Thursday, June 1, 2017

What Race Fans Really Want: A Race Track's Guide to Success

Pat Miller Photo

There are a lot of race tracks across the country that are facing the same problem.  Declining attendance and an inability to draw fans back into the track.  Race tracks are closing at an alarming rate compared to how it used to be, and a lot of promoters cannot figure out what to do to bring fans back into the stands.  For all of that though, there are many tracks that flourish with huge crowds for shows, and fans ranting on social media about their experience at the track.

As the person behind the @LiveDirtUpdates Twitter page, and being a devout dirt racing fan for the past 25 years, I like to think I'm in touch with what fans want and what constitutes a good night at the races.  I like to support the race tracks that I feel are putting forth an effort to have good shows, and will pick them over going to a track that doesn't have it together.  So with that, and some help from our fellow TDN members, and other media members, I have come up with ideas for race tracks of what is TRULY IMPORTANT to race fans, and what will help race tracks be successful for years and years to come.

Gary Heeman Photo

Track preparation - To me the most important aspect that tracks need to focus on is the track prep.  If the track prep is consistently good, those tracks tend to draw more fans due to word of mouth and people wanting to see great racing.  Why do we go to races in the first place?  It isn't to see a one groove freight train all night, or a track surface that is incredibly difficult to pass on.  The reason we go is to see great racing first and foremost.  Take a look at Fairbury American Legion Speedway in Illinois for example.  The Prairie Dirt Classic there won the Dirt on Dirt race of the year three years in a row prior to last season, and has always had an event in the website's top five races countdown at the end of the season.  They have that because they take great pride in the track prep.  Port Royal Speedway has stepped up immensely in the past several years with improvements to the facility, but more importantly the track prep has been spot on almost every time they race for every division.  Tracks that consistently produce good racing WILL get fans in the stands.

Efficiently run program - The second thing tracks need to look at is how to efficiently run their program.  It is important to get fans in and out within a reasonable time frame.  Baseball games and football games take three hours or so.  Basketball and hockey games take two and a half hours to complete.  Nobody wants to be held hostage at a race track for no reason.  No show should start at 7:00 and finish after Midnight.  As a matter of fact you should be striving to get fans out as quickly as possible.  Race fans appreciate a show that keeps flowing.  Now we know there will be times where cautions and red flags will delay a show, but keeping the show moving is imperative to getting fans in the stands.  The moment fans think that you're dragging a show out for no reason, they will debate whether they should support the speedway or not.

Starting on time - Starting your show on time is a huge thing for all race fans.  I've never head someone say man I'm glad warm ups started 45 minutes late tonight.  Sometimes weather can put this out of track's control, and fans will understand that, but if you advertise a start time, then you should have cars lined up to start warm ups within five minutes of that start time.  There is no excuse when weather doesn't play a factor to start a show late.  If you advertise a start time then you should do everything in your power to start on time.  File this one under helping you run an efficient program.

Pat Miller Photo

No more than 3 or 4 divisions - Also under the efficiently run program category is running no more than 3 or 4 divisions.  When you have a special show on your schedule and you want to pack the place, one of the quicker ways to not get people to come back is to run a bunch of divisions.  These marathon shows drag on forever and fans become weary.  Those fans did not come to watch four different street stock divisions with five cars entered in each run a heat race and a 20 lap feature.  They came to see the major division that is putting on the show at your race track.  Act accordingly.  Many tracks I frequent run no more than 2 or 3 divisions even for their weekly programs, and they do just fine financially because they adhere to the rules of what draws fans into the stands to start with.  Keep the divisions to a minimum and keep the show moving and I promise people will show up.

Pat Miller Photo

Run your headline division's feature first - The worst thing in the world is being stuck at a race track longer than what you feel like you should have been there only to find out that a lower division is being brought out to run their feature before the headline division's feature that you paid money to see.  The headline division is what brought people into your race track to see the show in the first place.  The last things fans want to do is watch three support division features prior to the start of the headline division feature.  Especially when you've been at the track for over four hours already.  Put the division that fans want to see on the track first for their features, and people will leave happier.

Affordable pricing - Nobody should have to spend a bunch of money to take their family to the races.  The higher the price of your show, the less of a chance for some people to come.  Affordable pricing works.  Eldora Speedway is a great example.  Their major shows are very affordable for the racing you get to see and they draw huge crowds. Now Eldora may be on a national stage versus a regional stage, but take Oakshade Raceway in Ohio for example.  Every show that they run has a $12 general admission attached to it.  They absolutely pack the place.  I went there for an ALMS show  and was shocked to see it was only $12 to get in the gate.  Then when  I was told that was the price for every show, including the Summernationals event there I was blown away.  Now we as fans understand that some shows will carry a higher price tag than others, but if you jack the price for a child to get into the race way up as well, then not everyone can afford to attend your show, thus hurting the gate.  Keep it affordable and people will show up.  Adding onto that point a lot of people don't carry cash anymore in today's society.  If you do not accept credit cards, then put an ATM at the track for fans to be able to get cash.  A simple gesture like this goes a long way.

Have a working scoreboard - It doesn't have to be a big elaborate scoreboard.  Real race fans know who is running where on the track, but a lap counter is a must.  Fans need to be able to know what lap the race is on, and if they have to guess what lap it is every time there is a yellow, or pay attention for the two to go signal when they think the race is winding down, then they probably aren't enjoying the great racing that is going on.  A scoreboard that works and tells you what lap the race is on is a MUST.

Pat Miller Photo

Be accessible - Social media plays a huge role for tracks these days.  If a race track is active on Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, YouTube and Race Monitor can only help your speedway.  Many race tracks including Eldora, Knoxville, Attica and many others have a great social media presence and when fans feel like they can interact through social media with a race track, it improves their overall experience at the track.  While will you get some people commenting negatively, you will find yourself overwhelmed with the amount of people who will be positive and will support you when you're doing things right.

Alcohol - While I prefer tracks that let you bring beer in, believe it or not it's not a big deal to fans one way or the other.  If the track sells alcohol inside, as long as the price is affordable most fans don't complain.  Plenty of tracks sell beer at the track at affordable prices so they can make extra money and they still pack the place.

So there it is race tracks and promoters.  Follow these guidelines for what fans truly want out of their trips to the speedway, and you'll put fans in the stands on a consistent basis.  Fans only want certain things out of their racing programs, and if you can follow these guidelines, you will find success.

1 comment:

  1. I believe a good car count should be included. You have to be fair to your drivers to keep them coming back and get new drivers to come. Do what you say your going to do, keep the trust of your drivers to be fair and not show favoritism. Fans do not want to go to a track that has a low car count or that they hear through the grapevine or see on social media that the track is not being consistent or fair to it's drivers. Just my opinion.