Time to change the payout structure?
Time to change the payout structure? Will racers and people support new ideas?
With the U.S. and world stock markets taking a big hit the last couple weeks I am wondering what effect it will have on drag racing. We can all pretty much agree that we race because we love the competition and the sense of accomplishment in taking our car or motorcycle to the track and seeing how fast or consistently it will run.
For the racers who have decided to take it a bit more seriously, as I did a lot of years ago, and build a fast race car, get a reliable and solid trailer and maybe a motor home or diesel dually to tow with, it’s a bit different. Those investments (in the "fun stuff") were a choice we made. In most cases they were not financed so they are not "at risk" so to speak.
Will drag racing continue to be the same in the coming months or in 2009? Personally, I think there are a few things the tracks and the racers can do to help keep our sport alive and growing. I have made a list of what I would like to see happen and DRO welcomes your input in the search for some great new ideas to keep drag racing the largest participant-driven motor sport on earth.
Having been a track owner for about 15 years, I have some ideas that might help them. I also own two rear-engine dragsters and have spent a lot of money to have my weekends be a lot of fun. The other thing a lot of you do not know is that my day job is the owner of a company that makes the Trailer Toad, a weight-bearing trailer hitch for towing heavy trailers with motor homes and SUVs without worrying about the tongue weight. As a small business owner my investment is in inventory and marketing. The same is true with drag strip owners. Their investment is in the property and equipment to run the events.
From the track side of things:
1. Maybe it is time to look at the payout structure of your events. In the past it seems the best way to draw more racers to the track was to load up the winner money. It usually worked, but will it continue to do so? I think now is the time to keep the total payouts the same BUT with some changes. Cut the winner money in half. Spread the purse out far enough that if you win second round you are getting some payout. The more racers who leave with some money, the better chance they come back, in my opinion. As tough as racing is getting you can easily have a .003 light and run on with a .005 and you are out of racing second round. You never know when a great package isn't going to be enough these days.
2. Traction compound costs $300 to $500 per 55-gallon drum. That is an expense that will have to be reduced to survive. Will racers come to a slippery track? This is a tough choice. Maybe spray it correctly before time runs, once before eliminations and that's it. If the track changes, the racer who can adjust to the track increases their chance of winning. I do not think every bracket track needs to be better than some that host national events; it simply costs too much money to do it.
3. Setting the event schedule will be the hardest decision. The track must schedule events that will produce a PROFIT. Does this mean fewer bracket racing with good purses? Could be. It might also mean only a couple events per month that have cash payouts, unless the track gets an event sponsor to pay a purse.
4. Facility improvements are an ongoing expense for track owners. Would it benefit the track if they had “Volunteer Days” a couple times a year and then had a "FREE test & tune" for the guys who helped out?
5. I think the tracks need to be more receptive to the original atmosphere at drag strips: the "Car Club Approach". Sell annual memberships, members get discounts at the gate, the concession stand and parking considerations. This will raise capital for the track before the season starts and assure that the track will open. Members get an inside look at helping the track. Membership meetings a few times a year, members have a Points Fund, etc.
6. The tracks that focus on the racers AS CUSTOMERS are prospering. All track owners can learn from tracks that do this. Recently I was at Summit Raceway Park in Norwalk, OH. Simply, the best racer service I have seen. How many tracks have a "Customer Service" building to handle questions and requests from their racers … I mean CUSTOMERS? Great idea!
7. Track owners need to reach out to the community more than before and the racing community better respond. Track signs, ads in the track newsletter, point fund support and sponsoring part of the race day purse once in a while are all things local businesses that benefit from the drag strip being in town should get busy supporting the track. If they have racing customers and the track closes or even cuts back the schedule, their small business suffers.
What can the racers do to help?
1. Become active in supporting the tracks you like to race at. Ask the promoter for event flyers, schedules and information about the track. Hand it out at work, church or any other place you interact with people who are not racers.
2. The tracks need people to pay admission OR buy food from the concession stands to make a profit. Ask the track for free spectator tickets to hand out to potential new customers. A Guest Pass, so to speak. Can't be used as a Pit Pass, can't be used to allow someone to come in with a racer. These Guest Pass tickets are just that, to get a new Guest into the facility.
3. If we get new people to walk around the pit area it is up to the racers to help explain what is going on at the races. Take a few minutes to show them the car, answer questions and explain what an exacting sport drag racing is. Get them interested and feeling comfortable will be the best way to get them to come back as a paying customer so the track can benefit.
We have made our own "animal" by assembling these great cars. Super consistent, fast and very competitive. Have we created a monster we no longer control? Could be. How can we make racing more competitive for more racers? That is the number one question right now.
a. I think smaller brackets with fewer rounds will help. Instead of lumping everyone together, let's try some index racing: "7.90 Open Wheel", "8.50 Anything Goes", "8.90 Door Car" Fast classes. "9.90 Door Car". 4/10ths Pro Tree, Delay Boxes OK, no throttle stops, no computers or data recorders. Just race them. Let's see if people will watch a bunch of heads-up races on a Saturday night.
b. These types of classes can continue through the whole ET program. At the end of the night you can have a few different King of the Hill races. Maybe the four fastest classes run off and then the next eight slower brackets. These purses can be the "Sponsored Races" I talk about.
c. The track will pay decent round money as you race in your class, but in the end the King of the Hill races will be where the bigger money is.
We are going to have to do something different or outside the box, in my opinion, to attract people and outside money to the tracks and to ourselves in the form of sponsorship.
I have some ideas on getting local sponsors for your racecar that will tie into the track owners’ plans as well. Let's keep an open mind and see if we can grow the sport we all care so much about.