Drag racing, and in particular, the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA), is routinely criticized in public forums over its ticket prices, as detractors point to the cost of admission and suggest it is out of line for the value of the entertainment provided. The value derived from a live event is, of course, very subjective — one individual may find floor seats to a Taylor Swift concert to be worth the thousands of dollars it costs to acquire, while at the same time believe $50 for a National Basketball Association (NBA) game (that lasts twice as long as a concert overall) to be outrageous.
The relative fame and demand of the party performing, the amount of time the performance lasts relative to its cost, the view a given seat provides, the venue, and so on, are all factors that go into one’s individual belief on what constitutes value.
The most expensive reserved grandstand seat (ie. not a suite or all-inclusive area) to an NHRA drag race will generally cost you around or less than $90 all-in after fees. Compare that to the best reserved seat at virtually any sporting event, concert, or comedy act, where the primo tickets are almost universally in the hundreds of dollars, and certainly the thousands for more in-demand acts and games.
As famed drag racing historian and statistician Bret Kepner confirms, NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series ticket prices have trended under inflation every year since 1968. During the 1990s, they were upwards of 20 percent higher in price than they are today relative to the value of the dollar, and today, remain considerably under their anticipated inflation cost. Take, for example, a reserved seat at the 1996 Winternationals cost $58, and adjusted for inflation, should cost $113 today. But that ticket, at last weekend’s race, was in fact $75, or $38 cheaper than it ought to be relative to the value of today’s dollar. Instead of effectively doubling, it has gone up just $17, or less than a dollar a year, since our 1996 example.
In simple terms, the NHRA hasn’t raised prices relative to the value of the dollar in 55 years, and has in fact become cheaper relative to that dollar over the last quarter century.
To put the cost of drag racing into perspective, the cheapest seat for Bruce Springsteen’s summer visit to Wrigley Field is $113, and Brooks & Dunn’s Buffalo, New York country music show will run you anywhere from $55 to $670. Top-billed comedian Kevin Hart’s Canton, Ohio show will run you $82 to start, up to more than $1,100.
A Los Angeles Dodgers Saturday Major League Baseball (MLB) game costs anywhere from $73 up to more than $1,100 for the best seat, and an Atlanta Braves Saturday ballgame has a median reserved seating ticket price of around $100.
A Detroit Red Wings versus Pittsburgh Penguins weekend National Hockey League (NHL) game starts at $89, with many of the better seats running over $200, and peaking at more than $600. The nosebleed seats for a National Football League (NFL) team team like the low-demand Indianapolis Colts will run you more than $70, with in-demand teams considerably higher.
Bear in mind when it comes to overall dollar-to-time value that the headlining act at a concert will typically play a set that lasts 90 minutes or less, a comedy act performs for just one hour, and MLB, NFL, NBA, and NHL games generally only run 2.5 to 3.5 hours start to end.
If you’re the kind that prefers to get your money’s worth out of a live event — the “what do I get for my money?” type — the vast majority of drag racing events offer 10 to 12 hours of nonstop entertainment daily, and it’s not uncommon for select events to run 16-plus hours a day. Perhaps with the exception of music festivals (Lollapalooza starts at $125 a day or $375 for four days, and Bonnaroo $175 and $360), there is no other place in the live entertainment space that even comes close in overall daily runtime, or in time-to-dollar ratio, to the NHRA or to drag racing as a whole.
Even if you look elsewhere in the motorsports space, drag racing stands out. Tickets for the NASCAR Night Race at Bristol (an event in which demand has slowed to a crawl) run anywhere from $42 to $250, the World of Outlaws sprint car series charges $40 for a three to four hour race, tickets for IndyCar’s Long Beach Grand Prix range from $67 to $107, the cheapest three-day pass for the Circuit of the Americas Formula 1 Grand Prix is more than $800, and the Las Vegas Grand Prix over $1,500.
For another, more specific comparison between NHRA and stick-and-ball sports, all-inclusive tickets to a weekend St. Louis Cardinals MLB game that lasts fewer than three hours costs over $350, while a Top Eliminator Club ticket at the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis buys you six days (over 72 hours) of on-track entertainment and four days of food and drink, for just $60 more, at $410. Before noon on a given day of the U.S. Nationals, you’ve already gotten more value for your dollar than that baseball game provided (given you don’t find baseball considerably more valuable than a drag race).
Elsewhere in our sport, PDRA tickets are just $25 on Friday, $30 on Saturday, and a mere $60 for an an entire three-day pass. NMCA events cost $25 a day or $70 for all three days of any of its events. “Street Outlaws No Prep Kings,” one of the hottest tickets in the sport right now, begins at $30 on Friday, $40 Saturday, with the most expensive and exclusive seat on the property just $159 at certain events. A single-day DuckX Productions event ranges from just $25 to $30, and $90 for an entire five-day admission.
As an addendum, drag racing events almost universally allow one to bring their own food and drink into the track, whereas sporting and concert venues permit little, if anything, to be carried in, instead subjecting patrons to outrageously inflated food and beverage prices. This skews the affordability case for each even further.
Again, everyone’s view of value varies, but if you compare entertainment options subjectively, you’ll find that drag racing offers incredible return on your money, even at the upper end of the cost spectrum. And it is, even at that highest spectrum, affordable — if not cheap — relative to what you’d spend for any other world-class-level form of entertainment. While there will always be demand for tickets to see the Taylor Swift’s, the Dallas Cowboys, and New York Yankees of the world, your vote for drag racing — using your hard-earned money — helps keep our great sport alive.