By T.J. Buffenbarger, image courtesy of VR Racing
Every winter racing schedules come out listing exciting new events make fans salivate to go to the race track while the removal of traditional events can cause message board fire storms. In recent years several tracks have chosen to diversify their schedules. Instead of “regular” racing nights schedules include various incarnations of “evening of destruction”, tractor pulls, concerts, and other activities that don’t go with the racing norm.
When this diversification occurs many of the diehard fans complain.
Over the past 15 years I have learned a lot about our sport on and off the track. Two lessons stand out when talking about diversification at the race track. The diehard fan makes for a nice core fans base at the race track. The problem is we will endure a variety of different things to go to race track that the more casual fan will. Like it or not, those casual fans outnumber the diehard fans. Often the difference between the success and failure of an event at the front gate is getting that casual fan not only interested enough to come out to the race track, but making the experience memorable enough that they will come back again.
If you need an example go to a World of Outlaws sprint car event. The event in my backyard at I-96 Speedway is the perfect example. The Outlaws draw the largest crowd to see a sprint car race anywhere in Michigan during the season. Walk through that crowd and see how many people you can spot that were at a SOD, MTS, AVSS, or Butler sprint car show during the year? You’ll find there are way more people that make that their one trip to the race track all year or to fill in time between NASCAR races at Michigan International Speedway.
Like it or not the idea of stuff blowing up and crashing brings people out in droves. The more creative and plentiful the carnage is, the larger of a crowd it draws. Combine that with relatively low overhead and several tracks have turned these nights of destruction into their biggest money makers of the year. I spoke to one facility that held a tractor pull last season that was wildly successful and opened up their facility to an entirely new demographic.
That is the other goal of having some different events at the race track other than making money, introducing the racing facility to a new group of people that have never been there before. If the experience was enjoyable they might come out for a night where fireworks are on the card, there is a great giveaway, or even just to check out another week of racing.
Another important thing we can do as diehard fans is to make sure and bring as many people to the race track with us as possible. Take a new friend, the niece or nephew, or co-worker that has never been to the races before. Just pick what you feel will be a good first experience at the races. Remember that people that don’t go often might not like programs with reputations of long, unnecessary displays. If someone crashes and knocks the fence down, it’s easy to understand for the novice fan why the program is running late. If the track is being watered for the fifth time during a program or the grader is making more laps than the race cars, which will be a turn off.
Most of the track promoters are diehard racing fans just like us, but for them the track is also a business. If your favorite event disappears of a schedule, 90% of the time it’s because it didn’t reach the financial goals. Granted events sometimes are pulled before they build up enough of a following to be profitable, or once in a while logistical problems cause an event not to be renewed, but performance at the box office and the back gate often determines an event’s fate. I’ve seen promoters and series presidents that could not stand to be in the same room with each other for more than 10 minutes at a time, but the event made money and that promoter would keep bringing the series back. The best way to insure those events returning is to attend them and sending a cordial note to management on how much you enjoyed attending the event.
As the schedules come out for 2010 keep making up your schedule of events and pick a few dates to take friends out to the track and keep supporting the events you want to see back in years to come.