Racetrack closures: It’s everyone’s fault

A packed crowd witnesses Southern All-Stars action in 2017.

The East Tennessee racing scene has once again been rocked by the news another beloved racetrack may have seen its last race. Boyd’s Speedway, which sits on the Tennessee-Georgia border, has been fully purchased by a neighboring construction company. That news set off speculation the track would no longer host racing and could be visited by a team of bulldozers. Though no announcement has been made by the new owners, speculation from those close to the situation have been led to believe this could be the case.

If Boyd’s does close for good, it will be the third long-running track in the region to close since 2006. Atomic Speedway closed following the 2006 season. Atomic was one of the jewels of East Tennessee racing hosting huge events throughout its history. Cleveland Speedway closed following the 2016 season. Cleveland also had a rich history of hosting big events and exciting weekly racing action.

Following the news about Boyd’s last week, that re-ignited the debate on social media as to who is to blame when a track closed its gates for the last time. I’m here to say it’s everyone’s fault.

Fans get a bulk of the blame because when they stop showing up, the owner looks to sell. Racetrack owners are usually good businesspeople that do not make it a habit of losing money. The number of fans that attend has a lot to do with whether the promoter makes money or loses money. We see more and more tracks trying to pay the purse by the back gate, that’s to say off the back of the drivers, teams, and others that come with them to help or just to watch. This concept only works for so long and usually ends badly for the promoter.

But why do fans stop coming to the races? There are lots of reasons.

A common complaint is the length of the program many tracks run these days. When the owner relies on the back gate, that usually means more classes are added in hopes of giving the owner a bit of a buffer. In the end, that leads to longer running programs that lead to fans going to another track or staying at home.

Fans stop going to races because the owner does not invest in upkeep of the property. Painted walls are nice, but most fans are interested in good restrooms, cleaning looking concessions areas, and seats that don’t look like they’re 50 years old.

There are a host of other reasons why fans stop coming to a particular racetrack. One reason is a track many run too many late model-type classes – no variety on what they’re seeing. Another reason is online streaming. Why pay $100 for a family of four when they can stay home and watch a year’s worth of racing for that price? Another reason is a track may run a bunch of classes, but those classes only have a few cars in each one. One other reason is lack of advertising or promotion of an event or even their track. Lots of people are moving to East Tennessee. A majority of them don’t know a track is nearby unless the word gets out to them.

When you look at blaming the fans, ultimately it comes down to poor decisions by the track owner, race team, streaming service, lack of promoting, or anything else the fans may point to as a reason not to come. There is so much competition for the attention of race fans and potential race fans. Everything from fishing/spending time on the lake, to major sporting events, to off-roading parks, to those big televisions people like to watch everything they can on.

In reality, anyone involved in racing can be blamed for the decline in race attendance. Blame the engine builders – there are engines are too expensive, drivers quit, and fans quit. Blame the chassis builders – it’s the same as the engine builders. Blame the sanctioning bodies because the cars are so aero dependent no one can pass. Blame the concessions worker – either they’re out of food or they always burn your burger.

The bottom line is every track owner and promoter need to listen to the fans because they will tell you why they won’t come. Sure, there are fans that are malcontents, never happy with anything and would complain if it’s a bright, sunny day. Sure, there are excuses given that are just laughable. If you are involved in racing as a fan, driver, car owner, parts supplier, media person, track owner, track official, scorer, flagman, tech man, or anything else, you are part of the problem. But you can also fix the problem by coming together and build the sport up instead of tearing it down. When we tear it down, our racetracks get torn down.

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