Five Tips To Help Tracks Run More Fan Friendly Shows

Recently I wrote a brutally honestly piece, discussing the issue of time management for racetracks. If you didn’t get a chance to read it, you can check it out by clicking here. The feedback from the piece was, honestly, more than I ever expected. Fans and racers alike chimed in to voice their own disdain with the situation, while some tracks even contacted me to ask for opinions on what they could do to improve the flow of their own shows.

The requests that I received from tracks, inspired me to pen a piece that offers some suggestions on how to make weekly shows more attractive to both the diehard and casual fans. With that in mind, here we go.

A full grandstand (Mike Musslin photo)

#1: Get the Kids Involved

Not only are the youth the future of our sport, but they are also the ones that may ultimately lead to the decision by their parents to attend (or not attend) a race on a weekly basis. As a result, I’ve always said it’s important to get the kids involved. Here’s a few ideas that I’ve seen work.

First, at intermission each week have kid’s foot races on the track. I usually recommend this for kids 12 and under. Divide them into three or four groups by age. Have one driver wave the green flag on each race, and another wave the checkered flag. Each winner gets a trophy, which you can pick up for about $5 at your local awards or apparel shop. Also, have your announcer interview each winner on the microphone. Have each winner’s photo taken with the two participating drivers by your track photographer.

Involving the kids in the show can pay big dividends.

You’d be surprised how quickly this will grow. My local track had about 20 kids participate the first time they did it. One month later, over 100 kids were doing it.

Next, do hay rides through the pit area a few times a year, where the kids get to see the racecars up close before the races get started. Ask drivers to bring candy and have them hand it out as the trailer comes past their pit stalls.

Spending time with the future of our sport is always important. (Heath Lawson photo)

These are all simple things you can do at minimal cost, but the reality is that if the kids are having a good time, they are likely going to bug their parents all week to bring them back to the track.

#2: Ready to Roll

Create an area in the pits where the next race can be lined up, while the current one is on the track. As soon as the checkered flag drops, have the next one rolling out onto the track. Many of the most efficient weekly shows that I’ve seen utilize this system.

As a track owner you may think to yourself, “Well, that’s good, but it only takes me a couple of minutes to get each race underway by waiting to line the cars up on the track, so is this really that big a deal?” The simple answer is yes!

Lining cars up in the pit area can shave valuable time off your show. (Heath Lawson photo)

Assume you have a program that runs five divisions with a total of 10 heat races and five features. If you save two minutes per race, you’ve shaved 30 minutes off your program. That’s a big reduction in downtime for your patrons in the stands. Plus, by having a continuous flow of races on your track, you aren’t losing the attention of the fans in the stands. Keeping them entertained and engaged is paramount in this day and age.

#3: Give the People What They Want

It’s no big secret that most fans and racers want different things from a racing program. However, the best way to quantify what fans and racers like and don’t like is to have them complete a brief survey at the track each season. Have basic questions on there, such as:

“What’s your favorite division?”
“What is your favorite thing about this track?”
“Do you think we have too many specials or not enough? What specials would you like to see more of?”
“How many times a month do you typically attend the races?”
“What is an area where you’d like to see improvement?”
“What’s your favorite concession stand food?”

Of course, wrap it up with a section where the person filling out the survey can include general comments and suggestions.

Heath Lawson photo

To encourage participation in the survey, draw a few random ones later that night with the winner(s) getting a pair of free passes to an upcoming event.

Again, you can’t appease everyone, but it’s always good to keep your finger on the pulse of your patrons. Finding that happy medium for your paying customers could be the difference in running a successful track or having to close the doors for good.

#4: It’s All About Family

This is perhaps the simplest tip I’ve included in this list, but it’s something that I see a lot of tracks still not doing. If you are a track that sells alcohol and allows smoking in the grandstand area, it’s imperative that you have a family section, where there is no drinking or smoking allowed.

As a sport, dirt track racing is a very small market. We have a limited draw on how many fans we can attract on any given night. I can’t stress enough how important it is to not give any one person a reason to not want to attend. There’s nothing wrong with folks wanting to enjoy cold beers while at the track, but keep in mind that some parents might not want their young children around it.

As a result, clearly post signage that designates certain areas as “Family Sections,” where alcohol and smoking are not allowed. Make sure to have your staff regularly monitoring the areas to make sure the rules are being respected. In addition, have your announcer remind the crowd a few times each night about the family section and where it’s located.

#5: Time and Time Again

Like my previous article about the importance of timeliness in a dirt track show – and  I can’t stress it enough – we live in a world where people have short attention spans and have become accustomed to instant gratification. A weekly racing program should ideally not exceed three hours. As a point of reference, look at how long most professional sporting events last. Usually it’s in the three-hour range. These days, even the longest of movies rarely extend past three hours, with most being more in the two-hour range.

A three-hour show gives fans a nice bang for their buck, and then allows them to move on down the road. Regularly holding your crowd hostage for five-to-six hours will only bite you in the butt in the long run. Your average, casual fan just isn’t going to make it a priority to come back. Without their regular support you lose front-gate revenue as well as concession revenue.

Hopefully these five simple tips will be applicable to some of the track owners and promoters, who read this article. Keeping the customer happy is always a good thing, and if we all work together there’s no reason we can’t make it happen.

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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