Every year as Labor Day approaches I reflect on did I or did I not accomplish what I needed to over the past summer and is there anything I can finish. As a race fan this has been one of the most rewarding and memorable seasons to date. New friends, reconnecting with old friends, and spending the warm summer nights with my best friends, I’ll never forget race season 2014.
On September 6 I checked the final box on my list for the 2014 racing season. Saturday night dirt trackin’ at my new local race track Beaver Dam Raceway.
When given the choice between going to an asphalt track or a dirt track where drive time and money are not involved, I’ll take the asphalt track over dirt every day of the week. Having said that, Beaver Dam Raceway and many more dirt tracks get it right each and every week. Great prices on admission and refreshments, excitement in every race, packed stands, high car counts (over 100 at Beaver Dam), and a fast moving show (minus a car flipping, but adds to the excitement). Asphalt tracks should take notice. Racing is entertainment, if you don’t entertain, then you aren’t going to get those butts in the seats. Add fireworks, kids bike night, or a demolition derby and the numbers rise. Those can’t be the only ideas out there to draw in the casual fans.
I read great article by Blake Sebring of the News-Sentinel newspaper out of Fort Wayne, Indiana. Click here to read. Anderson Speedway’s Rick Dawson had an interesting take on it, ““We look at this as an entertainment facility as much as a race track." Anderson has a marketing staff that treats the track just like a minor league sports team, trying to attract new sponsors, group sales and families. They realize the best way to build is from the kids up, and if the children are happy at an event, most likely their parents will be, too. “I go to a lot of racetracks throughout the year, and it's hard for me not to be critical," Dawson said. "They have long shows, and they don't think about the fans as much as they should. Who wants to go and pay money and then sit in a bleacher for three or four hours? You've got to vary your shows and try to expose a lot of folks who may not have seen racing before."”
Exposure and keeping the kids interested (and probably most adults too). Baseball is as boring as it gets when it comes to just sitting and watching the actual game, but many minor league baseball teams pack the stands all summer long. I’d love to see a track take a chance and try something new, something different, something to keep my kids entertained during a 20 minute caution or intermission. 2 hours. That is how long it takes before my 4 and 5 year old get antsy and can’t sit any longer. A 7 o’clock start gets me to 9. Most nights the features don’t start until after 9 and the headliner for sure has not. The bag of skittles is normally gone by then too, and there’s no more beer for dad either. One of the most enjoyable parts of a racing night for my sons is going in the pits after a race. After 3 to 4 hours of sitting and a long ride home, most nights it does not happen.
What would I do? I have many ideas and suggestions, but not fully understanding the financial consequences behind every possible idea or solution I’ll try to stick to mostly those that are not determined largely by dollars and cents.
Engage with the race fans in the stands. Offer them and their family free admission to next weeks event if they come a little early and participate in a focus group answering key questions about what will and what will not get them back to the track on a regular basis. Suggest some new ideas and things you may want to try. It’s surprising sometimes how much you can learn from your customer. *Bonus Idea #1* Send the kids to the pits during this focus group on a guided tour with a responsible adult/volunteer.
Marketing/Sports Promotion Interns.
I am fairly confident there are many unpaid internship opportunities for college marketing students to come work for your track. For free! (Or maybe a small salary a normal track employee would make) Have them run your social media pages for the summer, work the concession stand for a night, throw t-shirts into the stands at intermission, go behind the scenes in the pits, see what goes on at the track on non-race days, and finally let them promote a un-sponsored date at the track securing a sponsor, handling all the sponsors needs and taking the event from start to finish. My last year of college I had to find an actual real-life project and take it from start to finish. It was a great asset when looking for my first job. If I was going to graduate from college in a marketing/promotion related field this would be the ideal situation for me!
Speaking of social media, some tracks get it, some don’t, all should use and abuse it. Social media is the most common form of communication today. Most importantly, ITS FREE!!! It costs nothing, zero. Keep fans informed, get the bug in their ear the days leading up to the event, talk about an exciting race or promotion, weekly flyer, contests, pictures from last week, fan of the week, weather updates, race reports, and links to sponsors, drivers, and teams. Remember how many people you reach with each post, share, tweet, re-tweet, like, and favorite. You can’t buy that exposure on tv, radio, or in newspapers if you do it right. Learn the language and consistently use it and the results will pay off. *Bonus Idea #2* Connect with your fan during the event. Find a track hashtag slogan (ex. #theactiontrack) and ask fans to post pictures of themselves and the cars/track using said hashtag. Announce this multiple times during the event and personally thank fans who post that same night.
For me its quite simple. Last race comes off the next race comes on. Skip the intermission unless you’re giving something away. Showcase the quality of cars over the quantity. Shorter races and more of them. Mix it up. 40 lap features are great. 40 lap features for 12 straight weeks is not. This is the die-hard coming out of me now, here’s what I’d like to see more of: Qualify as late as possible, kids can follow one car better than ten. 2 laps of qualifying for late models, 1 for all other classes. Double feature night, skip the heats, and (optional) have an overall champion in each class for the night. Double points nights. Timed events. Invert halfway or between features, have a fan/sponsor throw the dice. Lucky dog. If the cone takes more time get rid of it. Run the top class feature before the rest. Fast qualifier start from rear bonus (full field only). Knockout night. Example, 18 cars start, eliminate 4 every 15 laps, then 6 cars for a 6 lap dash for the trophy.
Tickets and concessions.
Military, Students, Moms, Dads, this city or that county. Every regular weekly show should have a promotion for someone. You’re gonna make the money on fireworks night or special event. Why not try and fill the stands the rest of the weeks. If I can see a 75 lap feature and fireworks one night for $12, why would I pay $12 for a regular show? Professional sports teams have varying prices depending on the night and team you should too. $1 hot dog night or $2 soda and beer night, $2 concessions credit with every paid admission, happy hours, carload nights, free camping (side note… please put some port-a-johns in the parking lots and a few more inside, a family restroom/port-a-john would be nice as well), family packs (ex. 2 adult admission, 2 kids, 4 hot dogs, 4 sodas $30), $2 off admission with last weeks ticket. *Bonus Idea #3* Share a coupon on your tracks social media page day of the event.
Events and entertainment
Run/Walk/Ride 5k for charity in the afternoon around the track on race day. Drive your own car on the track night. Kids bike nights (by the way, all other tracks take notice, State Park Speedway gave away what seemed like 25-30 bikes in one night) Kids costume night/contest or wear a pink shirt for breast cancer night. Color a race car or chalk on the racetrack night (assuming this wouldn’t hurt the racing surface). Interview a fan and have them pick a winner in the feature. Pick a lucky fan(s) to wave the green flag of all the heats. Autograph sessions in the pits BEFORE the races. Write your name on a tennis ball and throw it into the bed of a moving truck. Try something new, unique and different! Think crazy then make it attainable.
There are limitless options to get the fan to the track and involved while they are there. Think outside the box. Then make it fit in your box.
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Rich Zimpel has been attending local race tracks for the past 30 years.