The cars of the Must See Racing...
The cars of the Must See Racing Xtreme Spring Series lineup for action at Dells Raceway Park in Wisconsin. Photo by Russ Lake
Jim Hanks remembers back in the 1950s when his dad would take him to Motor City Speedway near his Detroit home. "I loved to watch the Midgets and Supermodifieds and the show they put on for the fans.
"I raced karts as a kid, but as an adult my interest seemed to lie more in the promotion and management of the sport," he says. To that end, Hanks studied business and marketing at Michigan State University.
"When I think back about it, from about 1970-1990, I was a casual fan, going to only two or three Sprint Car races a year. In that time period, I was totally involved and committed to my family and general contracting business.
"All that changed in 1993 when my wife, Nancy, and I met Open Wheel driver Brian Tyler and his car owner, Howard Stone, in Florida during Speedweeks. Our three wonderful daughters had grown up, we had more time on our hands, and Nancy got hooked on racing after meeting Tyler and Stone down in Florida."
Must See Racing features methanol-fueled...
Must See Racing features methanol-fueled winged Pavement Sprint Cars with a maximum cubic inch limit of 410 here competing at Auto City Speedway in Michigan. Photo by Skip Konkle
That meeting in Florida set Hanks on a different path that would take the Michigan native down the road to team ownership, then into the role of broadcaster, and eventually the formation of his own series. It has become a labor of love. It has become Must See Racing.
Hanks-the Team Owner
From 1998 until 2009, Hanks owned a wide variety of Open Wheel cars. "I had Silver Crown, Non-Winged Sprints, but the majority of our efforts were directed toward the Winged Pavement Sprints," says Hanks.
He admits his love for the Pavement Sprints is grounded in one simple belief. "They are the ultimate race cars from my point of view. Their flat-out speed and performance, thanks to downforce created by the wings, led to great competitive racing. It is why I selected them to compete and later for the series I would form."
While his love of the Pavement Sprinters is clearly evident, Hanks is extremely proud of the numerous track records and more than 10 wins he collected with driver Kevin Feeney over the decade of team ownership. However, a larger vision would come into focus during that time.
The Power of Racing
Must See Racing was founded...
Must See Racing was founded by self-described Sprint Car fan, Jim Hanks, in 2008 and has rapidly become one of the most innovative sanctions in the Midwest. Photo by David Sink
"Racing with me started out as a hobby, turned into a competitive obsession and at the time I didn't think it would progress any further," explained Hanks. "Representing our race team, sponsors made me aware of what the sport needed and I tried to incorporate it into my racing effort."
It was through his work with those sponsors that Jim saw what he likes to call the "Power of Racing." He had associations with the Boy Scouts of America, United Way, and other charity oriented organizations where the groups could reap the benefits of a team association without the burden of a sponsorship. By helping promote those organizations through the racing exposure Hanks gained a firm handle on what racing could deliver from a marketing perspective. The fact that he hosted his own racing radio show from 1998 to 2003 was an added avenue to keep his finger on the pulse of racing.
According to Jim, short track racing just doesn't seem to generate the fan interest it used to, and by working with charitable groups he hopes to help grow the sport and spurn new interest in his high-powered Sprint shows.
A New Concept in Broadcasting
Action at a Must See event...
Action at a Must See event is hot and heavy, like here at Anderson as Ron Koehler spins in front of Jim Swain. Photo by David Sink
In 2008, Jim formed Must See Racing. Initially, the organization didn't involve car ownership or sanctioning races. Instead, the goal of Must See Racing was to provide internet coverage through a website, www.mustseeracing.com, of some of the more notable short track races that many out-of-town fans couldn't attend. It turned out to be a boom for race fans living anywhere in the world. Not only could they view the races, but Hanks made sure that he delivered all aspects of the event including special coverage of the drivers, crew chiefs, and car owners. He even provided in-car photography, allowing fans to follow the race from the driver's perspective. He achieved all of it using a total of six different cameras to provide the coverage.
He explained, "The coverage was filmed and edited for viewing the following day."
There were three races covered in 2008, including The World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing at New Smyrna Speedway during Florida Speedweeks, and both the Midget 400 and Little 500 events at Anderson, Indiana.
Back in 2008, you had to first join the organization by going to the website and answering a few questions. "Initially, it was pay-for-view programming that was necessary to pay for the production costs, but now it is completely free," he said.
A packed pit area at Salem...
A packed pit area at Salem is evidence that Hanks and his Must See crew are doing something right. Photo by David Sink
Once you had purchased the coverage, it was yours to view as many times as you wanted. Hanks added that in 2008 a number of the DVDs were donated to the military for troop viewing in Iraq and Afghanistan. "I felt it was the right thing to do," he explained.
But there was more that year. "Comcast Indiana saw and liked the Little 500 and Midget 400 coverage and we struck a deal so that [Comcast] could show it on its cable channels," he said. The success of those broadcasts would allow Hanks to continue to grow the series.
In 2009, Hanks decided to get into the promoting business and schedule winged pavement Sprint races on his own. Winged pavement cars are not exactly plentiful in number so Hanks came up with a plan to work with two existing paved winged groups (AVSS and the HOSS). In cooperation, the three organizations would co-sanction five races with Hanks providing coverage on television.
Hanks performed a bit of magic with Comcast of Michigan and Comcast SportsNet Chicago negotiating cable and satellite race coverage in Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Iowa, and Indiana going to more than 9 million households. With access to more potential race fans than either series had ever seen, all Hanks had to do was ensure his broadcasts would be first quality.
Dave Argabright interviews...
Dave Argabright interviews driver Aaron Pierce. Innovative internet television coverage that has led to conventional cable coverage has been a major factor in the rapid rise of Must See Racing. Photo by David Sink
A huge addition to the presentations was a pair of outstanding announcers, in award-winning Dave Argabright, and former IndyCar/Sprint Car driver and hall of famer, Tom Bigelow. The combination of Argabright and Bigelow proved to be just what the broadcasts needed to capture the fascination of race fans from around the country.
Hanks-the Series Owner
With strong television ratings and demand from tracks wanting more races for the 2010 season, Hanks took the big plunge and formed his own series, again using the same Winged Pavement Sprint Cars. "I thought if I founded and managed the Must See Racing Xtreme Sprints Series, I would have more control of the quality of the events, competition, entertainment value for the race fans, and the television production operations," he explained.
"For this season, I had about 35 race teams plus the Hoosier Outlaw Sprint Series co-sanctions all of the events. HOSS owners Tony and Debbie Swanson are reliable and great working partners. We coordinated their stand-alone HOSS events and the Must See events to allow the racers and fans the opportunity to see all of the events."
The action in the Must See...
The action in the Must See Xtreme Sprint Series is always cloase as Hank Lower (No. 37) battles with Kyle Flint. Photo by David Sink
The Must See group has heavy hitters from seven states and Canada that race in the series including un-rivaled Florida pavement racer David Steele and USAC driver Bobby East, along with a number of other drivers that have shown series interest in the Hanks racing endeavor.
Hanks also increased the length of the races to 30 laps for the larger tracks and 50-60 laps on the small bullrings. Additionally, new racing formats were introduced to provide more racing excitement for the fans like the Must See Racing 20/20 at Auto City Speedway and the Fast Car Slash at Berlin Raceway.
"Must See Racing has nationally recognized tracks and events including the Little 500 classic Sprint Car race at Anderson Speedway and the Joe James/Pat O'Connor memorial at Salem Speedway and others," says Hanks. "This year our race teams were unbelievably competitive; at Kalamazoo Speedway, 17 out of our 27 cars broke the track record. At Slinger Speedway, 10 guys broke the world's quarter-mile record, led by veteran Jeff Bloom turning a blistering 9.90-second lap, the Little 500 was the fastest field in the 62 year history of the event and the list goes on," stated Hanks.
The 2010 season, with the new Must See Racing Xtreme Sprint Series big time events, race teams and outstanding car count has lead to a very substantial growth with its television coverage. Adding Rick Benjamin as the lead announcer with Argabright and Bigelow, now has event tape delayed broadcasts going to over 90 million households nationally plus worldwide distribution on RaceFans TV.
With the current national direction toward green energy, Hanks pointed out the series entitlement sponsor is Bio Based US, a world leader in agriculture bio technology. And it gets better. "The company president, Don Wilshe and his wife, Suellen, field a car in the series piloted by Michigan driver Jason Blonde," he added.
Jim Hanks is betting a bunch of his own money that his new concept will pay big dividends with the tracks, the teams, the drivers, and most importantly, the fans. Judging by his success to date, he's off to a good start.
A full field readies for competition...
A full field readies for competition at Anderson Speedway in Indiana, one of the first tracks to showcase the Must See Xtreme Sprint Series. Photo by David Sink
71 year old Hank Lower took...
71 year old Hank Lower took the checkered flag at Anderson in 2009. He's pictured here with Anderson owner Rich Dawson in Victory Lane. Photo by David Sink
Must See Racing sanctioned...
Must See Racing sanctioned the 2010 Little 500 at Anderson. Photo by David Sink