I wish I had a dollar for every time a driver told me that all I had to do to draw more cars and fans was to pay out some more money.
That would be "lap money" for the promoter (kind of). Just lay a buck on the desk and ask for any amount you wish. I will see what I can do.
Fact: Every driver in short-track racing needs more money to pursue their dreams of winning. The money also helps them avoid the problem of answering to wives, credit card companies, and maybe parents.
Fact: Drivers cannot buy their way into Victory Lane.
The majority of short-track drivers need to get a better grasp on the second statement. You cannot buy your way into Victory Lane. It takes work, determination, practice, and talent. Yeah, that's right, it takes talent to win in our sport. The guy with the most money is not always the winner. But, I can venture a guess that the guy who does win has some talent.
If money were the game, then the IROC Series would end in a tie with 12 drivers coming across the line in perfect formation (maybe six rows of two in the exact same order they started in at the drop of the green flag).
Talent wins the IROC races, and talent wins the short-track races.
So why do so many drivers think that money is the determining factor on who races, when they race, and why they race?
First-Place prize money in most races (even Nextel Cup) does not cover the expenses of racing. As you go farther down the payoff sheet, it gets worse as far as taking care of expenses incurred by the race team for that night. The purse will never fully cover your racing expense, even if you win the majority of the time. It does not matter what level you compete.
Colleagues in the promotion business like to coin the phrase, "a driver will spend ten times as much money as what you pay to win." That means a driver will spend over $1,000 on his or her car when you pay $100 to win the main event.
That's a pretty fair assessment of the situation in short-track racing. If the promoter decides to pay $500 to win, drivers will spend $5,000 to try and win that purse. They'll get more horsepower with a fancy new valve job. They may get new tires that have a softer compound. How about picking up that acid-etched manifold and try to sneak one past the officials?
It's easy for drivers to find ways to spend money. It's never easy to find the money needed to cover your expenses.
The driver that is so eager to ask the promoter for money would be better off working on his sales pitch and asking a sponsor for some money. A sponsor could find some direct benefit out of this exchange of money, and the driver would have a greater opportunity for success instead of rejection.
Solid purses are designed to pay a fair amount for the top spots. The amount usually reflects the car count and fan base at the speedway. The pay trickles down to where the man who does not have the greatest success on that given night will usually have enough money to get himself back in the gate again next week. Wow, what a bonus! You do not usually see that kind of payback in other sports tournaments for weekend enthusiasts.
The same should be true with year-end point fund bonus programs. The amounts are usually top heavy with maybe the Top 10 or sometimes 20 receiving enough money to pay for their banquet tickets. Nobody is busting the bank at the end of the season. Nobody is counting on the big payday to get into the next season. If they tell you that they are bankrolling, (inside scoop) they are fibbing to you.
It's not about the money! It's about the experience. It's about the friendships. It's about the accomplishment. It's about honoring our peers with the hope that some day we will experience the same respect and honor from them.
It's why we race. It's fun.
Good promoters create an event that is consistent, fair, and enjoyable for the competitor along with their team, family, and fans. The show should run on time without major delays, get over with at a decent hour, and offer some payback for those that do well on that particular evening.
Good promoters create a fun atmosphere at the track. It's one that fans, sponsors, family, and friends want to experience on the weekend.
Good promoters create media opportunities for drivers to showcase their talents and possibly draw some sponsorship support for their race team. The media opportunities can create driver heroes within the community.
Good promoters are businessmen and businesswomen, just like the drivers. They are trying to make ends meet while creating a product that generates money. That's right. The show has to create money. People have to participate, and people have to purchase tickets for the whole event to work.
You know what? That is really what a driver and a team wants. The money is already spent when you arrive at the racetrack. It does not matter if the payoff is $50 or $5,000 that night. Your money is already on the line. Your payoff is a bonus. You better enjoy yourself, or else you're going to drive yourself nuts.
Forget about the money. Look in your pocket after the night is over and be glad you have something that will get you back there next week to have more fun and maybe, just maybe, be the best driver on the track.
For those looking for more than that, bring a buck to my office, place it in the jar at the end of my desk, and ask me for some more purse money. I am a little short for lunch today. Plus, I am sick of cold hot dogs snatched from the concession stand leftovers. Thanks.
(Editor's Note: Ted Austad is the promoter of Oglethorpe Speedway Park in Pooler, Georgia. He is well qualified to address this subject. It must have been a very bad night.)