There is most definitely a difference between a race and an event. I think there is a tendency in racing to believe that the amount of the purse the drivers are competing for makes a race an event. I don’t think that is always true.
I just came back from the World Finals at The Dirt Track at Charlotte which is always a spectacular event. A payment of $15,000-to-win was on the line in the Thursday and Friday nights while $25,000 was the reward for winning on Saturday. There have been many races on the schedule in 2023 that have paid more, and in some cases, much more. Still, many of those races were just that, races.
So what’s the difference?
An event has energy and excitement even before the cars ever hit the track. The advanced buildup paves the way for a great night, or nights. That, of course, comes from the promotion that takes place in the days and weeks leading into the date of the show. Giving fans a reason to be there early and to be excited about being there should always be the goal. Simply offering more money to the winner isn’t enough to do that because, ultimately, the fans aren’t going to get any of that money.
Fans are there for the enjoyment of the sport and to be entertained. For some, the racing in and of itself is enough. But those fans are becoming fewer and fewer.
One thing that can create a buzz is to make it known what drivers will be there. Few aspects of a well promoted event get fans more excited than knowing for sure that their favorite stars will be racing. And knowing that might also go a long way toward encouraging them to buy a pit pass which generates more money for the promoter and also allows fans greater access to those drivers. This goes a long way toward creating a stir well before the first car hits the track.
Getting fans there early helps to build energy for the racing that will come later by causing people to think there is a reason to be there. It’s similar trick to that used by restaurants in which they have small waiting areas to make it look like there is high demand to get in. Along that same line, when fans roll into the parking area and see that there are a number of cars already parked it sends a psychological message that ‘this a great place to be’.
Offer incentives to get fans on the premises as soon as possible. Something like 2-for-1 hot dog specials if purchased before the start of hot laps or have a couple of the local fan favorite drivers pull their cars up to the front gate so fans can meet them and pose for photos with the cars.
When a major series is racing, it’s easy to know who the regulars are. There’s a reason why the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series used the format it did this past season- so fans would know which big stars would roll through the gates. It never hurts to be able to promote that the likes of Ricky Thornton Jr., Jonathan Davenport and Hudson O’Neal will be on hand.
But just having the series followers on hand is not enough.
To encourage non regulars to come on a night in which a national tour or even a regional series is coming to town, offer a free pit pass to the first five or ten drivers to respond on the track’s most visible social media page that they plan to race. That will provide a little extra incentive for the competitors who might be on the fence about racing and will cause fans to visit the page for confirmation of which previously unexpected drivers will show up.
But what about the nights when a track doesn’t have a major series on the schedule?
Promoters can always build up the rivalries between local drivers in their regular classes to get fans interested in coming to see what will happen next, especially if there was a run-in the previous week or if a points battle is brewing. Also, if one driver in a particular class is winning often, put up a bounty for the competitors to shoot for which might even draw drivers from further away and will increase interest among the potential patrons.
Bowman-Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, NC really leans heavily into the rivalry aspect(perhaps a bit too much) but the results cannot be denied. The stands at that football stadium turned race track are filled with energized fans on most Saturday nights.
The energy has to be built before the racing starts. And once cars do hit the track, it is important to run an efficient program so that the excitement level doesn’t die down. If there is a class that commonly has a lot of cautions, do not run that division before the premier feature, and thus, kill the buzz.
And speaking of creating a buzz, building a younger fanbase is essential if this sport is to thrive in the future. High energy music and activities that allow for fan involvement can be beneficial for attracting a younger clientele.
Of course, not every racing event can be like the World Finals with three major divisions in action at the same time but that doesn’t mean that every time a track opens its gates there can’t be an event instead of just a race. If you are a track owner or the promoter of a track or a series, you are doing something you love and have a passion for. Let that show in the “events” you put on.
Please consider also reading:
Also, NASCAR and pavement racing fans can check out InsideCircleTrack.com