Racetrack Time Management Could Be The Death Of Our Sport

RI hate to be the one who beats the dead horse, but our sport isn’t listening. I feel like I’ve got to give it one last effort. I want to be able to say that at least I did all that I could to improve the situation. Hopefully my pleas won’t continue to fall on deaf ears. If history is any type of indication, sadly they most likely will go unnoticed.

So here it goes:

Time management is a huge problem for dirt track racing. In fact, I’d say over the past few years the condition has actually downgraded from critical to ICU.

Filling the grandstands these days is harder than ever. (Steve Schnars photo)

For some unknown reason, we continue to find new and creative ways to waste time during our shows. The horrific irony is that in the instant-gratification society in which we currently exist, people want entertainment – and they want it now.

We ignorantly delay giving them what they desire, and the end result is they just stop coming to the racetrack altogether.

I’m a diehard race fan, and it’s pushing me to the brink. It’s gotten to the point that there are just certain tracks I’m not going to attend anymore. If a diehard like me is bailing, then I have zero doubt that the occasional fans have long since given up.

Let’s be honest, we aren’t attracting anybody new to our sport with our bad habits. From my experience, the following scenario is becoming much more common.

It’s 7:15 p.m.; You glance down at your watch again as your impatience starts to grow. In front of you is a still muddy racetrack that hasn’t seen a single car on it to wheel pack.

As you glance around the facility you take note there is no sense of urgency to be found from any of the staff. There are no engines running in the pits, and the place is so quiet that it seems more like a funeral home than a racetrack.

Your blood pressure starts to rise as you recall over and over in your head how the track explicitly advertised hot laps at 6:30 p.m., and racing at 7:00 p.m.

Mike Musslin photo

The scenario described above has probably happened to many racers and race fans more than they like to remember. For me the situation of not starting on time seems to happen seven out of ten times at most racetracks.

Alright, I’ll be fair…. maybe, it’s not that many times, but it sure seems like it happens entirely too much. The bottom line is that to allow this to happen one time is too many. Yet I see tracks over and over not meeting their advertised times, and it drives me insane.

Anybody, who knows me, especially my wife, will tell you that my ultimate pet peeve is being late when I go somewhere. I don’t care if it’s going to the movies, a lunch meeting, or a ballgame. I would rather be an hour early than risk being two minutes late.  It only makes sense that it equally peeves me to hustle to be at a track on time, only to find the track is not even almost on time.

It really seems to be a problem that’s almost unique to our sport.  I mean, weather delays aside, how many times have you attended a football game, basketball game, or baseball game that didn’t start on time?

If the ticket says the game starts at 7:00 p.m., you better be positioned in your seat at 7:00 p.m.,or you are going to miss something.

Preparation in advance can be the difference in making a successful show (Heath Lawson photo)

It’s funny, because many times I talk to promoters and track owners who tell me that they are desperate to put more butts in the seats on a weekly basis. They go on to say that as far as they can tell, there’s nothing else left they can do to keep fans coming back.

The reality I’ve observed is that many of these same tracks perpetually start late. They find ways to waste time throughout the night to the point that many of the non-diehard fans have vacated the premises long before they ever saw the main attraction.  Do you honestly think these occasional fans, who didn’t get their money’s worth are coming back anytime soon?

Likely not.

I’m not a baseball fan, but I still go to a handful of games a year because I appreciate sports in general. I can tell you for a fact, after the second or third time I sat idly in the stands for an extra hour waiting on the game to start, I probably wouldn’t go back.

Non-diehard race fans are no different. Not everybody loves and breathes the sport like I do, and furthermore they aren’t going to spend money to waste their time.

Todd Boyd photo

If you don’t think time is a key factor in the support of racing, then just look at NASCAR. Sure, some might argue that it’s attendance has fallen off due to boring racing, but I think time is a major factor. These guys consistently start on time, weather permitting, but your average fan doesn’t want to sit in the stands for four-to-five hours anymore.

They just don’t. The average fan wants two-to-three hours of entertainment, and then they are ready to move on down the road.

Lack of preparation by tracks for accidents is a great way to easily add an additional hour to a race night. I would say as much as 50% of tracks do not have adequate wrecker service.

How many times have you sat at a random track and observed a car stalled in turn one that needs the hook? After a few minutes the wrecker driver finally returns to the real world and jumps in his truck, only to find that it won’t crank.

Another ten minutes is spent boosting the wrecker, and then after a meet-and-greet with the racer, he finally tows the car back to the pits. A mere 15 minutes after the car simply stopped on the track, action can finally resume. This is something that can – and should – be prevented. Don’t even get me started on the tracks that don’t have a wrecker or push truck on the property. These places are just begging for unnecessary delays.

There are a lot of variables that racetracks can’t control. Factors like weather, and bad wrecks are going to unexpectedly create delays from time to time. However, there are many other potential issues that are tangible and can be rectified.

In my opinion, time management is one of the biggest aspects of a race night that we can wrap our hands around to improve both the fan and racer experience. Yet, for some reason, so many tracks continue to remain oblivious to the very serious issue at hand.

Let’s make sure racing is still alive for our future generations (Jimmy Jones photo)

The bottom line is there are so many different options for potential fans to spend their entertainment dollar on – such as movies, ball games, and restaurants – that we don’t need to give them additional incentives to stay away.

While better time management for tracks won’t solve all of their issues it definitely won’t hurt. You can discredit my obsession with time management if you like, but I think anyone will have a hard time arguing that as a whole, our sport is in a dangerous place.

If we want racing to be around for our grandchildren’s grandchildren to enjoy, we must start offering a more efficient product now.

About the author

Ben Shelton

Ben got his start at historic Riverside International Speedway. His accomplished motorsports media career includes journalist, race announcer, and on-air personality.
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