Short Track Racing | A Vision Of Our Sport’s Future (Full Statement)
I am a dedicated short track racer and short track racing fan. I race New England asphalt Modifieds on a weekly basis and it is rare for me to not be in the grandstands of an auto racing event on at least one other night of the week.
I grew up in a racing family and have been around the sport since I was a child. I have been to thousands of auto racing events and I’ve seen the sport from a variety of different angles: playing the role of a driver, family car owner, crew chief, crew member, racecar fabricator, track employee, and fan.
I have also been heavily involved in the marketing aspect of my racing program. My most enjoyable project has been creating my video series called Short Track Racer which is a reality-based show that follows my life as a local racer. Short Track Racer has since evolved into a multimedia, lifestyle, and community website for local racing enthusiasts.
What I’m trying to reveal about myself in these opening sentences is that my life revolves around short track auto racing. In addition to that, I am part of the “millennial” generation, which is the most important group of people our sport has to attract. Therefore, I know the wants and needs of a race team and I have a firm grasp as to what it takes for people to to enjoy attending a motorsports event.
The Future of Short Track Auto Racing
Let’s not hide from it. Let’s not sugar coat it. Short track auto racing has been in a popularity decline in recent years. Grandstands, pit areas, and car counts are low and appear dreary. There is also less interest shown from vendors, media people, volunteers, marketing partners, followers, etc. Racing facilities are continuously shutting down. The future of the sport shows great uncertainty and I have yet to see any noticeable strides taken to reverse this downfall.
Let me clarify something right away: I’m not writing this to knock short track auto racing. My intent is not to be negative. We can call this a memo or a mission statement, or better yet a vision statement because I want to expose the potential of short track racing since I see this as the greatest sport in the world. I want to shed some light on the negatives dragging the sport down because modern day track owners and promoters seem to be stagnant with regard to the future of the sport. I would simply like to share some of my vision and suggest that promoters refocus their approach.
Now I understand that there are a large amount of road blocks that are hindering a race track’s ability to develop. Crippling liability insurance, complaining neighbors, and increasing land values all diminish the flow of a venue’s progress. Beyond that, other entertainment industries are making improvements to enhance their fan experience which will only make the battle more difficult. Above all, our nation is enduring a very slow economic recovery. Auto racing is considered one of the most expensive forms of organized sport so the effects of any economic downturn are sure to be felt in this industry more than others. Unfortunately, the short track racing world did not position itself for the economic storm.
That’s the bad news. Now the good news: There will always be a need for entertainment and few forms of entertainment are more enjoyable than short track auto racing. Drivers, car owners, team members, track employees, and race fans can all get maximum satisfaction from being around the sport… with the right people making it happen. We may not have positioned ourselves to handle the past economic recession, but we can certainly plan to propel the sport to incredible heights in the next 10 years.
The entertainment aspect of short track racing is already present. The sport grasps the emotions of everybody involved. There is no shortage of drama and controversy while the element of danger makes the sport exceptionally fascinating. There are fights and underdog stories. It engages our minds and legitimizes our competitive nature. We see inspiring moments while witnessing history take place in front of our eyes. In short track auto racing, we do not have to create storylines; the drivers and teams do it themselves. That’s what makes the sport interesting. Speedway Illustrated writer Karl Fredrickson put it best when he stated, “No other activity offers such thrill, risk, challenge, and sense of accomplishment than racing does.”
So the foundation is there. However, new age promoters need to highlight these aspects all while evolving their product to connect with new age fans.
There is no single problem or area of concern that will make this sport become sensational. Lack of foresight and imagination is what is impeding short track racing from becoming a vast phenomenon. In reality, the majority of our speedways are lacking in ALL areas.
I have broken the issues down to nine categories that need revamping. These are:
-Visual Appeal and Attractions
-Racer, Owner, and Team Interest
-Fan Interest, Entertainment, and Youth Engagement
-Divisions and New Racer Captivation
-Facility Uses and Extra Activities
-The Movement and Communication Between Tracks
Visual Appeal and Attractions
The typical short track facility is a pretty bland sight in the eyes of a non-racing person. There is rarely a feeling of excitement when driving by or pulling into speedway grounds. It is no different when walking through the gates, into the grandstands, and sitting in for a night’s events.
Oftentimes it appears that the track operators simply unlocked the gates from last week’s races, prayed to mother nature for cooperation, and crossed their fingers for the masses to appear. No improvements from the previous week and few improvements over the off-season.
Generally speaking, short track facilities at first glance provide an underwhelming impression without any marvel or awe. The scene is almost identical at tracks across America: some pavement or dirt surface, old battered fencing, rickety grandstands, overgrown plant life, unattractive bathrooms (especially for the ladies), with the concessions and miscellaneous fixtures lacking a fresh coat of paint. At times, I sit in the grandstands saying, “So where does my $20 admission fee go towards in this place?” What mainstream sport allows its facilities or stadiums to stand still and become grown over without improvements? There is little wonder why local towns despise our facilities, they are often eyesores placed directly on main traffic routes.
Now, I am not saying the place should look like a celebrity runway, but a pair of loppers and some light construction every week can be effective and affordable. This can especially be said for the entrance of the speedway, which is meant to lure passing travelers.
Curb appeal is as important as anything else when it comes to the appearance of a racing facility. Start with the entrance area that local people must drive by on a daily basis: an entrance is supposed to pull in guests and decrepit signage just does not do it for most people. Stubborn locals will drive by, notice the unexceptional grounds, and then cringe as they listen to the engine noises from their back porches on a Saturday night. So why not make the view from the street more presentable? Why not improve the landscape, give the entrance an enticing look with something eye-catching, and make passing motorists feel as though they’re missing out on something extraordinary?
Inside the facility
The primary idea to keep in mind is that our racetracks should not be aiming to “put on a race.” Instead, our racetracks should be aiming to “create an experience.”
A great way to build a comprehensive “experience” would be to create a theme for the track facility and its physical attributes. One possible theme could be to involve the town’s landscape and history. For example: in a coastal New England town, why not work to create a maritime theme throughout the track facility? Why not feature coastal food items at concession stands and decorate buildings in seaside finishes? I predict that the town and it’s residents would be more apt to embrace a race track if the facility managers worked to make it a part of the surrounding charm rather than a contrasting element.
Promoters and track owners have to realize that they are more than just a local speedway. Their race track is a tourist destination. Travelers will go online to search for “things to do” in the area/location and the race track will appear. If your visitors show up and find that the track has an atmosphere that is in no way tied to the area landscape or history then a tourism spot isn’t being properly portrayed.
It’s important to study trends of what the new age fan is seeking and mobility is a crucial factor. The idea of walking into a sporting event and being expected to sit in one spot for three-plus hours is a turn off. Guests need destination points or congregation spaces that deaden the sound of race cars. It is comforting to escape hours of loud engine noises with getaways like cool food/concession areas, a beer garden, colorful vendor and marketing booths, and interactive zones. Note: These areas of escape should include television screens showing the on-track action so fans can keep up with the show even if they’re away from their seat.
Facility image, branding, and photography appeal
Upkeep and image become even more important once visitors are inside the facility gates, due in particular to the importance of social media in day-to-day life. Track facility managers must understand that race fans and participants are constantly taking photographs and sharing them online. This brings about a new set of physical requirements for the appearance of the facility including photogenic scenery, visual branding, photo opportunity areas, and landmarks.
Maintaining photogenic scenery inside a race track’s gates creates a landscape that track visitors can capture in photographs to share through social media outlets. This scenery should include photo opportunity areas and landmarks that distinguish each race track facility through unique characteristics. For instance, a statue of a local racing hero from the track’s history can serve as such for visitors to capture a moment from their night at the speedway. Soon the statue will become synonymous with the racing facility.
Visual branding is another way of propagating the speedway’s image in photographs. By creating an appealing logo that features the name of the race track and placing it permanently on as many surfaces as possible, track managers can be reasonably sure that most pictures taken at their facility and dispersed on the internet will include the name of their speedway. Photographs taken and shared by track visitors will create free advertising material.
Finish line thoughts
There are endless opportunities for track facility managers to use their imagination in order to create a captivating experience and atmosphere. A race night is like a Broadway show, with the track as a stage, the racers as the performing stars, and the announcers as the presenters.
Creating visual appeal and attraction does not fit a particular formula; it is a matter of packing as many perceptible concepts into a facility as possible while maintaining a cohesive and organized theme. The objective is to give people at the racetrack visual stimuli that entice their senses and create memories: Pyrotechnics, effect lighting, music, food varieties, enthusiastic (yet professional) announcers, interactions with the racers, and the ability to reach out and touch the racecars. These are elements that are inadequate at the average short track.
Supercross has gained a lot of popularity in recent years. A large part of that is due to their use of stimulating effects and breathtaking pyrotechnics.
With some imagination, physical labor, and minimal financial investment, speedway managers can imagine, design, and build an atmosphere that people and businesses from the local community can enjoy.
Track management quick reference:
Food and beverage:
-Is there a specialty food item?
There should be at least one menu item that makes your facility a bucket list. Ideally an item that connects to your region and/or track theme. Social media users love to snap pictures of their cuisine and share it to the world. A photogenic specialty item is necessary.
New Hampshire Motor Speedway represents the food culture of New England with a lobster specialty food item.
-Does your menu have bundling options for finger foods?
Sampling and sharing is a trend in stadium menus. People seek options as well as the ability to taste test and share with their friends.
-Do you have any food items that are collaborative with local vendors and/or brands?
Another trend in stadium food is local sourcing. Example: craft beer continues to be a popular item.
-Do you have designated staff constantly cleaning and replenishing the condiment stand?
Messy areas like this are a turnoff to patrons. Make sure the garbage cans aren’t overflowing either.
-Are kid friendly items available?
I’m pretty much just talking about ice cream here. Invest in a soft serve machine then consider expanding it to an all-out “create your own” sundae stand.
-Are your bathrooms immaculate? Do you have staff constantly overseeing the cleanliness of the bathrooms?
Wouldn’t it be neat if a lady came back to their friends and neighbors in the grandstands saying, “Oh my God have you seen the bathrooms here?” Instead of, “Oh my God have you seen the bathrooms here…Ew.”
Education and history recognition:
-Are your spectators aware of reasoning behind the physical appearance of your premiere division?
Sprint Cars and Modifieds look nothing like a car you see on the street. Your spectators should be educated as to why they appear the way they do. A great way to do this is to create a “throughout the years” exhibit on the midway explaining the historical evolution of the cars on hand. Announcers are also responsible in providing background information to keep spectators informed.
-Are your track heroes being recognized?
Heroes of the past and present should be proudly displayed on facility grounds to show appreciation for those who have shown dedication to the sport and your speedway. (Nothing mediocre… do it elegantly or not at all)
-Does your apparel match fashion trends?
Pay attention to the movements in clothing lines when creating branded merchandise.
These nostalgic graphic hoodies are popular at Stafford Speedway. Athletic apparel is also a trendy item. Tasteful apparel with stylish artwork is essential.
-Are you surveying the lines for food, tickets, and traffic?
The new generation of sports fans are finicky. They do not like waiting or standing around. Note the wait times and constantly seek methods to improve. For example, New Hampshire Motor Speedway has designated employees on-foot selling event tickets before the entrance which allows patrons to avoid ticket booth lines.
-Are there at least two prestigious racing events?
There should be highlighted items on the schedule without conflicts with town/state/regional events and nearby racing facilities. (We’ll save the essentials of creating a prestigious event for another blog)
-Do fans have the ability to see the race teams and cars up close?
There has to be availability for the fans (especially young fans) to get close up views of the cars and stars they are witnessing. This could be in the form of a pit exhibit or extended access to the pit area. Some speedways have created a “no trailer move rule” which prohibits teams from loading up their haulers and leaving the pit area for a determined amount of time after the final feature event.
-Is there plenty of colorful flowers, shrubbery, and local plant life in view?
I know it’s a race track but colorful plant life adds charm to a venue. Local plant life example: If you have a speedway in Florida (the #2 most popular tourist state) and don’t have an aligned row of palm trees down the backstretch or through the turns then you’re not creating an enticing visual stage for your visiting guests.
Homestea-Miami Speedway features their local plant life down the entire back straightaway.
-Are there any large structures that instantly identifies the racetrack?
Photogenic architecture creates distinction between any sports stadium.
Circuit of the Americas in Austin, TX knows photogenic and distinctive architecture.
-If the track has infield grass is it full, bright, and healthy?
Ever walk into a professional baseball stadium? The bright, well-cared for grounds create a spectacular view. There’s a reason why so many people photograph themselves with their backs to the ball field.
Lucas Oil Speedway has the elegant appearance similar to a baseball field. They obviously spend a lot of effort in grooming their grounds.
-Is there a consistent theme of colors surrounding the facility?
More examples from stick and ball sports: Professional ball fields typically have a 2-3 color theme surrounding the stadium (usually coincides with the team colors). Whenever a photo is taken on team grounds their location is instantly recognized by the viewers. Look at any photo taken at Boston’s Fenway Park and you’ll identify the iconic green and red color theme.
The beauty of Fenway Park. How could anybody mistake the green and red for any other venue?
-Is the speedway hot rod and motorcycle friendly?
Embrace the people who love fast and loud. Many speedways have dusty, bumpy, and cramped parking arrangements. Visitors who have motorcycles or dazzling hot rods have no interest in showing up and risking possible damage to their prized vehicles. Smoothly paved entrance driveways and spacious VIP areas should be available. Owners of these vehicles should be guided to the reserved areas that are supervised during race night.
-Does your premiere division have a powerful and theatrical feel?
Some sure ways to get the crowd pumped up for a main event is to play upbeat music. Pyrotechnics and theatrical lights are other dramatic effects.
-Is there a colorful announcer on hand?
Since announcers are guiding the show they must have the ability to increase fan enthusiasm. They should be professional, educational, and give explanations that brand new racing attendees can understand. Driver introductions should answer: Who is the driver? Where are they from? Why should I care?
-Does victory lane have an element of eminence?
No victory lane photos should be a driver standing in front of his/her car without a backdrop. Victory lane is meant to be photogenic, sacred, and celebrational. Allow the winning crew members and fans to join in on the winners circle festivities.
-Is a top of the line sound system and high definition video screen on site (or a planned future purchase)?
A high end sound system is essential for auto racing. We’re trying to address the crowd with loud engines in the background (this isn’t a baseball game) so quality sound is a costly, but necessary investment. Video screens are also pricey however every short track should be creating long term goals in making such investments. Video screens open up many possibilities in increasing a facility’s value. They add opportune features such as crowd interaction, replays, fan education, updates from unseen areas of the track, and most importantly: marketing opportunities.
Racer, Owner, and Team Interest
Short track racing, with regard to the actual racers and race teams, has deteriorated into an abysmal state. Racers pay more than ever at the pit gate to participate, and are paid less than ever at the end of the event. From a racer’s perspective it seems as though tracks view race teams with contempt.
The race teams are the people putting on the show. Let’s not forget that. The track management is responsible for keeping the racers pleased. Now I understand the difficulty of pleasing everybody, however, small incentives show appreciation for the competitors and showing appreciation for the racers creates a more positive environment throughout.
If you were to poll the race teams in the pit area as to their feelings about the track management, many would respond with, “They have no idea what we go through. They don’t know the money, time, and struggles that go into showing up at the track every week”. That’s because many tracks lack incentives for the people who arrive at their facility to entertain their fans.
Let’s talk about a real screwing for the racers: A local speedway director once stated, “There are little things right in front of our faces that are a problem in our sport, one being pit pass fees increasing when a visiting touring series shows up.” Think about that for a second. When an outside touring series shows up, it means the entry level racer has to pay around double for a pit pass. When they pay double, what do they get in return? Well…
- They lose money since they leave work earlier than usual just to sit around and wait for all the visiting series’ qualifying races.
- They are shuffled out to park in the distant, usually dirty, and possibly poor terrain sections of the pit area.
- They miss spectating the touring series race because they are too busy preparing, loading, and repairing their own racecars, or making their way through post race tech inspection.
Basically, racers have to dish out more cash for a complete inconvenience.
Acknowledgement doesn’t take much effort, nor does communicating with the people who support your racetrack to build a positive rapport. Whether it is the team in victory lane or the team that finishes last every week, they are all necessary in making up the fabric of a speedway. Congratulate the winners. Contact a racer he/she doesn’t show up one week, and find out why. You can better understand the struggles of a race team and they will find it encouraging to know their absence was noticed. A quote from Mike Twist: “The easiest way to take care of racers is to show them respect and that doesn’t cost a dime.”
Track management quick reference
-Do all intermediate and premiere divisions have scheduled highlight feature events?
More laps and more prize money should be made available for the middle to higher rank divisions at least twice per year. Entry prices shouldn’t be raised for the front or back gate for these events.
-Are competitors getting their presence exposed to the fanbase?
The racers are the speedway gladiators and the announcers should be presenting them as they are: Local celebrities. Their sponsors should be reported by the announcers and presented well on the track print, website, and social media accounts.
-Are racers able to compete with a car number of their choice?
Drivers and car owners are recognized by their car number. It’s an identity and a brand. Racers have invested apparel, decals, email addresses, and Twitter handles that represent their brand. With a number attached to their name they are easier to follow through the ranks and when making appearances. Teams shouldn’t have to change their identity simply because somebody else in the field claimed it (especially if the facility has electronic scoring). It also makes the facility look more professional when visiting teams aren’t forced to apply duct tape digits to their car because of reserved numbers.
-Is there a database for penalty infractions?
It appears that many speedways shoot from the hip when handing out penalties and this creates accusations and criticism. Every track should have a predetermined offense list that includes tiered punishments for technical violations, and on/off track misconducts. A history database should also be compiled as a reference guide to create consistency when issuing penalties and to confirm multiple offenders.
-Does your track team have respected executives and consultants?
An executive representative who is widely respected should be present at every speedway. It has to be somebody who understands the struggles that a race team goes through on a regular basis. This often, but not always, comes in the form of a current or ex-racer. Track operators are not doing race teams a favor by giving them a place to race. Respecting what the teams go through and showing them appreciation for supporting the speedway is vital as racers have lives outside of racing. They are, in fact, choosing to devote time to their home track.
-Does your track have any type of rewards program or contingency sponsors to give back to competitors?
If the speedway is bringing in money for advertising income then a small percentage of that should be dispersed to the racers. Awards should also be given to the most recognized characters of the speedway in the form of Most Popular Driver, Best Appearing Racecar, etc.
-Do racers and owners enter the track for free? If not, does the purse at least cover their entrance fee?
Short track racing is a semi-professional (in some cases, professional) spectator sport. In most cases they are being charged to enter your facility so they can perform a dangerous act in front of your crowd. If competitors and car owners are being charged to enter the pit area then the purse structure must at least cover that expense.
-Are race winners and champions able to enjoy their victories with a level of excitement?
Winning a race is extremely satisfying to a racer and his/her team. A speedway should do their part in adding to the celebration to create a memorable experience. Pyrotechnics, confetti, music, ability to celebrate with crew members, and an attractive backdrop for photo capturing should all be part of the ceremony.
-Are the racers and teams in sync with your visions of division rules?
If car owners see uncertainty in the future of a division/series then it affects their decision of acquiring a certain race car. They see their purchases as investments. A speedway should have a 10 year vision of their divisions and the competitors should be made aware of the forthcoming of their investments. Regulations should be discussed between the track and its race teams and there should be a considerable amount of time before putting new rules into effect. Race tracks shouldn’t make sudden rule changes because this diminishes trust with its racers.
-Do race teams have freedom with their investments?
In order to gain acceptance from the race teams and gain new competitors, we have to give them what they want. Racers want the freedom to travel and experience different race tracks. Facilities that try “locking in” their racers by having their own rulebooks different from surrounding tracks often show little success. Racers aren’t interested in spending money on something of little to no value. A race car that is only good for one track is not a worthy investment to race teams because it limits their freedom to visit other facilities and their ability to sell if they ever decide to take a different route.
Fan Interest, Entertainment, and Youth Engagement
There are two ways to increase fan appeal:
- Lower gate prices
- Increase value
Lowering prices is a very nice idea, but it is not always possible depending on the race facility in question. So this vision statement has much more to do with increasing the value that each visitor receives for the cost his or her ticket.
The top source of income for a short track is ticket sales, and if a speedway does not provide adequate entertainment for their fans they will lose out on repeat and word-of-mouth visitors. On the other hand, if a speedway is able to make a noteworthy experience for their guests and expose the beautiful side of the sport, it will gain longtime supporters.
This is a broad area for track promoters to show their creative imagination. Countless ideas and concepts can be employed in order to improve their facility’s layout, design, and surroundings. Fan appeal is the most important subject of all.
Too many track operators expect people to sit in one spot and be content for 3-4 hours watching cars go around in circles. Hardcore fans can endure it but even they could use relief from the monotony every so often. There is an urgent need to attract new fans, and new fans need more stimulus. It is important to focus on the future generations of attendees and to keep an emphasis on steady growth of the racing community. Extensive, exhaustive, repetitive race night schedules and a lack of mobility at a venue is often a turn off for existing fans, and quite possibly a repellent for new fans.
Track promoters/operators should be spending time in the grandstands reading their audience. They should be examining the crowd’s enthusiasm and observing the energy of the show. Length of caution periods, in-between race breaks, and driver introductions should be frequently evaluated. Keeping fans content is important during event downtime because there isn’t much excitement in watching track clean up.
Modern day fans need mobility. They prefer movement rather than to sit in one spot for an extended period of time. Facilities should seek to create explorable and social activities than simply watching the cars on the track. This includes gaming areas, historical displays, track stores, up close pit viewing, beer gardens, and social areas distant enough to temporarily remove themselves from the volume of race car engines.
Our facilities should be persistent in demonstrating absolutely outstanding customer service to increase repeat customers. In order to strengthen a speedway’s brand and to set its experience apart from other entertainment venues, customer service should not only be exceptional, but should also be a significant aspect of the facility’s operating plan.
Ticket counters, food and beer concession stands, and souvenir vendors should be staffed by enthusiastic employees who want to serve their guests with the utmost care in order to create the best possible experience. Guests will appreciate being treated with hospitality and it will become part of the race facility’s identity.
Connecting emotionally and delivering sincere value to paying guests is of absolute importance. If we show the consumers courtesy and respect, we will build a positive image and energy.
Modern day attendees seek simplicity; in order for fans to understand the events, they need the ability to view division info, driver and car number references, and race info with ease. Five-dollar track programs have become inefficient for generating revenue and only end up in the hands of a few attendants. The distribution of a clean, free handout and/or simple mobile phone access would be more effective.
Up-to-date payment systems should include on-site ATMs and credit card payment options for ticket and food and beverage sales. Additionally, present-day fans despise the look of long lines so track operators should be constantly analysing and improving their wait times for entrance and food and beverage purchasing.
Fan engagement is a key concept for modern day entertainment venues and this can be established through interactions. These interactions don’t have to take up event time either. Pit area access should be open to all guests after the final checkered flag with a “no trailer move” policy. Victory lane viewing also allows fans to witness the excitement in close range. Accessibility is desired by present-day fans. Many people find these areas of a race track interesting and up-close access gives them opportunities to connect with the racers and gain education in the sport.
Social media is one of the most crucial components of a race track’s ability to progress. All facilities need a social media plan that connects them with their followers and allows fans to engage. It’s essential for speedway executives to understand the importance of online interactions. Track operators don’t have to like social media but they have to either understand and manage it professionally or hire somebody who does because it’s the top method of engaging with their followers. Social media is not going anywhere and its functionality is constantly changing and evolving so it’s important to build and develop an online plan.
The Wow Factor
The entertainment aspect is already present in short track racing and fans will come to the track if they’re convinced of a magical experience. Track operators just have to add a “Wow” factor to create a memorable night in order for people to return. If the track announcers are lively, yet professional, the racers will take care of the show theatrics. The track is a stage and the racers are actors. It just all has to be brought to life. A speedway shouldn’t be putting on a race, they should be creating an experience. It’s important to give fans powerful memories to bring home and talk about.
A large portion of fans nowadays need some enticement or extra incentives to leave the comfort of their homes and attend the speedway. This can be achieved through special promotions targeted to a certain demographic. These campaigns gain effectiveness if they are recurring. If folks are reminded of these repetitive events then they may take advantage of the multiple opportunities to make an appearance.
To have sustainability with race track attendances, facilities have to study the wants and needs of youths. We have to grow them into the sport. Certain activities such as interactive rides, meet-and-greets with the drivers, up close viewing of the race cars, and frequent prize giveaways are ways to give younger fans captivating experiences.
Track management quick reference
-Is the crowd mood being frequently surveyed?
It’s important to notice the crowd’s emotion throughout a race night. Take note of the preferred time of the final checkered flag. 9:30-10pm seems to be a favored end time for a regular event night.
-Are methods in place to to reduce downtime of the show?
The track clean up crew should frequently be evaluated for their performance.
-Are there entertainment fillers during the downtime?
Wireless microphones, upbeat music, and big screen TVs are beneficial tools that provide opportunities to boost crowd interaction and participation.
Many semi-professional and professional hockey organizations interact with the crowd with promotions like “Chuck-A-Puck Night”.
-Can fans get up to date event info?
Programs are dated items that seem to generate little interest and income. Most are non-color and poor quality. A seasonal, high quality, full color collector’s item program could be a hit but fans should have event info for free. A single paper “Playbill” type handout could provide all info needed for a guest of the speedway. Mobile phone apps could be beneficial but big screen TVs are preferable because it will keep the fan’s eyes up at the stage.
-Is there a premeditated social media plan?
It’s essential to connect online with the fans during the off-week and off-season. Most racers are more than willing to participate if they know it will help the speedway.
Stafford Motor Speedway has weekly Snapchat takeovers showing views behind the scenes with drivers and people of interest from their race track.
-Is there a mascot of the speedway?
A mascot plus a sidekick is often seen at semi-professional and professional sporting events and can be fun and effective if used correctly. Mascots have to be approachable and charismatic so it’s important to read the audience during fan interactions.
-Is the speedway cast members highlighted?
Beyond the racers, speedways are typically full of characters. Make local celebrities out of the flagman, pace car driver, tow truck driver, trophy girl. Many eyes are on the flagman so encourage him/her to be animated. Highlighting these people of interest will create a greater connection between the speedway and fans.
Some characters of the race tracks are more appealing than others.
-Do fans have the ability to see the race teams and cars up close?
NHRA allows close up viewing of the cars and stars of drag racing which is a considerable factor in their fan popularity.
-Do fans have the ability to see the race teams and cars up close?
There has to be availability for the fans (especially young fans) to get close up views of the cars and stars they are witnessing. This could be in the form of a pit exhibit or extended access to the pit area.
-Is there frequent customer service assessments and training?
Striving for excellence at every interaction takes training and frequent performance evaluations with the track service team.
-Is there mid-week and off-season track updates?
Keep fans in touch with the latest news and track improvements. Also a simple, online weekly “Pick Em” contest or track fantasy league is a great way to keep fans interacted throughout the season. Year end prizes make these contests even more interesting.
-Is there a special deal, promotion, and/or theme for every event on the schedule?
Special promotions entice fans to attend the speedway if used correctly. Unique activities and discounts for families, couples, and/or ladies. Discount nights for college ID, military ID, fire/police, distant travelers, civic animal clubs, and groups. Dollar hot dog nights and/or specialty food items. These nights should be scheduled more than once per year and recurring.
Bowman Gray Stadium’s schedule includes 3-4 “$2 Ladies’ Night” promotions per season. Many weeks they also have fan giveaway prizes contributed by a track sponsor.
-Are there any pre-race activities?
Certain members of the race track family love to make full day events of race night. Tailgating should be embraced. A speedway could create a weekly car club show in the hours leading up to race night which could provide free entry to everybody contributing and showing off their rides.
-Are heat races and a handicap system system in place?
It’s widely agreed that group qualifying races are more entertaining than time trials. Handicap systems are generally favored as well. Faster cars should start towards the back of the pack. This generates more passing which increases intensity and enhances the show.
-Does your premiere division have a powerful and theatrical feel?
Some sure ways to get the crowd pumped up for a main event is to play upbeat music. Pyrotechnics, smoke, and theatrical lights are other dramatic effects that can spice up driver introductions and warm up laps. The racers are local heroes and the fans can build connections with the racers if there is a lot of built up hype to their names and rides.
-Are National Anthems performed live?
Quality sound and no pre-recordings.
-Are there plenty of activities to increase youth engagement?
Youths should be given the ability to see elements of the race track up close to create lasting memories.
Kids love rides on “The Bunny Bus” at Beech Ridge Speedway.
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.
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 various tracks. 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”?
A potentially large amount of income for a facility is through sponsorships. Many tracks aren’t using modern marketing tools that could increase investor interest and build comfort in their investments. Just like “fan interest, entertainment, and youth engagement,” this is a perfect opportunity for facilities to use creativity and integrate their marketing partners into the track image.
It’s important for a speedway to explore what a potential (or current) partner is seeking to match the business’s goals and motives. Luckily for race tracks, there are a vast amount of assets that speedways possesses. Assets include on-premise visual marketing availability, digital marketing, hospitality, business to business opportunities, product sampling, and giveaway options to the racers and fans.
A track should identify the goals of a potential (or current) sponsor and then collaborate with them to build a platform that complements their marketing objectives. In other words, custom-tailored marketing partnerships should involve more than “Give us X amount of dollars and we’ll put your name on a backstretch billboard”.
Exposure can be created without watering down the track’s sponsorship campaign. For instance, the “John Smith’s Custom Carpentry – Street Stocks” or the “Jane Doe’s Automotive – Restart Zone” are excessive uses of marketing. It is vital to use a variety of promotional tools while avoiding product confusion and marketing delusion.
Speedway executives need to connect and frequently communicate with business partners. A speedway should continuously educate their partners on the drivers, race procedures, track personnel, and the ins and outs of the sport of short track racing in order to grow a healthy business relationship. It is beneficial to increase marketer involvement and interest while providing opportunities to share their views on enhancing brand exposure.
Marketing partners seek a personal connection and a partnership they believe in – similar to the ideas mentioned in the “Racer Interest” section of this statement. Competition is tough with businesses deciding where to spend their marketing dollars and modern day marketing trends point towards long term relationships. Consequently, we have to step up our game and not get left in the stone age of modern day marketing.
Following up and providing open lines of communication with marketing partners is essential. Weekly newsletters can keep partners up to date with everything related to the facility. Marketing managers, executives, and employees should be encouraged to follow the track’s social media outlets. Updates, analytics, reports, and trackable results of the exposure they’ve been provided increases the value and comfort of their investment. Building relationships and connections with business partners will only help speedways market their product more effectively. Gaining a better understanding of a marketer’s business can be achieved through visiting their workplace and getting a feel for their product or service.
-A partner may be partial to business trade-offs. For example, a paint company may be interested in applying a fresh coat on the concession buildings. A paper material company may be interested in supplying the speedway with cups, plates, and toilet paper. A garbage removal company may like the idea of their name being visible in exchange for waste removal. A local landscaping company could keep the grounds presentable (side note: have you judged the appearance of your track’s infield grass?)
-Social media importance has already been discussed and it can be heavily tied into a track’s marketing program. Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are all moving towards video favored platforms and videos are prime opportunities to include sponsorship plugs. Every facility should have a detailed social media plan and an objective of that plan is to promote track marketing partners.
-Partners are most concerned about their return on investments. They are often either seeking an increase in sales or ways to improve their product. Creating business to business (B2B) relationships is a strong method of showing return in a partner’s marketing plan with the track.
Facility Uses & Extra Activities
Most racing facilities are on twenty-plus acres of land with concessions, bathrooms, parking room, lighting, and grandstands. So with all of that freedom why would we hold only twenty nighttime events in a year?
Speedways could hold multiple events while retaining the theme of motorsports. Mud boggers, drifters, rally racers, RC car competitors, snowmobilers, street racers, and drag racers are all members of the motorsports community. As mentioned in the introduction, there is no greater activity than short track auto racing so there is no need to feel threatened by other avenues of the sport. These are folks with a similar interest and if they take notice to short track racing then there is a good chance they will venture to the race track on a Saturday night. It is not reasonable to shun certain motorsport communities as it would only make sense for us to work with others in the industry even if their style doesn’t quite match ours.
Beyond motorsports, community related events would be practical activities on speedway property. Special holiday events could be held while retaining a motorsports theme or to build up to a racing event. For example, a “Light Up the Speedway” Christmas event could be created with proceeds going to a charity of choice. Giving back to the community is a great way to build a positive image for our speedways.
A few extra ideas for additional events include driving experiences, testing days, physical challenges, car shows, swap meets, farmer’s markets, town fairs/festivals, and a drive-in theater with the availability of renting big screen televisions. Off season storage, bar/restaurants, and dining halls could also be created if the track is fortunate to have on-site buildings. Having a go-kart or quarter midget track on the facility grounds could be beneficial because it can create a progressive system as a stepping stone to the big show.
Within these suggestions, there is potential for additional income and the ability to bring people from the community together at the race tracks.
As mentioned in the introduction of this statement, in front of us is a beautiful, fascinating sport that has potential to grasp the hearts of many. However, short track racing has an image problem that needs overhauling before concentrating on massive outreach.
Short track racing is lacking fashionable image appeal, making it difficult to connect our sport with the younger crowd. If we want our future generations growing into the sport then we have to work on building the “cool factor” of the sport.
Creating a more modern and alluring image includes stylish apparel. We have to study trends in fashion and notice the attire that’s proven successful in other industries, including other types of motorsports. Attracting young fans means building a connection with them and apparel is an effective way to have them accept the image of short track racing.
We are in an era in which media is everywhere and this is not going to change. High quality photography and film are so prevalent in our world, yet short track racing is far behind the times in this aspect. We have to work hard to grasp the interest of talented film and media experts who can help effectively promote the gifted and marketable racers of a race track or series.
Short track racing is full of dazzling sights and moments. A considerable amount of effort should be put into capturing the picturesque visuals of race nights. Track operators have to think like a photojournalist in order to provide the public with intriguing images. For example, photos can be more captivating with radiant backdrops and/or foregrounds. It would be beneficial to evaluate photos generally taken at a speedway and to contemplate ways to enliven those moments.
Obtaining compelling photos is useless if not shared effectively. Distributing photos to the public is a key element in exposing our product of short track racing. Our speedway and series operators have to become social media experts (or hire people who are) by finding the best ways to engage and share our product with the public.
Methods of increasing outreach of short track racing is constantly changing and it is crucial to keep up to date with trends in marketing. Traditional advertising methods (TV, print, radio, billboards) have decreased in value, mostly because of the high impact of social media marketing. Social media has become such a valuable marketing tool because of the ability to target specific interest groups and the advantage of analyzing trackable results.
Our speedways and series have to take advantage of all online media sharing opportunities. Live video capturing should be experimented with, not shunned. These social media tools are the future and opportunities should not be limited. When it comes to outreach and exposure, our sport is already far behind. Why would we place barriers in a sport that is already struggling for public awareness?
Free exposure is a sensible idea for any type of sporting or entertainment business. Our speedways should have exceptional communication and understanding with members of various media outlets. We should have knowledge of what it would take for these outlets to frequently cover our events. Once the criteria is established, tracks should be setting goals in reaching that benchmark.
Short track racing is a beautiful sport and we have to highlight that appeal by tweaking our image and increasing outreach. In order to improve our product we have to believe in the greatness and potential of the sport. Our sport contains great entertainment and we have to ability to provide a great community service. People have to be educated of the rich history of short track racing and exposed to this great product we have. We have to believe in short track racing and it’s appeal. Our speedways also have to believe in its surrounding town and/or city. Track operators have to believe in its beauty and image… and work with it.
Track management quick reference:
-Is there a talented and trusted graphics designer within the speedway’s circle?
Eye-catching banners have to be frequently created for on-site and digital marketing.
-Is there a social media expert on hand?
Become a master of online networks or hire somebody who is. Adapt or die.
-Is there plenty of mid-week and off-season buzz being created?
The more we can surround people’s lives in short track racing the more enthusiasts we can create around our sport.
-What’s up with contracted track photographers?
High quality photographers and videographers can be extremely valuable for a speedway’s outreach. However, contracted track photo and video personnel are not beneficial unless they are uploading, sharing, and tagging on social media. Why hire a track photographer if the photographs aren’t being heavily dispersed for the public to view and share?
In order to create a larger following for short track racing, race tracks have to create a marketing campaign that portrays the sport in a positive manner. Facilities also have to hold credible representation among the local public. To do this, track representatives have to educate nearby citizens and show participation in the surrounding community.
Speedway staff members should occasionally discuss different progressive methods to contain race car noise from neighbors of the track, such as sound barriers and absorbers. Then it is necessary for track personnel to take the time to educate people that our tracks have these noise controlling devices. Instead of fighting with neighbors, work with them and enlighten them.
We have to communicate to neighbors that auto racing is no longer an obnoxious, roughneck type sport. Our speedways are surrounded by good-hearted, hard-working people. They also give the younger generation a place to attend, become a social part of a family-oriented environment, and spend time with other goal-oriented folks. Auto racing teaches hard work and principles of mechanics, technology, & engineering. It is important to encourage neighbors to become part of the speedway community by exposing the beauty of the sport to them (many aspects of which are mentioned in the introduction of this statement).
We should also be contributing to the community. We have to participate, reach out, and be an influence while working alongside the townspeople. It’s important to be understanding… Some people will always shun the concept of auto racing. The best we can do is attempt to educate them, and try to be a positive community member. We have to work on creating a movement of acceptance from the general population.
It is vital for tracks to be involved in community activities. Members of the speedway staff should become involved in local politics and attend town meetings where plans are discussed for the district’s future. It benefits the facility greatly to have an advocate present at such meetings to discuss the positive impact that the race track can have on the future of the local community.
Tracks should also actively be creating and/or participating in charity events and fundraisers. Holiday events are excellent opportunities to contribute to the community by providing entertainment. Halloween festivals with hayrides and Christmas drive through illumination ceremonies with majority proceeds going to selective charities are ideal. Holiday events can start off small and investments can be made over the years to increase attraction. This only makes sense with the race track’s large working space and off-season time frame. They benefit the speedway as a form of income while showing community appeal and immersion.
Other community type events could include harvest fairs, farmer’s markets, family-oriented events, small business fairs, and local food & spirit expositions. These type of events and specialty gatherings are an important part of appealing to a wide variety of demographics and can also provide an opportunity to cross promote with local businesses.
We have to place emphasis on constant improvement, especially on those aspects of racing considered unpleasant by the general public. If the public is aware that facility administration is always working to make local racing cleaner, quieter, and more family oriented, they will develop a strong fondness for the speedways and for the racing community as a whole.
The Movement and Communication Between Tracks
There are many racing regions in the country that seem to lack communication and collaboration. The greatest proof of this is the disconnection of rules, divisions, and schedules. This divide is possibly the most tasteless attribute of short track racing. When people from the business community recognize this lack of unity it become a massive anchor in building progression in the sport. Tracks also seem to not realize the potential benefits from working together with other speedways in the area.
Speedways have very similar operational equipment necessities but it seems that tracks don’t work together to acquire these items. Certain high-dollar purchases put undue strain on individual race tracks. Cooperative purchasing with other facilities not only provides financial relief to each track but also provides cohesive solutions to problems that tend to be repetitive. One example is to share technical inspection equipment such as templates, gauges, and tech manuals to create a more standard inspection that remains consistent throughout the region. Tracks with similar rules can work together to build a technical information database to save valuable time and resources by avoiding redundancies in inspection.
Track maintenance equipment can be jointly purchased by multiple tracks to reduce financial strain. Landscaping equipment, track cleaning and maintenance machines, track preparation machinery, and painting supplies are just a few small examples of items that tracks can share. Facilities could also share trusted contractors for certain jobs to help reduce costs.
Entertainment equipment purchases could become a joint effort between surrounding race tracks. For example, a large screen television for fan viewing would be a major benefit to any racing facility. Incidentally, the cost of such a piece of equipment is prohibitive and the rigorous required maintenance is often a barrier that makes its purchase impractical. However, if this expense was shared by multiple speedways and a mobile video unit was purchased rather than a permanently fixed unit, the financial burden would be reduced to a more practical figure. Furthermore, the same film crew could be hired for multiple tracks to create a more efficient product.
Beyond the joint efforts of cooperative purchases it is vital for short track racing to work towards a movement. The movement would show progression of having similar rules and divisions throughout the country. This would be a system that could take 20 years to get to an ideal situation but the sooner tracks realize the benefits of common rules, the sooner we can reach that goal and build a more practical and appealing sport. Obviously, dirt and asphalt divisions have evolved in separate directions and some regions have different followings. However, there are many divisions that can be slowly altered until common ground is reached. Then, at some point, it would be appealing for a racer to have the option to voyage to different race tracks without committing to a traveling series.
Track management quick reference
-Are you spending a substantial amount of time in the off-season communicating with speedway owners and promoters within your region?
-Are you spending a substantial amount of time communicating with your technical crew and chassis and engine builders?
Our regions of track owners and promoters should be meeting up during off seasons to discuss short and long term objectives in speedway collaboration. Open communication between race tracks also includes aligning schedules so tracks don’t have important events on the same dates.
Finish Line Thoughts
As mentioned in the introduction, the main purpose for sharing this vision statement is to suggest that promoters refocus their approach in improving the state of short track racing.
One of the most important elements in building a better product is respect and communication. We have to keep in mind that we’re in an era where business success is based on long term relationships. It is vital for a speedway’s staff to maintain positive relationships with both its competitors and its fans. Folks involved with race teams aren’t interested in participating in a hobby where appreciation and communication is absent. With the abundance of alternative activities available to partake in nowadays, people will just find something else to do and that’s exactly what is happening.
There is a lot of negative talk in the pits and it most frequently revolves around the lack of communication and the absence of unity between tracks and series. The division in our sport is a hindrance. When the business community identifies this they then conclude that the owners and promoters of our sport don’t know how to run their business. We don’t want our sport to crumble from it’s foundation (meaning fan base, race teams, and business partners), therefore we have to create a more unified and positive vibe around the short track racing world.
The word “profitable” isn’t used much in this statement because it’s an end result. Each individual speedway can become a progressive business and maintain financial sustainability if they are able to:
- Keep fans returning by creating a cost-effective, friendly, and memorable experience.
- Keep racers and teams returning by simplifying divisions, controlling costs, and showing appreciation for their role as the attraction.
- Keep sponsors returning by building close, positive, communicative relationships with marketing partners of the speedway.
Despite the many obstacles covered in this statement, there are still some frequently seen disputes:
-”There is a lack of mechanical interest. Today’s youths don’t like to tinker. Teenagers don’t rush to get their driver’s licenses anymore. There are no more shade tree mechanics and we no longer live in a car-centric society. America’s love affair with the automobile has died…”
People who argue this aren’t aware of their surroundings. There are plenty of mechanically and technically savvy people in this world, they just aren’t hanging around the short tracks anymore. Look at how big the other motorsports industries are: Mud trucks, motocross, street car racing, drag racing. Also notice the popularity of the television hit “The Grand Tour,” one of Amazon’s most popular reality/documentary series following the automobile traveling adventures of three British car fanatics. The interest is still present but, as mentioned in the introduction, modern day promoters need to highlight the compelling aspects of short track racing while evolving their product to connect with new age fans. If we can grasp the attention of the mechanically inclined folks then we can use that fan base to progressively grow the population of the sport.
-”There is no connection to competitive auto racing anymore, especially in regards to the younger crowd. Youths are stuck on their mobile phones and self-driving cars are no longer science-fiction…”
This is a matter of perception. Take the self-driving cars thought for instance, some will say that self-driving cars creates a connection barrier for fans. One could turn this idea around and use that as a promotional tool to make auto racing appear as more of a phenomenon. Fans will become much more intrigued by the fact that these cars involve real life racers with impeccable abilities to control these vehicles that have no traction control, stability control, or any other driver assisting aids.
It should be noted that the world changes and nobody knows how youths will interact and socialize in ten years. Only predictions can be made. For example, our society may get to a point where the technology fad of handheld entertainment plateaus… Our phones do everything we want them to, everybody becomes familiar with them, and people decide to get more hands-on with their free time. This is only a theory but the main point is we can’t continue to sit and fall further behind in entertainment and marketing trends. There will always be a need for real-life socialization and entertainment in this world.
Call to action
We have a lot of work to do and this starts with the owners and promoters providing open communication with everyone involved. Speedway executives have to create 5, 10, and 15 year plans for divisions and upgrades and then share these plans with surrounding facilities as well as their supporters which includes track staff, the race teams, fans, and others within the industry.
It’s important for speedway executives to act professionally and handle people and their racers respectfully. Racers may be outspoken and appear demanding but the truth is they care for their sport. Racers actually want to help build the sport and support the tracks. They will show support if they feel valued by their home tracks.
Speedway owners and promoters have to frequently evaluate the product being put out at their facility. This includes: Food & midway areas, bathrooms, cleanliness & appearance, announcer talents, racing product, overall attitude & atmosphere, hospitality, entertainment, speedway star power, sponsor promotion efforts, website & social media presence, and public relations. It takes an open mind to give honest self-evaluations of these aspects. And just as speedway executives would consider giving themselves an “A” grade, they must do better and work towards further progressing their product. It’s also important to consider developing ideas that may have failed in the past. Many ideas do not work on the first attempt and have to be finessed before becoming successful concepts. It’s key to remember the four main essentials of review and refinement: Quality, service, value, and cleanliness. Execution of these elements are crucial in order to establish consistent workflow and repeat customers.
Improving the product of a speedway, or any business for that matter, means constant self-education. Effective methods include reading publications and books, visiting places of interest that are successful at providing entertainment, and taking notes and ideas from those other venues and relating them to short track racing.
In order to succeed speedway owners and promoters have to learn, progress, and adapt. They have to move forward. Just because a speedway has 20 car fields and healthy grandstand attendances doesn’t mean it’s time to kick up the feet and admire the success. We have to think big.
Notice that there are few mentions of big investments in this vision statement. The big investments are only mentioned for long term additions. There is also no mention of lowering gate prices or increasing purses because those are afterthoughts and can only be considered on a case by case basis. Instead of lowering prices, it is encouraged for speedways to increase their value.
I may not have the credibility to be writing a vision statement like this: speaking about the lackluster performance of our short track owners and promoters. I have seldom ventured far from New England asphalt racing. However, I’m offering possible solutions to what seem like widespread issues in this sport. I have devoted (and will continue to devote) a lot of time researching trends, reading publications on marketing, creating business plans, visiting speedways around the country, and communicating with people throughout the industry to gain knowledge, gather insight, and compile ideas for short track racing.
I’m not afraid to admit that I’m in love with short track racing. I love everything about it. I believe in it. The people within my racing family are who I care for most in this world. They are dedicated, devoted, and passionate and they are the ones who inspire me and make me believe in the sport. I’m simply here to say that short track racing should be so much more than it is. The entertainment factors are present because the sport is able to strike all emotions. Therefore I feel that the short track racing is just worth it. The local speedway can be an exceptionally magical place with an excellent social environment. It is where friendships and relationships are created and it’s the cool place to go as a group or family. The local short track brings families together and it’s where local heroes are established.
My goal in life? I’ll die happy if one day race tracks throughout the country are overflowing with fans and competitors… maybe even see new short tracks being built. I want to see speedway owners making money and reinvesting in their facilities. I want to see track promoters doing their part in building the sport while communicating with other race tracks. I want to see racers and fans satisfied with the product and gladly supporting their home tracks. All because I believe in short track racing.
Thank you to all who have helped with this vision statement and anybody who has reached out with their thoughts. Even opposing opinions have helped me gain a better understanding of the sport and people involved. It is much appreciated.
If anybody has questions, comments, death threats, or whatever it may be, feel free to contact me:
Cell: (860) 803-2943
Some of my favorite and most helpful sources:
Growing Up NASCAR – Racing’s Most Outrageous Promoter Tells All
By Humpy Wheeler and Peter Golenbock
Let’s Go Racing! – The Amazing Story of the American Speed Association
By Rex Robbins with Dave Argabright
Let ‘Em All Go!
By Chris Economaki with Dave Argabright
Earl! The Life and Times of One of the Nation’s Best Racing Promoters
By Earl Baltes with Dave Argabright
By Jon Spoelstra
Ice to the Eskimos
By Jon Spoelstra
Creativity, Inc. – Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration
By Ed Catmull
The Thank You Economy
By Gary Vanderchuk
X Play Nation
By Alex Striller
Motorsports Marketing and Sponsorships
By Alex Striller
Best Damn Garage In Town – The World According to Smokey (3 Volume Set)
By Henry Smokey Yunick
The Hidden Magic of Walt Disney World
By Susan Veness
Other non-specific books:
Local town/county/place of interest historical books can help gain an understanding of a region or area. Sports management guides and textbooks. Along with a number of books about historical people in auto racing. These have only helped educate me about the evolution of the sport and the people who have helped build it.
Sports Management Worldwide – Motorsports Management Certificate Course
Racing Promotion Monthly
Sports Business Journal
Ernie Saxton’s Motorsports Sponsorship Marketing News
Circle Track Magazine
People in the pits, online forums, social media posts and comments, and speedway reviews on Google.
Thank you all for reading and if you are a local racing enthusiast be sure to check out other features of ShortTrackRacer.com.