Thursday, May 29, 2014

Commentary; "There Were More Cars Last Week Weren't There?"

Welcome to the middle of the season, that joyous time of year to be a dirt racing fanatic. School's out soon, there'll be a race every night of the week across the country. It's a great time of year. Just typing this paragraph has made me pine for a hamburger, a beer....and a race on a hot summer night. Seriously if someone could give me just all of those things, I'd be a happy camper and I wouldn't have a thing to complain about!

And now that we've approached this point of the season, you can hear the voices in the stands, and see the rhetoric sprawled out across almost every message board to varying degrees....Where are the cars?

"It's the economy!", "It's the rules!" , "Too many divisions!"  are the popular answers most of the time with a good deal of "Enforce the rules!", "Purses need raised" and "Too many tracks!" thrown in for good measure, into a debate that we see every year across many forms of media. Everyone seems to have an answer too.

And those who think they've put their finger on it might just be onto something with the aforementioned explanations, especially the rules, enforcement, too many divisions arguments.

Here's the thing, those issues can be cyclical and have been issues for years. Car counts dip and grow and dip again. We've all seen tracks and sanctions throw re-active answers to decreasing car counts, and for the most part, that's what they are, re-active and short-lived hence we go through another round of asking "Where are the cars?" 

I don't claim to have any better answer than the next person either. The economy has gone through massive recessions in the 70's, 90's and just a couple of years ago, and drivers still fielded teams. And let's face it, if tracks start throwing money into purse bumps in an attempt to draw cars, there'll be less places for what cars there are to race. And it's not like the concept of purse bumping even worked in the short term, sometimes it even keeps some cars away.

I cringe at the thought some people present, that tracks make money hand over fist. They act like tracks have never once endured a cost increase. First of all taxes, mortgages, insurance, food cost and other ancillary expenses have seen sharp price increases and the general public still pays the same ticket price it has been paying for years.

It's not a time to panic though. Special events still draw decent amounts in many places, and although area racing programs look a little bit lighter this year, you have to remember that we haven't seen the best weather of the season yet and there's still 2/3 of the season to go for some guys to get their stuff out.

However, in all the above explanations about where the cars have gone, one explanation hasn't been mentioned yet. I'm not saying it's a cure all, it won't help counts this week, month or year.

Perhaps, and I know this is a reach, but perhaps it is a simple fact that more drivers are hanging it up and selling off their operation out of the area, and fewer prospective drivers are replacing them.

That's simple, easy, and as good an explanation as their might be. More cars are going away, and there's not enough young people that care to start racing.

Why don't more young people race? That's a good question and I'm not sure enough people involved in dirt racing promotion have done due diligence in investigating why. I'm sure they're aware. I'm sure they see the gradual dissipation of their fields. They know 3-4 guys are putting their operations up for sale in the next year or two in any particular division and probably only 1-2 guys will fill the gap.

Many promoters survive on a week to week mentality, it's how they stay in business, but it doesn't leave time to do proper marketing research. Not when you're placing a food order one minute, on the grader the next, or replacing boards in the stands or any other mundane task after that. But it needs to be addressed at some point. It's time to for once, take a pro-active step.

Let's face it, we're not converting young dirt fans to racers. And why that is can be for another article. But in the meantime, we need to find out why, and how to change that. Is it that there's less young people in the stands to get interested? And of the one's that are in the stands, fewer and fewer of them seem interested in racing something.

Do the stands at your track look like a smattering of grandparents, and older families of drivers and crew members? I'm not sure that most promoters have ever undertaken extensive customer research about the dynamics of their crowd. They couldn't tell you how many of what kind of fan exist in their bleachers. Nor have many talked with promoters at successful facilities to see what they do to attract a younger audience.

But in dirt racing the adage "The strong will survive" is completely spot on! The facilities that take the proactive step of giving a hard, honest evaluation of where they are in how well do they pull in the younger crowd and what they need to do to get better. Those are the places you know will survive, they're a step ahead and it's a big one.

It's not just an investment in future crowds, it's an investment in future drivers. Like I said, it's not panic time, but it is time to start getting our youth involved in the sport, and keeping them involved.

In the meantime, get to the track, get there as often as you can, and bring a kid or two, or a person that's never been before. It's simple, invite that neighbor when you see him out mowing the grass and say "hey, wanna check out some races this weekend?"

If as a sport we start paying more attention now, we can help alleviate the "where's the cars" issue for years to come and add some layers to our foundation.

Now then, about that hamburger, beer and races tomorrow.....

Stay DIRTY folks!

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