(EDITOR’S NOTE: 51’s X-Factor is a feature on Speed51.com that features opinions from columnists on racing’s hottest topics. Brandon Paul, the author of this editorial, is the Editor for Speed51.com. The views which are expressed in the following column are his own and not necessarily the views of Speed51.com and/or its partners.)
A family of four walks into a local short track at 6:30 p.m. to secure their seat for a night of racing that is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. They take their seat, place their blanket down on the bleachers and prepare to watch a racing program that will include an extended-distance touring series race.
They paid $20.00 to get in and are excited to watch a group of drivers that they normally don’t get to see at their home track.
7 o’clock rolls around, the announcer takes over the mic to welcome the crowd and goes over what’s in store for the night.
“We have a full program lined up for you tonight beginning with qualifying heats for all six divisions, then we’ll have a quick intermission before features begin. We’ll end the night with a 100-lap feature for the visiting (enter touring series name here).”
That’s what I would say to myself if I used my hard-earned money to purchase a ticket and heard those words come over the public-address system.
You’re telling me I have to wait all night long, sit thorough an intermission and five other features before I get to watch the main event that I paid extra money to watch?
That is a problem in today’s short track racing world.
There are some promoters who believe that extending their racing program and keeping fans in the stands for a longer period of time will benefit their product.
They’re wrong. Fans aren’t paying for the length of time they’re at a facility; they’re paying to be highly entertained.
You see, today’s world is a whole lot different than it was during short track racing’s glory years. More entertainment options are available than ever before and attention spans are shorter than they’ve ever been. When people buy something or want something, they desire to have it at the drop of a dime. They certainly don’t want to wait five hours for it.
Over the past few months I have attempted to keep close track of how long it takes to complete the racing programs I have attended. The average length of a racing program (keep in mind that these are mostly touring shows with 100-150 lap features) during that period of time is somewhere around 3.5 hours.
I also speak to people who attend race tracks throughout the country and many tracks deal with this problem on a weekly basis as well. Even without an extended-distance race on the schedule, some tracks are struggling to throw the final checkered flag within four hours after the first green flag.
I respect track promoters and the decisions they make. I’d never want to be in their shoes, so I won’t pretend that I would do a better job than they do. However, I do interact with race fans and the overall consensus is that – unless it’s a major event like the Snowball Derby, Oxford 250, Winchester 400 or All American 400 – four-to-five hour shows (or longer) are way too long in today’s world.
That statement goes beyond motorsports as well. Baseball has also come under scrutiny during recent years for the time it takes to complete a nine-inning game. Television ratings are down, ticket sales are down and some are losing interest in the sport because, for lack of better words, “it’s boring” and it takes too long.
Like motorsports, baseball also enjoyed glory years when fans would in fact sit down in front of their televisions for four hours to watch a baseball game. But those times have come and gone.
It’s time to fix the problem and make changes that will keep fans coming back.
What should short tracks do to cure this problem? Let’s start with acknowledging that it is in fact a problem and make a conscious effort to rectify it.
If a touring series is visiting a race track, we can go without heat races for all weekly divisions. Some tracks already do that and it works out perfectly to set up a show that normally stays under that dreaded four-hour mark.
Also, if you think you may be up against the clock, don’t put the main event last on the schedule. Don’t make fans stay at a race track until midnight to watch what they paid to watch.
You may lose out on the sale of a few cheeseburgers and orders of french fries by having them at the track one less hour, but isn’t that better than losing a customer who isn’t happy with the entertainment value they received?
Wouldn’t it make more sense to have them leaving the race track happy and likely to return for your next racing program?
Maybe they’ll buy a cheeseburger and french fries the next time. Maybe they’ll buy a t-shirt. Maybe they’ll bring a friend.
But if they’re not entertained, maybe they won’t come back.
That’s what we don’t want. That’s what short track racing doesn’t need.
It’s time to put more focus on providing an entertaining product and less on the number of cheeseburgers sold.
-By Brandon Paul, Speed51.com Editor – Photo credit: Speed51.com
-Photo credit: Speed51.com