If you have read the title and immediately thought to yourself, “This is going to be one of those worthless opinion pieces that claims everyone is responsible for promoting racing,” then you are partially correct. Everyone involved in racing IS responsible for promoting the sport. This is not an opinion. It is a fact, and we were able to hear it from experts in the field. As for the value of this piece, we’ll leave that for you to decide.
At last December’s PRI Trade Show in Indianapolis, a roundtable of racetrack promoters discussed several great topics from challenges of running a racetrack, solutions to common problems, and advice to the industry as a whole. There were a couple of eye-opening observations which our entire industry needs to embrace.
Who Is The Competition?
Bill Bader Jr., owner and operator of Summit Motorsports Park in Norwalk, Ohio, set the scene up this way: “Racetracks in the same area see themselves as competitors. We are not competitors,” he says. “We compete with Disney. We compete with the NFL. We compete with Major League Baseball, the NBA, the NHL, minor league stick and ball sports. We compete with every movie goer.”
Knowing that dirt track racing is competing for entertainment dollars against the major sports in every metropolitan area, the industry must take a look at how the public wants to be entertained. “When you go to a stick and ball venue, there are certain creature comforts that are expected,” Bader explains. “Some of the dirt track venues are still using porta-johns. When the heat index is 115-degrees, we have 30,000 aluminum seats that people are sitting in, they are not in a climate-controlled arena. We must excel at taking care of our guests. Because, all of the major league properties around us are!”
We must excel at taking care of our guests. Because, all of the major league properties around us are! – Bill Bader Jr.
Posed with factors like outdoor seating, lack of permanent facilities, and other creature comforts, how do racers and racetracks go about claiming their share of fans?
Bader sees a contrast in stick and ball venues and dirt track events. “Here is the big difference: We are available from an accessibility perspective. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen an NFL owner out and about where fans could walk up to them and say: ‘Don’t you know how to run a football team?’ The point being, we have an opportunity to have an intimate relationship with our guests. We can know them by name, shake their hand, watch their kids grow up. The single best advantage we have is our ability to take care of our guest, to make them feel special.”
Accessibility Is The Difference
Steve Beitler also weighed in on the fan experience. Beitler knows about fans. He owns and runs Fun Time Promotions which handles the operations of Skagit Speedway, Gray’s Harbor Raceway, and State Fair Park in Washington State. Beitler was also elected to the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame as a driver, promoter, and racetrack owner. “Be the customer,” he says. “Look through the customer’s eyes.”
“We are accessible,” Beitler confirms. “Our fans can reach out to the drivers before and after the races. The fan experience is important.” While the creature comforts may not be at the same level as an NBA facility, Beitler says there are things which should be mandatory at the venues. Cleanliness is number one. Make it look nice. All the simple stuff you need to do
If you are going to spend money in your facility, there are two areas to focus on. First, the bathrooms. The second is your concession stands. You want your customers to feel confident enough to buy food there.”
Our fans can reach out to the drivers before and after the races. The fan experience is important. – Steve Beitler
When it comes to the entertainment, Beitler advises, “Make sure the fan experience is good and stay focused on the program that you are doing each night.” He warned about maintaining a good balance of features. “I’ve been to racetracks where there is nothing going on. The cars come on the track, they race and go off the track. It’s almost boring. Then I’ve been to other tracks where they go too far. They have too much dog and pony show going on, they forget these people came here to see a race. It is a delicate balancing act to entertain the fans.”
According to Beitler, “You want to give them the main show they came for, but you also want to give them all of the trimmings around that, where they have a great experience before the race, are entertained during the race, and have a good experience leaving.“
Through The Fan’s Eyes
The most important part of racing is understanding what the fans see. If you are a racer, judge your program by what the fan sees. The same is true if you are a track owner or promoter, or if you operate a racing series. Bader advises to look at everything from the fan’s eyes, from start to finish. “Drive to the track at the same time the fans do. Use the same streets. Wait in line and buy a ticket at the gate. Sit in the grandstands in 95-degree heat. Listen to the announcer when he is speaking and when the announcer is not and no one knows what is going on.”
Make sure the fan experience is good and stay focused on the program that you are doing each night. – Steve Beiter
The idea of listening to the fans and experiencing the fan perspective is not new. The idea of really listening to the fans, and understanding the fan experience to attract fans from the other sports competing for entertainment dollars, is a modern consideration.
Most of us involved in the media aspect of dirt track racing have long argued that the racers play a major role in promotion. People come to see them perform. It is only within the last 20 years or so where accessibility to the drivers has been a major selling point. Racers building bonds with the fans has become as important as having a clean restroom to use. One thing is certain after listening to the promoter’s roundtable: We are all promoters and representatives of the sport.