Traditionally short tracks do well in hard times as they offer family entertainment at a moderate cost. But due to several factors, the past season has been, in the words of RPM boss Stewart Doty, who publishes the trade’s newsletter Racing Promotion Monthly, “disappointing.”
With that in mind, the Workshop addressed these challenges, which includes embracing new technologies, finding ways to reach new fans and just plain hard work.
Setting the tone was keynote speaker Davey Hamilton, an IZOD Indy Car driver, Indy Lights owner, and promoter, who raced at the defunct Silver State Raceway in Carson City
Prior to giving his speech Hamilton said, “I feel we have to change things up a little bit, to do things differently as promoters, race track owners, drivers and team owners. We need to continue our sport and to drive the cost down, which is very difficult to do but it can be done.”
He added that in the United States short tracks are critical to developing new drivers.
“We can’t afford to lose any more of our short tracks as that’s where American drivers come from for the Indy Car series or wherever they want to go,” he said.
He cited how the changes in the Indy Car series will cut the price for engines and cars by half when the 2012 season begins. But right now Hamilton feels things are stable, although the economy hasn’t turned around yet.
During his speech Hamilton said he feels with the proper amount of work and business partnerships, the sport will survive.
“But this is a long-term deal,” he said.
Then Doty gave a power point presentation titled, “No Silver Bullet” where he illustrated the changes in technology and how it can be used to attract younger and new fans to the sport.
“It can’t be business as usual and the industry has to embrace new technologies like texting, the Internet as well as using social networks to reach their fans,” he said. “There are millions of people willing to be entertained in ways that are bewildering to us so we all need to get creative and you (the promoters) are the people that will make the future of the industry as it’s the greatest spectator sport in America. But we need to talk to our grandchildren and use the media as they do.”
He added that it’s estimated by 2013 more people would access the World Wide Web with their mobile phones than their desktop computers.
From there various speakers showed promoters how not only to use the new media but how to seek and approach new sponsors. In addition each day started with a “Fast 15,” short session giving new ideas to the promoters.
In one presentation Charles Deery, from Lacrosse Speedway in Wisconsin, showed how a simple ad in a newspaper, looking like a “Dear John” note was used to get people to call the track’s phone and hear a message about how a girl won’t date one guy as the other is taking her to the races.
There was a huge amount of laughter in the room after Deery explained how this idea actually worked.
In his “Fast 15” presentation, Roger Slack, from Dirt Motorsports - World of Outlaws and Late Models - showed how they use Google ads and TV spots that Google will position on cable networks. As well as how inexpensive it was.
Despite the economic situation not every track or group is doing badly. Bob Cook, the Director of Competition for the Airport Auto Brokers Late Model Series, said his Northern California touring series is going well.
“We’re averaging about 18 cars per track and to help with costs we have a spec crate motor they run and we limit the tires they can purchase,” he said. “We travel locally to four tracks and we’re adding an additional track so hopefully we’re going to Roseville, Calif. next year.”
Another group doing well, and a long-time sponsor of the Workshops, is INEX that builds Legends Cars and sanctions their racing. Executive director Darrel Krentz, a former Sparks auto shop owner and member of the Hug High School Hall of Fame, once again came out to pitch his product.
“The fact we’re building a spec race car, that’s designed to be raced inexpensively is the reason we’ve been holding our own as compared to other classes,” he said. “A lot of guys that have Legends Cars and moved into a late model division are parking their big cars and coming back so our car counts are still up.”
He added that INEX is always working to keep the costs down by trying to get more life out of parts, coming up with less expensive equipment and staying on their parts suppliers to keep costs down.
Due to the devaluation of the dollar Legends Cars are making inroads overseas. One example, “if they don’t go to war,” is an order for South Korea and Legends are in Morocco, Denmark, Sweden, Great Britain, France and Belgium as well as an expanding market in Australia.
Another sanctioning body present is American Speed Association (ASA) and owner Dennis Huth had some comments on his group is doing.
“It’s very reflective of what the country is like and we’ve got racetracks that had banner years, better than they’ve had for the last four or five years. It’s ironic as a lot of them were in smaller market areas but those areas were a little deprived of entertainment.”
He like many at the Workshop feel there is a lot of hard work yet to be done. And he noted that ASA is there to help their member tracks with assistance, ideas and suggestions.
“My theory is there is a direct correlation that really has a lot to do with the amount of energy that goes into a facility, not only by the promoter, but by the participants themselves,” he said. “I think we have to be very careful and protect our product as best as we can. I think that next year everybody has to keep building on the platform they’ve got.”
A large group of drivers in this region race IMCA Modifieds and that sanctioning body was also present at the trade show that accompanies the Workshop.
Brett Root, Vice President of Operations, said, “We’re seeing things like others are seeing when it comes to car counts but it’s been OK as I think we’ve positioned ourselves a little bit better with our philosophy and how we approach our racing.”
He added that IMCA seems to do better when things are in a downward slide due to how their rules are structured and people don’t have so much money to spend. While racing a modified isn’t inexpensive having a standard rules package helps keep costs down.
“From a change stand point, the racers don’t want it, owners don’t want it but they want certain things; consistency, uniformity and effectively enforcing the rules fairly,” he said. “Our rules have evolved with the times and they’re pretty hard to read through the lines, the gray areas are pretty hard to get around and I think that’s proven itself with how popular they’ve become.”
And IMCA will also help tracks and drivers with graphics, ads and e-mails blasts, which help keep costs down. But Root mentioned sometimes struggling tracks are out of their control and they can’t do much to help.
He’s also seeing ebbs and flows in the industry where one division might have problems while another does not. Root also added he thinks tracks are doing their best to operate efficiently and not waste money.
“It’s a tough time to be in business,” he said.
The trade show had everything from tires, insurance companies, bleachers, timing and communication equipment as well as wristbands and a company offering insurance for rainouts, Rainprotection. Net.
During the Workshops, Doty commented there was a 14 percent drop in pre-registrations but for the first two days the main room had more people than he’s seen in years and many were first-time attendees.
Among them were the new president of Lovelock Speedway’s association and Rich Cable, whose over at the Reno-Fernley Raceway has just gotten NASCAR sanction.
So RFR’s oval is apparently the only dirt track in the state to be in the NASCAR family.
Saturday, the Workshop’s final day, publisher Karl Fredrickson spoke about bringing Speedway Illustrated Magazine back to life despite the difficult times in racing media in a digital culture.
He was followed by one of the very few female promoters, Vicki Emig that has successfully reopened Mercer Raceway Park in Pennsylvania. She spoke of how the experience working in her father’s trash business really helped, as she had to compete against some very large companies.
She took those lessons into operating her track and has enjoyed success. But she also had a very important point to give to those attendees listening to her presentation.
“To be successful in the racing business you’ve got to work hard,” she said. “And you need to find creative ways to draw people in.”
At the end Doty said, “There’s a lot of work to be done and the reason I made the statements I made was historically in recessions attendance picked up but it didn’t happen this year, not to the extent people thought it would. And I think the reason for that is a kind of perfect storm of economic factors and the fact the world is changing and people expect something different from their entertainment.”
He feels that the industry isn’t at present delivering that difference but he’s still optimistic about the future for the short tracks.
“There are a lot of people that want to race, every track has that solid core of fans and there’s millions upon millions of people looking for economical entertainment near where they live,” he said. “So I’m not predicting the demise of the industry all I am is mindful that in the short term there’s a lot of work to be done. We may not see instant results and it’s probably a five to 10-year project like it was in minor league baseball 20-years ago.”
Prior to the start of the Workshop’s first day Pastor Ryan Marsh, from the National Fellowship of Raceway Ministries paid tribute to several people that passed away this year.
Among them was long time NASCAR vice president of corporate communications Jim Hunter. Others were Jeff Bird, general manager of Bristol Motor Speedway, John and Sue McKarns and Becky Robbins.
Now the promoters are back home but during Speedweek many of them will reassemble again for the eastern meeting of the RPM Workshops in Daytona Beach, Florida.
OTHER RACING NEWS
•Area racing ends for this year this weekend when the Volvo Nevada GFI series hosts its delayed final round. This time the venue will be the new MX track at Chilcoot, Calif., which can be reached by taking 395 north to Highway 70, turn west and the track is on the left by the town’s firehouse.
Saturday is for practice and on Sunday racing should begin around 10 in the morning.