SULLIVAN: Weekly Racing

Patrick Sullivan

A dinner of fish and chips with Tom Schmeh, the former Executive Director of the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame & Museum, was predictably a fun affair.

It was also an opportunity to solve the many ills that beset our sport, even though we have no power to enact our great ideas. In general, we share deep concerns about the overall health of racing.

Furthermore, we agree that one barometer of that health is the state of weekly racing.

If there is a basic premise, it is this: If weekly racing dies, so does the sport.

There are tracks that have been reserved for special events for years. We all know that. The basic task here is to be consistent with your schedule. Fans have to know that this special event will happen at said track, on said date. In today’s world, where more and more people live regimented lives, this level of predictability is crucial.

If you have been a weekly event track, and suddenly you decide to scale back – good luck. You now have a tall task in front of you.

The worst thing that can happen, and it happens all the time, is that fans get out of the habit of coming. Even worse, in the interim these same people often find other things to do. As described above, if you have raced at a certain time and day for years, fans don’t need to use social media, or any other communication medium, to keep up to date.

The regular customer is your bread and butter, and you disrupt their routine at your peril.

I often hear officials and promoters lament that short track audiences are graying, and then somehow think those same people are dialed into Instagram or Twitter. They’re not.

Furthermore, if they have to search or guess when you open the gates, at some point they just give up. Gray, bald, or stooped at the shoulders, you still need your loyal fans to show up.

Still there are problems and, in the face of the challenges at hand, some keep scaling back. I have talked to enough promoters to know they are afraid. These conversations have taken place all across the country.

Naturally, if you are losing money every time you open the door, cutting back on events just means you lose less money. Losing money is rarely the goal.

In Indiana, Paragon Speedway promoter Joe Spiker continues to buck the trend. In fact, when some promoters want to race less, he chooses to race more. In fact, that penchant alone ruffles the feathers of some.

This year Spiker staged a race with free admission and fireworks. Some were upset that he did this against a major event at Kokomo Speedway.

Let’s clear this up. I have worked at Indiana race tracks for over 25 years – and that includes Kokomo Speedway.

You can draw a line, probably just a bit south of I-70, and this is the point of demarcation that will help one predict if fans will primarily go north or south to attend a weekly show.

You can probably draw a similar line somewhere east of the Circle City, and that can help one guess if fans generally go east or west. That’s the way it is.

On the night in question, hardcore sprint car fans went to Kokomo, as did those race teams that thought they had even a sliver of a chance to finish in the top five.

But Spiker wasn’t catering to the hardcore fan (or race team) when they threw the doors open and invited all to come in. What he was doing was to invite the curious, and the casual fan, to come to see what he had done to spruce up Paragon Speedway.

How did it work out? The place was packed, and so was the concession stand. The goal? To convince people to spend an occasional Friday night at his track.

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