At the risk of being redundant, I love hearing from the readers of this magazine. It's one of the more enjoyable parts of the job. After all, you guys and gals out there in oval track land are the reason we do what we do. Recently, I received a rather lengthy letter of about 1,300 words from a gentleman living in the, shall we say, south-middle portion of our country. It was too long to publish in "Pit Board" and the writer asked that neither his name nor address be published. Let's call him Mr. X.
This self-described "pay to get in the stands" fan brought up an interesting point about racing as entertainment. He believes that racing is about putting on a good show, one that attracts the paying customer. While the whole letter made some very valid points, one particular excerpt caught my eye and made me think. Here it is:
I once heard a comment at a local short track that did not have a curfew. "We can run as late as we want!" the promoter said. Well, when the A main had still not started at midnight I took my family home. I never went back. I began going to a different track with a curfew. That track had to, by law, have its races done by 11 p.m. I could let my young child stay up that late without problems. Not to mention my getting up and going to church the next morning.
To you promoters, who are wondering where the fans are, try checking the cost of attending a race at your place-$5 hot dogs and drinks are outrageous. I can shop at Sam's Club too! A soda can that cost you less than $0.25 and you charge more than $2 for it? And promoters wonder why so many seats are empty. Do the math people! Give me an exciting show, with close racing, reasonable prices, and decent seating, and I might come out and brave the loudmouthed drunk cussing a blue streak behind me, spilling beer on me, and shoving his knees in my back. But don't bet on it. At home my chair is comfortable, my drinks and food are good-as well as reasonably priced-and I don't have to put up with abuse from anybody. Funny, isn't it, that my local theater treats me better than any racetrack I have ever been to?
After reading Mr. X's commentary I thought to myself that I have recently been laying a good portion of the blame on the shrinking of our industry on our own inability to embrace new technologies, such as fuel injection, thus losing relevancy with the younger generations. However, in this day and age of competition for the entertainment dollar, Mr. X's contention that the local theatre treats him better than any racetrack is a frightening proposition indeed. Especially when you consider that Mr. X lives in a state that has more than 35 oval tracks.
As soon as I read that letter, a track came to my mind-Citrus County Speedway in Inverness, Florida-but for good reasons.
We were there recently for stop numero uno on the AMSOIL Great American Circle Track Tour. That night, Citrus County was hosting Wayne Anderson's new F.A.S.T. series which you can read more about in Bob Bolles' article in this issue. Despite the fact that Citrus County is little more than an hour from our house, it was the first time I had been to this particular track.
The 3/8-mile high-banked asphalt oval bills itself as the "friendliest track in the South." While there may be some other tracks in the South that would argue that point, I for one found that to be true of not only the track staff but the people in the stands as well. Score a point for the track.
As I often do, I took my family along for the night. Sitting in the grandstands, a 12 and 9 year old will work up an appetite for ice cream-the concession stand on the backstretch had a good selection of reasonably priced food. Score another point for Citrus County.
Finally, one of the more unique things at this track, at least from my perspective, was its starting time. Every Saturday, the Pit Gates open at 2 p.m. Grandstand gates open at 4 p.m. and the first heat takes the green flag at 5:30. This is the one that scored the most points with the family. I have no problem being at a racetrack past midnight-in fact those are the nights that can often times be the most fun. But the wife and kids? Not so much.
Citrus County's starting time had us back home by 10, meaning we'd be plenty rested for the following day's activities. To be honest, I liked the earlier format and the family did too, which means it's easy to get them to want to go back to that track. Many times they don't want to go to the track with me because it means getting home in the wee hours of the morning.
Here's the point: In addition to embracing new technologies, if motorsports is going to grow, then we as an industry must encourage families to come to the track. While every track may not be able to push start times back like Citrus, it brings up an interesting option. Having your races start during or near the dinner hour could very positively impact your concession sales. For example, when we go back to Citrus County the track will make money on not one, but four tickets; plus not one, but four meals. You gotta eat right? Might as well eat there and watch some great racing too.
In the end, the basics of putting on a show begin with providing an environment suitable to the whole family (wife and kids especially). Clean well-stocked restrooms, decent food for a fair price and, of course, a good competitive show.
Until next time, go fast and turn left.