Promoter’s Corner is back on Speed51.com and for this week's topic we're going to look at the formatting of short track races.
We've seen NASCAR make the change to segment racing at the top levels of the sport and that is starting to trickle down a little bit into the short track racing ranks. We've also seen segment races and twin features become a more popular choice for some promoters in recent years.
This week, we asked our panel of promoters, “Do you believe that the philosophy of going away from standard 100, 150 or 200 lap races is one that could work and bring more excitement to the sport?”
Alan Dietz - Pro All Stars Series
First off, I think you look at things differently when talking about a weekly show versus a touring series. I think for a weekly show, running twins allows a promoter to mix things up and it also allows you the chance to make up a points race in the event of a rain out.
For a touring series, I believe twin races can work on occasion, maybe once, or at the most, twice during a year, but I think you have to be careful. A touring series event is supposed to be special in and of itself. It's also supposed to be different from what you see on a weekly show...more laps, more money and touring series stars.
As far as segments go, they're just gimmicky. Just because the guys on Sunday do it, short tracks and short track series don't have to copy everything they are doing. A lot of things are working at short tracks, such as access to the racers, their cars, and if you're doing it right, good racing. Look at dirt, nobody is even thinking about doing segments. Granted, their races are shorter and that could be something worth looking at, like more 75-100 lap shows.
Gimmicks, I think, take away from how serious the racers are about what they are doing and really doesn't give fans enough credit for what they are watching. On Sundays, with the length of those races, I think segments have added excitement to points of the race that usually wouldn't have mattered and I actually believe those races could use some more segments if they aren't going to be shortened in the first place.
On short tracks, what do you really see in 20-30 laps of a segment that ultimately doesn't matter? Keep gimmicks out of short track racing and focus on improving the product on the track.
Joe Skotnicki – Race of Champions
Entertainment is about attention span and what is happening in front of you. It doesn’t matter if it’s a stage or number of laps, we all have the equipment and talent to look at this, but rarely as a group do we ever bother to do so.
Personally, I take it from the standpoint of time. The NFL, NHL and even to a point Major League Baseball (I’m not a fan of basketball, for whatever reason), however all of those major-league sports have examined and redefined their packages into somewhat of manageable time frame. Most NFL games are 3 hours and 30 minutes, add in advertising and timeouts and it is a four-hour experience. Same with the NHL and MLB has worked on it, so if you can package your program to fit within that time experience you have a better opportunity to begin to head down the right path.
The world has changed when it comes to attention spans and time commitments. People no longer are willing to commit an entire day to anything. We have reached a point in society where entertainment is instant. It’s anything, from your favorite television show to never having to wait to find out the score of your favorite team’s game thanks to that device you call a phone in your pocket.
With all of that taken into consideration, we have enthusiasts who want to be entertained and if we are willing to reach and create new fans, we have to have a three-hour show with a featured event that is about 40 minutes of that event, with a build of anticipation leading to that feature. Unfortunately, at times, we have too many moving elements in our sport that can create challenges where this is not something we can accomplish.
If you have twin features and one takes the checkered after 11:00 p.m. on any night and you think it was exciting and positive for the sport you were either running a rain-delayed Knoxville Nationals or you have a jaded view of your product.
A great example of this is the Little 500 at Anderson Speedway. That’s a 500-lap race that takes three hours. It can go one way or another on time, but it’s the only race they run on that particular Saturday night and they pack the stands. Sure, it is a great tradition and an extreme example, however, the point is, the number of laps does not matter, people want to see it. It boils down to the product that you are presenting and as the stewards of the sport, it is up to us to add enough “razzle dazzle” to interest people.
The bottom line becomes the product, not the number of stages, not the number of laps. If it’s a good product and people are interested they will come. Building interest is in the publicity of the product. Make it exciting, give it an identity, give it life however necessary. These things don’t happen overnight but it doesn’t take a reinvention of the wheel.
When it comes to entertainment, it’s a new generation of high speed, fast paced excitement and we are challenged to keep up with that. It’s taken us time to learn new lessons as well, but as far as stages or number of laps, I would throw all of that of the window in lieu of creating a three-hour program that people want to see.
R.J. Scott – Champion Racing Association (CRA)
I don't believe anything is "off the table" in terms of special formats for short track racing. Our challenges in putting butts in seats are much greater than they have been in years past, so anything new or different might be the "ticket" to overcome some of those challenges.
We've seen weekly racing struggle, with the special events being one of the positives to draw people back to the track...but if the specials all start to look the same, then what? Race fans really don't want a steady diet of any one program, so mixing it up may help ALL of the sport's stakeholders. And now is no time for track operators to let egos get in the way. If you see someone else in a different area try something and it seems to work, steal it for your area. Just because it wasn't your idea doesn't mean it’s not a good idea.
If we want to see different outcomes (different fans at the track, different winners, etc.), it requires that you do something different. Different race formats may be part of the solution.
I think the CARS guys do a good job of mixing things up. Some of their ideas are spot on and some are crazy, but they aren't sitting still; they are trying things and making it exciting for racers and the fans. We've run the gamut in CRA racing with no breaks, breaks, live pit stops, controlled cautions, re-lining up by number of tires taken and more. But there are still more things out there and you have to be willing to try different things if you want to see real change.
Josh Vanada - Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park (CT)
In my role at Thompson, which happens to be the first paved oval in the United States, I am sensitive to the rich tradition of stock car racing spanning our seven-decade history. One of our most iconic events was the Thompson 300, which featured the pride of New England stock car racing – the Modifieds – for 300 laps. Qualifying alone was an accomplishment, let alone winning it. Prior to my arrival, we tried several times over the years to recreate it through the UNOH Showdown – a combination race for the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour and what was, at the time, the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour - Modified Mania, which was a collection of all the Modified touring series in the northeast on one card. I think there may have been a few other variations, too. None of them have worked. I’ve spent quite a bit of time trying to figure out why that is, and I’ve yet to find an answer that I find completely satisfying. I think, in part, the answer is because the sport has evolved. I could say more about that, but I’d exceed my three-paragraph limit.
The reason that I share this story is because it illustrates a crucial point for those of us who promote events: do what you do well. There has become a tendency in promoting stock car events to take the best of what works elsewhere and try to make it your own. Please understand that I am all for sharing best practices, and often communicate with my colleagues in a reciprocating dialogue on how we can improve each other’s businesses; however, sometimes these “imitation events” – if I can call them that – end up being subpar. The promoter may have done everything right, but the event may not be appealing to their audience. Over the past four years, we have done a lot of formal and informal customer polling to find out what it is that folks like best about Thompson. Those are the things that we focus on doing as well as we possibly can.
What do the customers (drivers, car owners, crews, and fans) think? Is the audience more of a traditional, straight-up, 100-lap audience, or do they appreciate the nuance and strategy of a segment race? Four years ago, we started out by having a segment race in each of our four NASCAR Whelen All-American Series divisions. After some feedback, though, we now only hold one for the Sunoco Modifieds. The Milk Bowl at Thunder Road is a thrilling short track event, and it’s contested in segments. On the flipside, the Oxford 250 draws a huge entry list, and droves of people flock to Oxford Plains Speedway for a 250-lap Super Late Model race. So, I’m going to take the cop out here and say that the answer to the question is it depends on what the customers think. Ask them, or don’t ask them, and they will tell you. As a promoter, it’s my job to listen and schedule accordingly.