Short Track Racing | A Vision Of Our Sport’s Future: Part 5 – Divisions and New Racer Captivation
Divisions and New Racer Captivation
Too many divisions, too many touring series appearances, and lack of an entry level divisions seem to be common problems at many race tracks.
Longtime racing enthusiasts seem to show great satisfaction in “The good old days” because of full car fields, overflowing grandstands, and traveling racers. Let’s refer to the 1960s-70s era: At this time there were crowded fields of cars and, for the most part, we had less than three divisions racing at each track. Sportsman, Modified, and Jalopy were common names at many facilities and it’s also noteworthy that many of the cars in this era could be raced on asphalt or dirt tracks. Increasing track options, not vehicle options, would greatly improve short track racing.
Many tracks must work towards eliminating non-premier traveling series from their schedule, while not those racer’s freedom to travel. Touring series are supposed to be like the traveling circus, they’re to promote when the “big dogs” come to town. They’re for premier racing series that have a fan following. Lower tier divisions aren’t meant to be a traveling circus because fans who attend a local track every week aren’t going to show excitement for a tour that shows up once, twice, or three times per year. There’s not enough of a chance for a fan to make a connection or grow a liking to any particular racer. Many track operators seek back gate income, however, if there is no connection to the fan base then there is no product.
We don’t want to take away these racers’ freedom and opportunity to travel, chase points, and/or collect money therefore a new system could be put into place:
The scenario would include having tracks collaborating with a common rulebook. Many folks would say it will never happen because tracks don’t want to work together and would rather lock their racers in at their own facility. Well… it HAS to happen in order for the sport to thrive. Hopefully our current/next generation of race track operators can see this as a sensible strategy to work towards.
With common rulebooks and scheduling agreements within regions of the country, tracks can hold special events for local divisions that include extra money and extra laps. Native racers will be able to clash with the visiting racers; or “outlaws” allowing fans to cheer on their locals and create a rivalry with the visitors. Ever hear of the Pennsylvania Posse vs. World of Outlaws rivalry? There is excitement and energy created at PA speedways when the Outlaw teams come to town and compete with the weekly regulars.
Everybody wins with this system. Fans now have a connection and a rivalry has been made. Racers are still able to travel while having spotlight events and competing for extra money. The track isn’t adding an extra division that nobody cares to see so the fans are showing up to witness a better show without pricing inflation.
In order to achieve this, track operators must observe the surrounding speedways in the region and build open lines of communication. Decide what it will take to collaborate and have aligned rules for some divisions. Create a 5, 8, or 10 year plan to make the rules closely associated.
One reason many tracks and regions are losing car counts is because teams are irritated with sudden rule changes that leave them with cars they can’t afford to race or the inability to sell because a track/series locked them into a specific rules package. Here’s what happens when different division or set of rules is built:
-Costs rise because of non-uniform parts. There are more one-off items.
-Cars become more difficult to buy and sell
-Racers quit. They aren’t interested in investing in a car that is good for one track and/or could be discontinued in years to come.
-There are no connections to racers and cars. Racers gain recognition from fans if they battle with local competitors.
-Outsiders are limited from trying out a track. They’re either all in or all out.
Rex Robbins, the originator of the American Speed Association, noted that the reasons to make rule changes are:
-Save racers money
-Level the competition
Street Stocks/Sportsmans are one of the most universal intermediate divisions using a stock type chassis. However, these competitors can hardly compete at multiple nearby facilities due to differences in track rules.
Another issue with many facilities is the lack of beginner divisions. A beginner division should include the ability to purchase a race-ready car for under $2,000. Entry level racing acts as groundwork of a progressive system to the upper tier divisions. We have race tracks with beginner division cars selling for $5,000. Now expect somebody new who wants to give racing a try finding out that it costs $5,000 to invest in a new activity without even trying it first. Add on the expenses of a trailer, hauling vehicle, equipment, spares, weekly expenses, etc. Could you imagine their reaction? We won’t see many newcomers with that price tag. As mentioned before… the only people currently involved in our sport are the people who are invested in it. Currently, we don’t have enough newcomers.
Widely known as Mini Stocks, these four-cylinder cars originally started as an entry level division. Evolution took over and, in many cases, these “affordable” race cars have morphed into expensive machines.
We have to make it easy and affordable for racers to just strap in and go around in circles. Give them a taste of short track racing competition so they can be hooked. We don’t have to give beginner divisions a large spotlight but they should be paid decently. While we don’t want lifers in the entry level division, we do want them to be motivated and see the excitement of moving to a more serious division.
We have to get to a point where people say “I’d love to try racing a car” and the answer is “Well, you can… it’s simple and affordable. Here’s what you have to do…”.
Tracks need to have fewer divisions. Humpy Wheeler, one of the foremost auto racing promoters of all time, states that a local speedway should have less than four divisions competing weekly. Our speedways should concentrate on building division car counts and creating star power. Multiple visiting series creates confusion, therefore, has to be reduced. Not to mention, touring series typically require an upcharge at the gate which is aggravating to the weekly attendants.
It’s difficult to send media outlets captivating content if we are giving them rundowns of six weekly divisions. How are we supposed to expect them to publish our stories of short track racing with watered down reports? We have to focus on making the weekly, local racers more recognizable. Intermediate divisions should have a mix of young guns with the goal of moving up the ranks and veterans investing in a specific car for the long run. This creates a young vs. old rivalry and forces the younger racers to prove their abilities before acceptance to higher ranks.
As a whole, our goal should be to grow the overall population of competitors. Short track racing is not in a position to have a mass amount of classes. In order for the sport to grow, divisions have to be simplified and racer options have to be narrowed.
Track management quick reference
– Do you have less than four weekly competing divisions?
Excessive races create a watered down effect to the paying guests. Newcomers especially cannot relate or keep up with excessive classes.
-Does each division include marketable racers?
Star power, villians, seasoned veterans, and young guns are marketable traits that should be built into each class.
-Are there a limited amount of extra dollar entry fee races in the season schedule?
Guests dislike seeing pricing variations in entry fees. They should be kept as low and consistent as possible.
-Does your management team have a close understanding of popular divisions in the region and nation? Does your facility’s division(s) have rules that are comparable?
We can develop a better identity and larger population within the sport with more universal competing cars.
-Are you collaborating with nearby tracks to have common rules?
Discussions and/or meetings during the offseason with regional facilities can help shape our sport. We can share future plans and ideas to build a more efficient product. We are all on the same team with similar goals… race tracks are not supposed to seen as competitors!
-Are you in contact with your team owners, racers, engine builders, and chassis specialists to help with future decisions involving divisions?
Building a more popular product means building communicative relationships with the team operators and vehicle builders. These are the people with pertinent insight to strengthen competition at speedways.
-Does your track have plans to prevent divisions from evolving beyond competition costs?
Again, communicating with the people who are aware of technical trends can help control foreseen issues within divisions.
-Why aren’t crate motors actually crate motors anymore?
-Does anybody else feel degraded when they race a division with the title “limited” or “strictly” in it?
-Can’t we just call them “Midgetcars”?
Click here for Part 5 – Divisions and New Racer Captivation