Here is my simple hope for 2019: that we see full grandstands at weekly racetracks in our region.
I realize that is a challenge in today’s world, but I’d love to see it. More importantly I’d love to see new fans filling some of those seats.
For the fun of it, I put a poll on Facebook asking race drivers and fans what would attract more fans to the track: lower ticket/concession prices, or more or less classes. There were 33 votes — (more of you reading this are welcome to vote, it is on my Facebook page) — 29 said lower ticket and food prices. Many respondents were drivers, a couple of promoters and some fans. I appreciate those who voted. Just gives a person an idea what the thinking is.
Weekly attendance has trended down at most tracks while costs to run the track have gone up (track prep equipment and fuel, food, beer, insurance, facility upgrades, paying track workers, etc.). Driver purses, in most cases, have remained the same and in some cases, even dropped (I am sure there are exceptions, but generally this is the case). So to compensate for the rising costs to operate a track, ticket prices have gone up.
I can’t blame tracks for raising ticket prices to make ends meet, Everything costs money.
But I also understand the plight of families who just can’t afford to go to races two or three nights a week. Let’s say you charge $13 to get in for adults, $7 for ages 12-18 and $5 for ages 6-11 (kids 6 and under are free in this scenario). If you are family of four — two adults, two paying kids, the cost is $38 just for tickets. That doesn’t account for the gas to get there or any food. So you could easily spend $50-60 a night. A lot of people can’t afford to do that 2-3 nights on a weekend. Plus, it could be a deterrent to a new fan who comes and says he/she doesn’t want to spend so much to see a race.
When the four or five person families stop coming on a regular basis, that is not a good sign.
I remember going to Viking Speedway in Alexandria in the late 1980s and early 1990s on a pretty regular basis. If the races started at 6:30 or 7, If you wanted a seat in the upper tier, you had to get there at least an hour early. Keep in mind, these were the days when Ron Krog announced from the infield crow’s nest, and there were no suites up there. There’d be 2,000 people for a regular show and four classes (it really got packed when the Busch Tour late model series came through town). I can remember nights there were so many people they’d have to put some fans in some temporary bleachers in the infield.
Madison Speedway in the 1990s was packed almost every Sunday. The racing started at 6, there were four classes. If you didn’t get there early you were probably SOL or at the best sitting in the front row.
However, at the risk of sounding old (I was in high school at that time), times have changed. Rural populations have dwindled, which takes away the amount of people you can draw from. In that regard it is a numbers game. There is a lot of competition for a person’s time and money when it comes to entertainment,
Special events, like the WOO Sprints, for example, draw well around here. The Wissota 100 had a nice crowd on hand. The NOSA Sprints drew a capacity crowd to Norman County Raceway at the NC Fair in June (pictured above). My focus is more on the weekly racing.
Many tracks are trying to get people interested. I-94 Speedway does a Fan Appreciation Night which is $5 general admission (half price) and they have kept their ticket prices the lowest in the area despite running both late models and A mods. Some tracks — Viking Speedway, Madison Speedway and Fiesta City Speedway — do a “Jam the Stands” night, where grandstand admission is free as a sponsor (a lot of times the area corn growers or ag group sponsors the night). Most of the time, the stands are jam packed on those nights, and I think this is a fantastic idea. The key is to make it a good experience so those fans will want to come back.
Many tracks, such as Red River Valley Speedway and River Cities Speedway, have family ticket packages to save money, which is another great idea. River Cities has a family pass that admits two adults and three kids that saves people $15 at the gate. Great gesture. Some tracks offer season passes which would save some money over the long term. Another good move.
Affordability is so important to attract and keep race fans — families in particularly. Plus, they want to see a value — if they pay $12 at the gate are they getting their money’s worth. Is the racing good? Is the show run in an efficient manner? Are the concessions affordable so a family can eat at the races? Those are legit questions.
Meet the Drivers nights are great as I’ve written before and I hope those nights continue. I particularly like Red River Valley Speedway which highlights a class per night and brings the cars right in front of the stands.
There are other valid points made on the Facebook post. We have some tracks that run too many classes which waters down the numbers. That also causes your show to run longer, and a common complaint I hear is shows are too long. As a result, people don’t go down and BS and have a beer after the races in the pits. I remember it was a big deal to get down and talk to drivers after the races. Who wants to do that at 11 p.m. or later?
Some tracks take way too long between races and at intermission. Mark Askelson and Ryan Satter both pointed out that having some kind of entertainment during that down time would sure help. Sometimes track work is inevitable and needs to be done. What is being done to keep fans interested during that time? Most often, I see people playing on their phones, which doesn’t necessarily enhance the atmosphere. What about some live music? A game where fans are in involved?
I don’t think there is one simple solution to put more fans in the seats but maybe it takes a bit of everything listed above. I do know track promoters and drivers would like to see more people at races, which to me betters the sport as a whole. It certainly helps a track’s bottom line.
I’d love to walk into a track this summer and see those big time crowds. It would remind me a bit of the good ol’ days.