A few weeks ago I went to the mall with my sister. We walked into a well-known sporting goods store, where she looked at a pair of $150 running shoes. I asked why she was interested in that pair. She said they will help her with her running.
A friend has about six different bowling balls. I asked, "Why do you have that many?" He said that while he bowls at one place, he also participates in a traveling league and one ball doesn't always work well at all lanes, so he has to be prepared.
My uncle is an avid golfer. He has a set of clubs that cost around $1,500. Yet he has no intentions of going pro, but he has them, so that he can play at his local course.
In the pits of a local racetrack, I saw a driver with his Super Late Model. He was shaking down his new engine. Being curious, I asked how much it cost. He said about $25,000. I asked why spend that amount of money to race at a track that may pay anywhere from $250 to $1,000 to win? His answer was short and easy, "This is my boat."
Many of us look at running, bowling, golfing, or other sports as recreation. Many compete in these sports as an escape from their everyday lives. A chance to go out and have fun at something we enjoy doing. Some are so passionate that they will spend significant money on equipment to "enjoy" the sport even more.
For the majority of short track competitors, auto racing is their recreational sport, their hobby. They don't race thinking they will make it to the big-time level. This is their escape and fun.
I bring this up because the focus, lately, in short track racing is too much on its commercial value. Too much attention on the minority of drivers who reach the next level. The majority who participate on a recreational level, are not being noticed.
Short track racing is all about having fun with others who enjoy the same sport. It's the same as getting a bowling team together, or a foursome for golf—short tracks provide that venue for friends and family to gather and enjoy a sport. The admission costs and concessions are truly reasonable. The competition is fierce, just like it would be at a city recreational softball game or even a bowling match.
Everyone involved in racing needs to keep this in mind. We participate because we enjoy the sport. We compete in divisions that we can afford to be in just so we can continue to participate.
Drivers have their own personal goals. Yes, for some it's to win, and others it's to bring the car home in one piece. My sister's goal isn't to win a road running race, but to finish and set a new personal best time. A bowler wants to achieve a new high score. A golfer wants to shoot a new personal best low score.
The commercial side of racing is hurting short track racing, with the thought that competitors need more money from the tracks to return each week. I have yet to see a bowling center support its participants. A runner doesn't get paid to run in a race. A golfer doesn't get paid when he or she plays a local course. They all pay to be a part of it, and they also encourage their friends to come and either watch or participate.
Many short tracks are part of a sanctioning body for the same reason bowling centers seek sanctioning from the American Bowling Congress. It gives them support and notoriety. It shows their participants that they are part of an organization on a national level. It gives them the chance for that one diamond in the rough to get noticed. The sanctioning body provides that window of opportunity for those who want to move up to a higher level.
For those who want to stay and race locally, they have the support of the sanctioning body to make sure their venue stays healthy and thrives, so it can grow and open the door for more to participate.
The members of the media need to cover short track racing in the same manner as other local sports. We, as racers, have to let the media know that it can't exclude local short track racing. The people who participate at the short tracks are no different from those who golf or play baseball.
This is where the focus needs to be in short track racing. We need to promote that short track racing is friendly, competitive, and fun just like bowling, golfing, baseball, fishing, and other sports. Anyone who wants to participate has the opportunity, just like in the other sports. But don't price yourself out of this sport. A runner can run on affordable shoes, or a golfer can golf on clubs he bought at a garage sale, or a baseball player can play with a bat he has used for many seasons.
They do it because it's fun, and it's a break from their daily schedule. Short track racing provides the same opportunity as those other sports and recreation. We all need to keep that in perspective.
About the Author
Kevin Ramsell has been involved in racing since 1992 when he worked in the concession stands at Madison (WI) International Speedway. Subsequent stints on a championship-winning Limited Late Model team, and as scorer at Madison and Jefferson (WI) Speedways led to Public Relations positions at both Madison and Rockford Speedways. Prior to being named Director of Public Relations for the American Speed Association (ASA) in November, 2009, he ran Public Relations for the ASA Midwest Tour.