who was inducted Friday into the Legends of the Glen. "This is way north, so they love it. Go to Canada when they race there. They jam the place because they love racing. They don't get enough of it.
"The season up here is shorter. They're really hungry for it. That helps. You make them hungry. It's supply and demand, and this facility- the improvements have all been for the good. They're making this place better, more enjoyable for the fans. Watkins is a great area. It's a beautiful time of year. It's not going to rain on Sunday, though we've been here when it did."
There was a hard rain Thursday night that flooded one of the main highways leading to the track, making it nearly impassable at one juncture. Crews were working to repair the damage to Route 414 and Printup was hopeful it wouldn't hurt the turnout.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who visited WGI on Friday and drove the track in his personal vintage Corvette, pegged turnout to be around 100,000. International Speedway Corp. which owns the facility, does not release attendance figures.
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