I like to start every blog with an update on what is going on in my life outside of racing. It is a chance for me to make a connection between my real life and my race life as well as decompress a bit. I also know that each time I have a few moments to sit down and write it seems as though my real life has done another complete 180 and this time is no different. This past May my wife was let go from the company she worked for for 13 years. Times were tough and over half of the people in her department, most of which she spent more time with than me, are no longer there. My wife and I met at her (our) former employer. We worked in the same department for 5 years together. You hear often of drivers kids meeting in the pits and end up happily ever after or even drivers marrying other drivers. That was us. She struggles with it still today, but for me it is hard to be mad. They provided us a chance to meet, they financially provided us with a home, new cars, a vacation here and there, and most importantly gave us the chance to have a family of our own. For that I will be ever thankful even if for now, it still stings a bit.
When I look at the current state or short track racing in Wisconsin I can’t help but make the connection between our former employer and the sport. During the boom in the late 90’s early 2000’s companies were building and expanding like crazy. Working for a major retailer in the store design department, we could not build new stores fast enough. It was like printing money. Back in the 50s 60s and 70s race tracks popped up all over the state. For many, with little advertising you could open the gates and 5,000 people would walk through the doors. Now, as the cost of living outgrew the financial freedoms we once had and as stiff competition grew, people stopped shopping in stores and elected to go online, bought at other stores, or just bought less in general. There is no need to build or remodel new stores, my wife’s job along with many others were eliminated. Her company missed the signs. We see a steady threat to our local race tracks across the state and the entire country as well. Just like my wife’s employer who is not building new stores but also closing stores, race tracks are in great danger of being eliminated as well. The difference is, in retail, when one goes away another 1-2 take its place. In racing there is no direct competition, once those tracks are gone, they are gone forever they will not be replaced.
I started United Race Fans of Wisconsin because I felt I did not have a voice. I felt that the tracks in my local areas were running on 1950s business plans and I wasn’t going to sit around waiting for them to die. I had the great opportunity to meet many of our members at the Slinger Nationals a few weeks ago and whenever I meet a member for the first time I always get the question, “Why did you start this?” Or “Where did this idea come from?”.
I AM the fan that local short tracks needs to stay alive. Prior to ‘URFWI’ I had no real connection to the sport. 40 years ago the 5,000 people that showed up to their local short track were not just family and friends of the drivers. No, they were the casual fans like me. It is the casual fan that is going to save this sport. Not the die-hards. Not the internet streaming or live updates. Not even the current 90 members of our group. It’s your neighbor with the muscle car or hot rod in the garage. The best friend at work. Your kids friends. A member of your church or social group.
Like anything you do in life the more you feel apart of it the more likely you are to participate. ‘URFWI’ is just one way to participate. If the tracks around me were not seeing the signs or too stubborn to change I would have to do it for them. Some tracks are doing a great job at getting the fans involved like Gregg McKarns (member #053) owner and promoter at Madson International Speedway among many others. At ‘URFWI’ we have fans post to our social media pages, play Super Late Model fantasy games, write blogs like these, assign member numbers and member profile web pages, talk about how great a deal short track racing is compared to other types of entertainment (#themoreyouknow), and have meetups at our local short tracks to meet other casual race fans. My goal is to get more fans to the track each year. As well, I am always looking for new ideas from our 90 members and friends. We will continue to try and reach that casual fan and I have a good feeling our awesome base of 90 die-hards is up to the task. Come join us this summer and let’s have some fun while getting some new fans #atthetrack the remainder of this summer!
For more information on the creation of United Race Fans of Wisconsin read post "Section B-where it all started".
If you would like to join United Race Fans of Wisconsin please click here.
Rich Zimpel has been attending local race tracks for the past 30 years.