Change Is A Key Aspect To The Long-Term Survival Of Racing

Let’s face facts. In any aspect of life, we as the human race are largely resistant to change. We like staying in our comfort zone. In many cases, it doesn’t even matter if we recognize that there’s a problem. We still want to maintain the current course to avoid the risk of entering unfamiliar territory. However, if we don’t embrace change, then how can we expect situations to improve?

Insanity is defined as doing the same thing over and over, and expecting different results.

Albert Einstein is known for accomplishing many great feats in his life. While he never quite mastered the art of using a brush on that rat’s nest atop his head, he did create some monumental theories. Furthermore, he laid down some pretty gnarly quotes. My personal favorite that I live by on a daily basis, relates to his definition of insanity. Ol’ Albert basically said that “Insanity is defined as doing the same thing over and over, and expecting different results.”

Great racing at Magnolia Motor Speedway during the Magnolia State 100.

Odds are pretty damn good that you’ve seen me share this quote before in a story here at OneDirt, and odds are even better that you’ll see me quote it again in a future article. I love it! I love it because, in a nutshell, it sums up the challenge we face in life. We all want to attain better results, but we don’t want to do what is necessary to make it happen. The racing world is no different.

In the current economic climate in which our sport exists, it’s perhaps more important than ever to be cognizant of the need for change. This year I’ve seen tracks implementing some changes to try and create growth. Admittedly, some of the changes discussed in this article are ones that I played some role in, while others are ones I’ve observed from afar.

The basic gist is to encourage folks to be open-minded to change. While you might not understand the vision on the front end, that doesn’t mean you won’t see the payoff on the back end.

For more than 25 years, the Magnolia State 100 has been hosted at tracks across the state of Mississippi. Its winner’s list is a who’s who of Dirt Late Model superstars. The event has quite the storied history. Until this year, it’s always had the same format, which was a traditional two-day format: time trials and heat races on Friday night, then B-Mains and a 100-lap, $20,000-to-win feature on Saturday night.

However, for 2018 I felt like it was time to spruce the ol’ game up a bit. So, after talking with promoters Johnny Stokes and Dewitt Singleton, they agreed to give my idea a shot. We changed the race to be a complete $4,000-to-win program on Friday night and a complete $12,000-to-win event on Saturday night.

My theory was that it would be better for racers and fans. Competitors would get the chance to run for a check each night, while fans would get to see two complete shows.

Fans began placing their lawn chairs early in the day at Magnolia Motor Speedway.

While I initially had complete confidence in the event, I won’t lie that my confidence was tested as soon as the new details were released. Feedback included statements like, “You’ve ruined this race,” and “This will never work.”

With opposition starting to stack up against us, we forged ahead with the event. The results spoke for themselves. Our Super Late Model car count went from 42 entries in 2017 to 62 in 2018, an amazing 30-percent increase. Furthermore, our fan count was up almost 30-percent across the board for the weekend. The event enjoyed its most successful edition in nearly a decade.

I was extremely proud to prove the naysayers wrong, but I’ll give credit where credit is due. While most of my doubters faded into the background following the event, a few owned up to being wrong about the changes.

One avid fan, even admitted on social media, “I was bad wrong. I told several people that this would never work, but it did. I give you and the whole staff a lot of credit for having the guts to make such a major change.”

A great finish to a great race at the Magnolia State 100.

Another southern racing classic that saw a major change for the 2018 season was the annual COMP Cams Short Track Nationals at I-30 Speedway in Little Rock, Arkansas. While the race has spent the majority of its history running as a two-day show, about a decade ago it expanded to a three-day event for Sprint Cars. At one point, it even enjoyed a four-day format.

However, the changing nature of the racing world recently forced the event to undergo a change. After discussing possible options, track owner and promoter Tracey Clay and I decided to try and go back to a two-day format for this year’s edition. Several factors went into the decision.

Over the past few years, it had become noticeable that the Thursday night attendance was on the decline, even though Friday and Saturday’s numbers remained strong. In addition, there used to be a time when few other Sprint Car events were held this time of year. As a result, the race saw years where roughly 120 competitors took part. However, with a significant increase in the number of late-season races in recent years, the car count was trimmed to the 60-70 range.

A quickly-filling parking lot on Saturday afternoon at the Short Track Nationals.

With all of this in mind, we thought it would be better for the track, the fans, and the racers to try a two-day run for 2018. One of the first responses to the new format was a simple question: “Is this the beginning of the end for the Short Track Nationals?” I simply responded, “Actually, this is just the beginning of the future for the event.”

Social media and phone calls revealed that several fans thought the event was being cheapened by being cut down by a day. We also received some blowback for our format change. Instead of seeing just a preliminary program held on Friday night, and then a $15,000-to-win feature held on Saturday night, we changed things up to offer a complete $2,527-to-win program on Friday evening, and a complete $10,141-to-win program on Saturday.

Again, despite getting more racing action for their entertainment dollar, some fans complained that because the finale paid less, the event would draw fewer cars, and not be as good.

An aerial view of the COMP Cams Short Track Nationals

Contrary to the forecasted demise of the storied race, October 5-6, presented both fans and racers with a pair of outstanding events. Friday night’s attendance was on par with previous years, while Saturday’s attendance saw a noticeable increase. And by the way, the car count was the highest since the 2014 edition of the mega event.

A.G. Rains who is the car owner for Sammy Swindell commented, “We didn’t have the best of weekends at this year’s Short Track Nationals, but personally I liked the format better. It was one less night of wear and tear on our car, and we still had two great purses to race for. Equally as good, I had one less day that I had to take off from work.”

I was worried about whether or not the changes would work. – Tracey Clay

Track owner, Tracey Clay was pleasantly surprised with the end result. “I care about this event, our racers, and our fans. So yeah, I was worried about whether or not the changes would work,” she said. “Thankfully it did, and it was one of our most memorable and successful Short Track Nationals that we’ve had in a very long time. We learned a lot during the course of the weekend, and we have alterations in mind for 2019 to make the event even more racer and fan friendly. I can’t wait to see what next year’s Short Track Nationals will produce.”

While, there will be some tweaking of the format for next year, the revised version of the COMP Cams Short Track Nationals is definitely here to stay.

I’ve seen some other tracks take shots at some subtle changes this year. Some as simple as different versions and styles of The Star Spangled Banner. I’ve seen everything from live renditions on the electric guitar to the harmonica. While I recognize that hearing alternative takes on such a prominent song can be an instant recipe for inciting controversy, I ask folks to give something different a chance. After all, you can only listen to the Lee Greenwood or LeAnn Rimes versions so many times. Just remember that while it might not peak your specific interest, it might appeal to someone else.

Dirt racing isn’t the only place where we are seeing the implementation of new and creative changes to provide more entertainment. Just take a look at the Roval at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Sure, the new track configuration saw several wrinkled race cars, but there was no denying it was entertaining. There was also no denying that it brought both fans and sponsors back to NASCAR for the weekend.

An official with Charlotte Motor Speedway mentioned to me that leading into the event ticket sales were way up and multiple new sponsors were showing a strong interest. While not every change is going to pan out, I truly believe thinking outside the box is a major key to the long-term survival of our sport. All I ask is for you to give change a chance every once in a while. If the change is a total bomb, then voice your displeasure, but if it turns into something great, don’t be afraid to give credit where credit is due.

What’s a change that you’d like to see implemented somewhere in racing?

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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