Time To Change With The Times | Performance Racing Industry
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Time To Change With The Times
By Darin Short on June 26, 2015

Sometimes the old ways are the best ways.
 
Then again, sometimes they’re not.
 
In just about any business, the ability to keep up with changing times is a critical aspect of long-term sustainability, profitability, and overall prosperity.
 
Relative to the short track racing industry, change (including both challenges and opportunities) is everywhere in the 21st century: rising gas prices/travel costs; increased use of online social networking; increased track overhead costs; increased competitor costs; and more televised racing events on traditional dirt race nights (Friday–Saturday).
 
The result is that general attendance at many short tracks is struggling. And, we can add to that the fact that competitors’ purses haven’t always risen to the level required for them to stay “on track,” thereby negatively affecting car counts.
 
In all of this, there isn’t one clear-cut panacea, no easy, quick fix.
 
Instead, the best plan of attack may just involve a combination of solutions. Hopefully this entry can serve as a jumping off point for further discussion.
 
First, let’s agree that we’re all in this together. The “circle of life,” as it relates to short track racing, is a pretty simple, symbiotic relationship: Racers need race tracks as a place to race, and they need race fans to buy tickets to help pay their purses. Fans need racers—and a decent venue—to entertain them. And the race track needs racers to provide that entertainment for the fans, so they will in turn buy tickets.
 
So what’s a viable plan of attack?
 
For this article, I’d like to cover one of these three topic areas: We’ve got to get the fans back. There are so many factors contributing to a general lack of growth in the fan base, so let’s start by addressing a few of the key items:
 
* Know your audience. For example, many of the fans filling grandstands consist of families. Shows that drag on, combined with families, do not make for long-term fan retention. Kids generally seem to “spin out” at around 10:30 p.m., and if parents don’t get to see what they paid for (the featured division), the chances of them returning in the future are reduced.
 
Solution? Adjust your program when the need arises. This is a huge issue, and many tracks simply won’t take in consideration the families in the grandstands. And they end up hearing about it the next day on social media (usually Facebook) and racing forums. Yet, by making simple adjustments to the running order, they can fix the problem and help keep fans coming back.
 
The same applies to fans that travel long distances to your venue. By allowing them to see the featured division at a decent time, you’re enabling them to get back on the road—and they’ll remember it the next time your track has a special event (as opposed to how late they got home the last time).
 
*Effective and consistent communication. Take full advantage of the benefits of online social networks (including Facebook and racing forums) and build up your email blast list.
 
It does take time to perform these tasks, and your base of fans and race teams will expect timely and complete event information. Plus, you must also make sure that each communication contains a call-to-action, pumping up your next event.
 
But it’s well worth the investment, as attention to some basic promotional strategies will almost certainly grow your fan base and show lasting positive effects.
 
* Accept the fact that you have competition. This is more of an acknowledgement than anything else: There are several entertainment options competing for race fans’ attention—some are new, some are not. This makes the task of selling your entertainment option more important.
 
Simply put, using the “flip on the light switch” approach for track promotion is no guarantee of success in this new era. You must operate as though you are competing with several other outlets for your customers’ attention, because, well, you are.
 
Again, these are just some of the areas that directly relate to track attendance, or lack thereof. At the same time, these problems, or challenges, aren’t necessarily terminal for the future of short track racing.
 
But now is the time to affect change.
 
Construct your own plan of attack by first accepting, then addressing some of these hot button issues at your speedway. It will help strengthen the overall health of the sport, which impacts each and every one of us that cares about it, whether you’re a racer, fan or track employee.
 
Keep an eye out for my next entry, which will cover the “other side of the fence,” which is the race teams.
 
 
Darin Short operates his Texas-based business, Darin Short Sports Marketing, and manages promotional duties for several race tracks, including LoneStar Speedway in Kilgore, Texas, and Red River Speedway in Wichita Falls, Texas, as well as special events at Texas Motor Speedway's dirt track in Fort Worth.

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Darin Short has worked as General Manager of three different chassis manufacturers in the dirt modified, dirt late model, and sprint car racing segments. Today he operates a successful Texas-based business, Darin Short Sports Marketing.
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