Due to a pair of shows taking its traditional weekend, RPM boss Stewart Doty moved this year’s winter meeting to a Monday through Wednesday format. And the theme was “Preparing for 2012.”
This year’s keynote speaker was former NASCAR crew chief Ray Evernham, who helped Jeff Gordon achieve his first titles. Since then he’s been a team owner, helped bring Dodge back into NASCAR, is a TV color analyst, consultant to Hendrick Motorsports and with partner Bob Mack bought East Lincoln Speedway in Stanley, North Carolina.
“I love short tracks and dirt racing and wanted a place to play,” he said. “I thought it would be a good investment as the man I bought it from said it made money.”
That last comment got a lot of laughs from the promoters in the room.
With his background, Evernham didn’t feel it would be that difficult to promote and run a track but, as he explained, it’s been a learning experience.
Asked about the challenges he said. “Some of the biggest challenges is just the naivete of what it took to do it. It’s tough but the only you learn it as you do it and as you’re doing it it’s hurting your pocketbook a little bit.”
Evernham explained that what he thought would be easy wasn’t.
Running a dirt track takes effort and commitment and finding key people that would be willing to put forth the effort this requires was another challenge.
“It loses money every week but we’re getting it going and continue to work on it. Its kind of a labor of love for us. We’ve changed management, changed the way we’re going to do things but the main thing is it’s still operating,” he said.
He now has a manager that operates the track on a lease basis.
Looking to the future he said, “If you’re committed and willing to do what it takes there’s still an opportunity out there. You really have to have a realistic look at your expectations of what you want for your place though. “
Evernham also brought one of the new Legends Modified Dirt Cars that he helped introduce this year. He likes these cars as he’s found many competitors want a low cost, low maintenance racer.
Looking he said, “The sport is going to survive because America has a love affair with cars. We use social media to reach young people and barter for sponsor signs as money not spent is money saved.”
He acknowledged it’s been a fun ride and he’s learned lessons from this experience. Evernham also stated it’s a way to give back to the sport that has been so good to him.
Asked about the Workshop he said, “That’s one of the reasons I’m here, grass roots racing is important to me, it’s important to keep it going and these are the people that do that. Some of the smartest people in the industry sit in these rooms and share ideas.”
The Workshop consists of seminars, panel discussions and meetings. New ideas and ways to help those new to the industry and other aspects of the business are offered.
One popular session is a panel of lawyers that looks at legal issues and offers advice. Another was put on by K&K Insurance highlighting what a tracks and outside vendors need.
There is also a small trade show accompanying the Workshop where vendors offer every thing from tickets, websites, scoring and timing equipment to tires and insurance for tracks.
Most of the morning and afternoon sessions also begin with the popular “Fast 15,” where a successful promoter will offer 15 ideas on how to improve operations. And one seminar was aimed at new promoters where a panel of veterans answered their questions.
One fact that’s continually stressed is that short track operations are really entertainment and as such compete for the entertainment dollar. Reaching younger fans in this day of smart phones and social media is a challenge facing the industry as whole.
This feeling was echoed by Dennis Huth, owner American Speed Association (ASA).
“I think the big challenge in motorsports is the entertainment dollar,” he said. “As most tracks throughout the country have some great entertainment value it just boils down to how do you get the word out to everyone when there’s so much entertainment out there for the dollar today.”
Then he added, “I think our year was on par of what we expected with the economy and everything else. It is creating some challenges with all of motorsports but it’s not one of those things that is insurmountable, as it’s just something you have to predict and work through as you go along.
“We’re very positive about the future, it’s just a matter that we be smart in our business plan and make sure that we can deliver not only to the race tracks but to the fans some of the best entertainment in the country today.”
Another Workshop regular is IMCA, which sanctions most of the modified racers in this region. In fact they signed two California tracks to their Northern Sport Mod series.
Asked how IMCA is preparing for next year Jim Stannard, Director of Track Relations, said, “Well actually it’s been a really good year for IMCA and I think the reason is our focus on economical and affordable racing. It’s a focus we’ve had forever and really the times have played in our hands.”
World Racing Group was also on hand and they operate the World of Outlaws Sprint Car series and the World of Outlaws Late Model series.
Owner Tom Deery said, “We had a very good year as we were both blessed with good fields and crowds. Our schedule is filled with events and we’re very bullish on 2012.”
He also makes use of the internet as World of Outlaws events are streamed live on Dirtvision.com, which Deery feels helps promote his product as it’s available to anyone with a computer.
The ASA uses social media for a similar purpose.
“Actually we’ve been doing social media quite extensively and working with the tracks on that,” Huth said. “It’s a great tool for everybody and I think we’re the first sanctioning body in the country to have an App for the iPhones, Facebook as well as other sites and we’re trying to be quite progressive with that.”
The Workshop ended Wednesday with Doty giving a session on media licensing for tracks something he pointed out the NCAA, NBA, NFL and LPGA already do.
And promoters, in this age of smart phones and bloggers need to protect their intellectual property.
“If we begin working on this now, you won’t be surprised,” he said. “But we need to remember the media are our friends.”
After closing the Workshop Doty said, “We had a good meeting with attentive people but the attendance fell of f as a result of the economic situation,” he said. “Still it was pretty good considering how cluttered the calendar is for the racing industry.”
Now the promoters have left but many will attend the next Workshop held during Daytona Speedweeks in February.