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Well, here we are in July already. I have been really busy racing as much as we can, and the Trailer Toad business has been keeping us running around as well. I think there's a time in life where you have choose between things you want to do, things you should do and the things you KNOW you MUST do. In our world, something has to give, right?
I think the same is true if we just look at the sport we all enjoy. I would guess if you read this column you are either a racer, used to be a racer or help someone on their race car. I know, some of you are looking to see who I chastise this time and that’s OK too. I really try hard to be constructive in any criticism but you know what, Ijust tell it like I see it. If someone doesn’t like it they can write a column about me if they want to.
I have been racing pretty steady since late April. We have been to five NHRA or IHRA Divisional races, one NHRA National Event and four local bracket races. I have noticed one consistent thing at all of them. Car counts look pretty good but the spectator attendance has been terrible, with one exception, Summit Raceway Park in Norwalk, OH. Congratulations to a track that lowered spectator admission and put about 6000 people in to watch a Division 3 race. I think this shows us the racers are still willing to race and their passion is to do just that. One problem is the ever increasing costs being piled on them by racetracks and sanctioning bodies. Higher entry fees, higher cost for crew people, smaller payouts and far less contingency money if you win a Divisional or National Event.
Why is this, the new trend that seems to be an acceptable practice? Is it the economy? Is it lack of promotion by the tracks? Is it the general lack of support from participants? There is probably no right or wrong answer, but something has to give, right? I have a few ideas that might help all of get back on track, so to speak. These are not new ideas by any means but maybe we need to change our tactics a little bit.
Let’s deal with the passion aspect first. The racers, and usually their families and friends as well, have a passion for drag racing. The social aspect is one side of it. The mechanical skills or challenges are another, and probably the most commonly mentioned passion in drag racing is the competition and the challenges put on the driver. The track owners and sanctioning bodies need to look a little farther than their checkbook to find ways to use this passion for both profits and customer satisfaction. How to do it is probably the real trick, but I think a quick look back into time might be helpful.
If the track could open and offer lower entry fees, more racers would enter. This has been proven all over the country and especially by promoters like George Howard. With more cars come more crew people and more revenue. Around the area I live in, we pay $100.00 to enter a $1500.00 to win race and buybacks are $50.00. You can easily spend $300.00 in a weekend and not win anything. If that was $35.00 to enter do you think more cars would come? If a racer could get to a track and know there were two or three classes or events he has the option to enter for $25 or $35 when he gets there, would he be more interested in coming? I think he would be. For the racer this means more events and more competition for the expense of towing to just one race. To the track it means they will have more revenue from entry fees, concessions and pit passes. The catch I this: the cars have to be able to run a lot of rounds in a hurry. 600” engines and seven second ETs will probably not be part of this program.
One thing that is part of this problem is spectators. Why are there basically no spectators at local bracket racing events? Think about it. I think it is the lack of action that just does not attract them or keep them there. Can that be fixed? I think so. First, let spectators in FREE OF CHARGE, period. The track can make more money selling them food and drink than they will ever get by trying to get $10.00 a head to watch bracket racing. Have you watched NHRA National Events on TV? The stands are half-full, which doesn’t surprise me for what the costs are and the lack of quality side-by-side racing they offer. The track promoter and racers must work together to keep cars going down the track at all times or find a way to entertain the people in between rounds of eliminations. Run the Quick 16 or special classes later in eliminations to make sure the track always has cars on it. Draw a few spectator names out of a hat and they win “a chance to ride in a race car”. We used to do this at my track and the smiles on those faces were priceless. T-shirt tosses, drawings for bicycles, tools, free pizzas from a local pizza shop, etc, etc. These are'nt new ideas; just something that has been overlooked at 99% of the tracks I race at.