Kyle Conaway doesn't run USAC,...
Kyle Conaway doesn't run USAC, but his team and ones just like it are being targeted by Kevin Miller and his team. Photo by Bill Holder
Toward the end of January 2008 Kevin Miller was appointed the head of USAC, the 50-plus-year-old sanction that was formed when AAA got out of the auto racing business. By many accounts, Miller and the other new hires, including Jason Smith and James Spink, inherited a hornet's nest of problems. Fixing them and moving the sanction forward would be a challenge to say the least. Several months after Miller and company took over, Circle Track sat down with the former Mopar Brand Strategist and got his take on those challenges and how he was about to tackle them (April '09 Circle Track). With the dawning of a new decade, we thought it would be the perfect time to ring up his Speedway Indiana office and check on how the series is doing.
First up on Kevin's mind was his impending trip to East Bay Raceway Park for 2010 Speedweeks. Miller had inked a deal for a three-day show at the 3/8-mile clay oval just outside Tampa, Florida.
USAC young gun Dakota Armstrong...
USAC young gun Dakota Armstrong at Toledo.
"I am very excited to be back in Florida. Getting back into that Speedweeks environment is very important to us to grow our brand," says Miller. "The dates (Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday nights) aren't ideal but they were in one of the sweet spots we looked at. The Outlaws end on Sunday at Volusia and the All Stars start on Thursday at East Bay."
Despite that sweet spot between the two competing winged dirt Sprint sanctions, Miller couldn't convince East Bay management to take the gamble on USAC. So, he did.
"This is not a track promotion, this is a USAC promotion," explains Miller. "We're renting the track, we're paying the purse. The track liked the idea a lot but didn't want to take the gamble so we're taking the gamble even though we don't normally promote races."
Bobby Santos (outside) and...
Bobby Santos (outside) and Damien Gardner (71) at Toledo in USAC Sprint Car action.
Becoming the promoter of record is something new that USAC has been doing to really expand its racing product. "Our first promotion we ever did was Calistoga in 2008 and it sold out two nights in a row. We're trying to build events not just races. This Tampa thing is a fresh one we can get people excited about."
Miller's goal for Tampa? "It was kind of an off time and with Daytona being down there, there may be some opportunity to capitalize."
More Than USAC
When asked if he thought more sanctions would get into the promoting end of the business Miller was quick to say that he did. "What I see happening is the economy hitting the small businesses the most. And racing is full of small businesses. Our soft spot for booking races is more on the pavement side. Dirt Sprint Cars, dirt Midgets...we've got plenty of tracks that want those events. But on the pavement side it's a little more soft."
The Keith Kunz Motorsports...
The Keith Kunz Motorsports team at Toledo.
USAC found that promoting more pavement events strengthened its overall schedule. So it's gone out and rented premium venues like O'Reilly Raceway Park, which is right in its backyard of Indianapolis. Three Thursday night Sprint Car shows yielded a good crowd and solid car count. In a similar promotion the sanction rented the Indianapolis Speedrome and brought Midget racing back to that facility.
"We're doing some creative things. We just can't sit back and watch our tracks fold up. One of our premiere tracks folded this past year and that was Manzanita in Phoenix (AZ). To find those venues is becoming a challenge, so we've had to step up and take the gamble not only for the fans but the competitors. We're trying to rebuild pavement racing."
So How Does A Sanction Raise Car Count?
"Great question. I have a strong belief that competitors want to race with you for the excitement you provide them. When we race in front of 5,000 to 10,000 people it's a lot more exciting than racing in front of 200-300 people. So what we want to do is work on our show. We made it a challenge at USAC internally for 2010 that 'it's about the show stupid.' We want to work on what our show is beyond racing."