Ocala Speedway is making the switch to dirt for 2008. Photo by B.J. Cavin
"It would have been easier to sell the place. After all we're sitting on 50 acres of prime industrial property that is probably worth way more as something other than a racetrack," he says. But being a true racer, Peters wanted to see the track thrive, not go under. His solution was to look back to the history of the speedway and find when they had the most success. Ocala's heyday was as a dirt track under the management of the Powell Family. Now, Peters is hoping that taking a page out of history will pay off for the track's future.
Here's why he decided to go dirt:
Uniform Set of Rules: his competitors can run at different tracks around the Southeast with little to no change to the car.
Better Racing: As an asphalt track, Ocala had a single groove that didn't promote side by side racing. That should change with the addition of the dirt.
More Cars: Peters says, rightly so, that promoters must put on the most entertaining show possible to attract fans to the stands. One key to that is a healthy car count. In the dirt world, it is not uncommon for a $2,000-to-win feature to attract more than 100 cars. Conversely, 30 is a strong car count for an asphalt race.
Lower Cost to Race: In many cases, dirt cars tend to be lower cost for a driver to run. This translates into a healthier car count.
Granted, Peters is a novice dirt track operator and 2008 will be a learning year for him. However, he may have done one of the smartest things he could have possibly done in the scheduling of his shows. Ocala Speedway is going to run on Friday nights. Why is that so smart you may ask?
Well, less than one hour to the east is Volusia County Speedway and just one hour and 40 minutes to the south is East Bay Raceway Park, two dirt tracks that run Saturday night shows. By running his show on Friday (along with the common set of rules), Peters is allowing East Bay and Volusia racers to run at his track the day before they run their home track. That's good business sense. Instead of competing directly with the other tracks he's working with them.
Working with nearby tracks to share racers and fans can no doubt help car counts and front gate flourish. But that is just one part of the equation.
I-25 Speedway in Southern Colorado (just outside Pueblo) has been owned by the White brothers, Randel and Perry, for almost seven years. When they took over the track it was in disarray; shoddy facilities, dwindling car counts, purported illegal activities and vacant seats in the grandstands were the norm for the little 1/4-mile facility.
To bring it back, the Missouri-born brothers treated it like it was a brand-new racetrack and applied a common sense theory of track management: "Don't let greed be the motivating factor, work as a team with the drivers, the crews and the fans. Give them ultimate respect, and do what you say you're going to do," says Perry White. "If I tell them something, they know that it is the Gospel."
That philosophy permeates everything that the Whites do; from Perry himself handing out free bottles of water to the drivers while they are waiting for hot laps to personally thanking his racers for coming to the track. I-25 offers a fair purse, clean rest rooms and a hospitable environment for racing.
But make no mistake about it, the Whites run the show. "You have to remember where your bread is buttered and you have to treat these people with respect," says White. "But you still have to draw the line."
White has an innovative approach to handling concerns. Depending upon the actual issue, White will ask the person to go to another racetrack and check out how they run their program. The person is then asked to come back and report their findings directly to White. Not only does this help White stay on top of what other tracks are doing or not doing as the case may be, but it also builds a stronger bond with his racers.
Currently I-25 draws about 2,000 people every week. While that number is small compared to the 6,000 to 8,000 at North Carolina's Bowman Gray Stadium, 2,000 is a number many short tracks would kill for. How do they do it? The Whites' respect and dignity philosophy has yielded solid car counts. Routinely, I-25 will host in excess of 18 Late Models, 26 modifieds and 26 street stocks. For a little 1/4-mile track, more cars translates into more fans.