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A Piece of History From Sunset Speedway

October 30, 2010 4 comments

It’s Friday, and I am going to the Nebraska/Missouri game tomorrow with that person who doesn’t want to be named in my blog, so I’ve been feeling good all day.  Then GOTRA good-guy John Ferguson stopped by my office and totally made my day.

On many occasions I have blogged about Sunset Speedway and how I miss the place. From time to time I have mentioned that I wish I had the piece of the grandstand where I used to sit most summer Sunday nights. Well, it seems like when the bleachers were being torn down John Ferguson managed to obtain about a 10’ long chunk.  Being the nice guy he is, John gave me a piece of the bleacher today.

It is probably not the seat I used to sit in-it doesn’t have a slight indentation that an ample butt made from many nights of sitting on it, but it is still a piece of history and I greatly appreciate John’s generosity.

GOTRA is having their annual banquet at the Fremont Airboat Club Saturday, November 6th.  Every driver who made at least two races this year will receive a trophy, and several special awards are handed out, including a sportsmanship award that is voted on by the drivers. Good stuff.

While John did not volunteer this, my questioning of him confirmed that a problem I have had since summer continues.  As far as I am concerned there is no forgetting, no bygones be bygones on this.  I have no intention of playing nice again until an agreement is honored.  If this sounds cryptic to you, it is meant for just one person who will know what I am talking about.

Several days ago I received a nice comment from Eric Anderson about my AARP blog.  It is worth sharing with those of you who don’t read the blog comments, and Jason Orth’s blog is worth checking out too.

Ron,
I was reading an editorial on Jason Orth’s blog and thought of you immediately.  Here is a link:

http://heartlandracenews.blogspot.com/2010/10/crowds-where-were-going-we-dont-need.html

if he is right, we are in big trouble.  My questions would be
A:  how do popularize the sport to the general public?

B:  how does a track or promoter make more money from the front gate rather than the back gate, all while mitigating financial risk? 
Certainly those are business/marketing questions.  But I doubt that dirt racing can thrive with the current philosophy of “who cares about the front stretch stands”.

I recall that sunset was packed to the gills when I was a kid in the late 80’s early 90’s.  I always assumed that it was simply a byproduct of its proximity to Omaha.  Maybe there was more to it than that…
I realize this is a bit off the topic of your post, but figured you wouldn’t mind.   (Personally I cannot stand NASCAR, never could)
Nick

While Nick’s questions deserve some serious thought, I want to respond to his comment about Sunset Speedway’s proximity to Omaha.  Of course being close to the big city helped bring people to the track.  However, the pits and grandstands were packed Sunday night after Sunday night, and this was done with only 2-3 classes, not the 5-6 tracks seem to require today to get half full or less grandstands.  How did Sunset do it?

In no particular order:

-Drivers knew that when you won at Sunset it was a big deal.  That was just as true with Pro-Ams and GN’s as it was with late models. Everyone wanted to race there.

-All drivers were treated with respect, and their questions were at least answered even if their problems could not always be resolved as they hoped.

-Safety was paramount, and Speedy and crew were the best around.

-Sunset officials and other employees felt like they were part of a family.  Many worked at the track for several decades.  This experience certainly helped with the organization of the races, and more importantly, when an employee is treated with respect he treats customers with respect.

-Track prep ensured for racy features with lots of side by side action that brings fans back week after week.

-The track did not view marketing as a side issue. 

-Fans received good value for the $$ they paid for a ticket.  There was a full field and B features in every division, often C features as well.

-Concessions were reasonably priced and of reasonable quality.  Many tracks today seem to have difficulty keep hot items hot and cold items cold.  They also had a signature item-broasted chicken-that appealed to many, many people.

Let’s see, maybe the key to race promoting success is keeping drivers happy, fans entertained, employees content, and sponsors happy. Sunset proved it can be done, unfortunately its heirs seem to have turned their backs on these ingredients.

Thanks for stopping by.

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“Best $8 I Ever Spent”

October 29, 2010 5 comments

I received the following email from my friend Tony Anville this morning.  Tony is on some type of state junket to Texas-he SAYS he is there doing some type of audit for the Nebraska Department of Revenue, but he is also a fan of Jack Roush racing teams and thinks Bill Callahan is a good football coach, so I am not sure how trustworthy he is outside of racing.

“I just had the time of a lifetime.  I took my coworkers up to Texas Motor Speedway for a tour.  It was a blast.  We paid $8 a piece.  We went everywhere.  Into the suites, pit road, garages, victory lane etc….however….

The BEST part…was going around the race track for 3 laps in a Chevy van at 80 mph.  He first drove up on the banking and stopped up high in the turn and let us feel the degree of banking…then jammed it into drive and away he went.  I thought my coworkers may puke.  But they didn’t.  A great time I’d recommend to anyone…especially a race fan. 

Best $8 I’ve ever spent.  (That’s a blog title)

The dirt track looks like I-80 with a higher priced grandstand.”

When he said “took my coworkers,” I believe he meant drove them to the facility.  I can’t picture Tony spending money on his friends. 

I’ve had similar experiences at Daytona, Charlotte, and Sonoma.  It is fun to visit these tracks “up close and personal.” 

Tours such as Tony mentioned are another source of revenue for the big NASCAR tracks.  The email got me thinking about other sources of revenue for NASCAR’s woebegone cousins, local dirt tracks. What are some possible non-traditional sources of revenue for dirt tracks?

Midwest promoters are lucky to get more than twenty nights a year that they can use their track for its intended purpose.  Six months of cool to bone chilling cold temperatures in the fall and winter are followed by occasional rain outs in the spring and summer.  Too many rain outs can make even well run tracks lose money.

One thing tracks have plenty of is land, as acres of land are needed for parking.  I realize that promoters do not want to add additional risk by putting up money for events like concerts, but are there people looking sites to host such events that might lease the track grounds?

What about agricultural events?  Midwest tracks could offer not only land, but concessions for such events too.  How about reunions?  It would require some tracks to upgrade facilities, such as offering electrical hook-ups for SUV’s and showers, but some tracks already offer camping (for a fee) during major events.

Go-karts are very popular; why not add a go-kart track in the infield of a race facility?  That would not require additional lighting or seating or concession facilities?  How about leasing the track to driving schools?  There are driving schools for late models, modifieds, and sprint cars, but most are in warm climates.  Why not lease the track to a driving school for a week?  The track has a ready made source of students and a place for them to test their skills, and the school has the knowledge to pass on to local drivers. 

I know I am not giving this topic the time it deserves today, but I need to wrap up this blog and go home to calm down my wife-yesterday’s wind did a number on a tree in my back yard and we have branches in power lines that the Fremont Department of Utilities need to remove, and big limbs that a tree service is going to cut down.  So, I am off, but I would like to hear from you about other potential sources of revenue for dirt tracks.

I suppose Tony will bill be for using his title suggestion, but he’ll just have to do with my thanks.  And, thanks to you for stopping by.

AARP To Sponsor A Hendricks Motorsports Team

October 28, 2010 1 comment

AARP is going to sponsor a Hendricks Motorsports team next year according to the Charlotte Observer.  I’m imagine all of you under 50 are laughing and saying “yeah, Mark Martin,” but you would be wrong.  Not Earnhardt Junior either, though his losing race after race is getting old.  And not Jimmie Johnson, though a fifth straight championship by the 48 team would really be old. An AARP anti-hunger campaign is going to be the primary sponsor on the 24 car of Jeff Gordon for most races in the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup season.  After years of sponsoring Gordon, DuPont will have a smaller role next year, though both DuPont and PepsiCo will be the primary sponsor of the 24 car in several races.

I know that causes have adorned cars for years, but never before as a primary sponsor.  I congratulate AARP leaders on making this step and hope it works out well.  Yes, I am a card carrying member of AARP, though I am not retired and don’t see that happening anytime in the near future.  There is some speculation that Walmart may somehow be involved with this effort, not necessarily as a sponsor for Gordon, but contributing to the anti-hunger campaign.

Speaking of Gordon, does it surprise anyone that he and Kurt Busch have very different points of view on their incident at Martinsville on Sunday?  Busch said that Gordon had taken out the 2 car at Martinsville on numerous occasions, including when Rusty Wallace drove that car.  He also said that he didn’t mean to hit Gordon as hard as he did.  Yeah, right.  Gordon merely stated that Busch “has a short fuse.” 

Brian Vickers has been cleared by doctors to race in the 2011 season, but has not yet been cleared by NASCAR.  I know drivers live to race and are willing to accept almost any risk to do so, but the list of drivers who have had bad things happen after returning from medical leave is a long one.

With the 2010 season winding down, I am finding my email inbox full of notices from various tours talking about the upcoming season.  Today I received an email from the O’Reilley All Star Circuit of Champions regarding their 2011 Winternationals.  Yes, I do receive emails about sprint cars.  Anyway, the ORASCOC will kick off their season with a $10,000 to win show at Sylvania, Georgia on February 3rd.  The next two nights they will be racing at Ocala, Florida.  I’m sure all the winged wonder fans can’t wait for the yellow and red lights to start flashing.

Help Me If You Can I’m Feeling Down

October 27, 2010 2 comments

Hundreds of millions of dollars are being wasted on political ads.  Both political parties do it, and special interest groups have decided we need to listen to their Tommy-rot all the time.  We can’t escape this drivel even when elections are over.  With all the money spent on this misinformation we could come up with programs to help feed the hungry, house the homeless, educate our youth, and improve our health care system.

I was going to add that we could use some of the money to help dirt track promoters get a clue, but we are only talking hundreds of millions here, I am not sure that would be enough to do the job with promoters.  I keep thinking that is supposed to be the job of RPM, Race Promoters Monthly, and its sessions in Reno and Daytona Beach, but maybe those really are like Congressional junkets-vacations at taxpayer’s expense, since the promoter can write off such a trip, and not much good seems to come from them.

I wish I could attend one of these RPM sessions to see what actually is being done to help improve the sport we love.  I have emailed RPM about just that, and received no reply. Alas, it won’t happen-you either have to be a promoter to attend the seminars as top secret information being discussed should not be provided fans.  I had thought of going as a vendor, but if that wouldn’t get me into the seminars, why bother?

I am serious in wanting to understand these people.  Yes, I do attack them on a regular basis, especially when what they do has no plausible merit, not even putting money in their pockets. I don’t especially enjoy attacking promoters, but I feel as a fan I have a right to speak up about what is wrong.  I would gladly praise any promoter I feel “get’s it.”  I have praised US 30, Deer Creek, and Tri-City among others recently.  Time and again I have quoted Craig Kelley and the late Mike Swims-they both got it.  I just want others to get it too.  Is that too much to ask?

My good friend Stan Cisar commented about yesterday’s blog and stated I should remember my friends and not “cut off my nose to spite my face” by not attending local races.  I have made many friends in racing and they are all important to me.  I hate not going to the track to see them, but the flip side of that is I hate endorsing something I don’t agree with by showing up at these tracks.  Hopefully I can see these friends elsewhere-actually my first choice would be that promoters would actually change, but if you believe that will happen I have a cool bridge in San Francisco that I will sell you cheap.

As a fan, the 9 hour shows, back gate classics, Belleville 100’s, and dueling dumb a—- of the 2010 season have left me depressed.  I wish I saw a brighter 2011 season a few months down the highway, but I don’t.  Right now I am looking for some kind of miracle to guide me away from the dark side.

Thanks for stopping by.

A 9 HOUR Show. Are You Kidding Me????

October 26, 2010 9 comments

I have to admit that I am very glad I did not bother to make the trip to Junction Motor Speedway for the Cool McCool 100 this weekend.  An unnamed party says I owe him one since he “talked some sense into me,” talking me out of going.  He told me the shows were going to be long with lots of cautions and he was right.  From emails I have been receiving Saturday’s show started an hour late and lasted over 9 hours, and all I have been able to find out about Sunday’s show is that it was more than six hours long. I am not sure, but at its worst I don’t think I-80 Speedway ever had a 9 hour show.

Apparently some on dirtdrivers.com would claim I am not a true race fan (my argument would be that I have been going to races for 55 years, so tell me what I am if I am not a race fan), but I feel there is absolutely no excuse for a 9 hour show.  That is back gate promoting at its worst, and few people are going to spend that much time in the grandstands-from one email, there were no more than 25 people in the stands for the last feature on Saturday.  To me, the sport dying has nothing to do with the economy, but quite a lot to do with promoters putting on shows like this. In all my years of watching races, this is the first 9 hour show I ever heard of.

I am sick and tired of people saying “if you can do better, built your own track.”  That is pure bull shit.  I do not understand these apologists.  When I pay $15-$20-$25 or more I have only a few reasonable expectations, and sitting for 9 hours isn’t one of them. Where else but in dirt track auto racing do people find it acceptable for an event to start an hour late?  Where else but in racing is an hour intermission OK?  Where else but in grassroots racing can Curly, Larry, and Moe line up events and no one cares that people sitting in the grandstands are ready to tear their hair out? It isn’t rocket science running a race.  It is called organization.

For 10 years I ran a 4 day event that involved 250 volunteers, over a thousand players and coaches, and several thousand fans.  As many as 108 basketball games were played at just two sites.  No games started late, no games finished late.  People only had to glance at a program to know what was going on, when.  It took five other people besides me to make sure we did what people expected of us. It is time for dirt tracks to get all of there people on the same page-have plans for every show, communicate them to every track worker, and when problems arise, discuss them after the races so similar problems don’t happen time after time.

If you say a race is going to start at 6:00 p.m., start it at 6:00 p.m., not at 6:30 p.m. or 7:00 p.m.  The track prep/weather excuse has been beat to death.  How do some tracks manage to start races on time every week?  I don’t think the weather hand dealt these tracks is any better than the weather hand dealt the tracks that chronically begin programs late.

Inmates don’t run a prison, and neither should drivers dictate race policy.  All tracks should have the “bring out the yellow and you go to the pits” rule in every class but the feature class and for every race but the feature race.  The feature class and all feature races in support classes should have a two caution rule.  If a yellow comes out and a driver discovers he has a flat, he has the time it takes to line up the race plus 2 courtesy laps to get it fixed.  After that the green flies, and the driver does NOT go back on the track.

There is no reason why following races can not be in the staging area while the current race is being run, and as soon as the track is clear from the current race get the next race going.  Listening to the Boone Supernationals this year, that track had the races lined up and cars for the next race were on the track within seconds of a checkered flag flying.  If Boone can do it with 600 cars racing, there is NO reason why every track can’t do this. Raceceivers and transponders need to be used in every class at every track. With transponders the exact position of all cars is known.  With raceceivers this can be communicated rapidly.  Also, enough of drivers refusing to line up properly for restarts.  Get to the position you are told or be black flagged and done for the night.

I do not agree with long intermissions.  I actually don’t agree with short intermissions either, but find 15 minutes or shorter tolerable, if the first race after the intermission is on the track when those 15 minutes are up.  Most tracks are now racing 4-5-6 classes for almost every show.  To me that means that a driver has the events of at least 3 other classes plus a brief intermission to make adjustments necessary for feature races, and that is plenty of time.  It seems like most drivers and crew members are just talking with other drivers and crews during intermission anyway, and they can do that over a beer after the races.

If long intermissions happen because a track needs beer sales that bad, hire a couple of vendors to hawk beer in the stands.  Fans will appreciate it. I’ve never seen anyone wanting a beer waiting until there was no action on the track anyway, so concession sales is not an excuse. 

Keep fans informed if there is a problem clearing the track after a wreck.  Give them an estimate on how long it will be before racing resumes.  They can go to the concession stand or restroom during this time. If a wreck takes 20 minutes to clean up there is no need for intermission that night.

Any show that lasts over 4 hours will have people walking out before the races are finished.  Why don’t promoters understand this is a VERY bad thing?  Fans pay to see all the races, not 3/4ths of them because a track can’t get its act together.  A show that starts at 6:00 p.m. should always be over by 10:00 p.m.  There are too many GOOD entertainment opportunities for people to put up with long, drawn out shows, and they are not putting up with them.  People are and have been voting with their pocketbooks, and their votes have been for other forms of entertainment. 

I am beyond disappointed that promoters in this area just don’t get it.  My racing schedule for 2011 looks like some weekly shows at US 30 and traveling out of state for specials.  I’ll leave the five hour, six hour, nine hour shows to the “real” race fans on dirtdrivers.com

Thanks for stopping by. And to the unnamed party who I owe one, I won’t make this weekend’s suggestions again.

Maybe the NASCAR race only seemed to take longer than a certain back-gate classic

October 25, 2010 Leave a comment

Was it just me, or did the 500 lap race from Martinsville take longer than a night of the Cornhusker Classic at I-80 Speedway?  The race had started when I went to the Wellness Center to work out.  I worked out for an hour, came home, and found out the race wasn’t even half over.  Like so many other NASCAR Sprint Cup races, this one needs to be shortened, and won’t be because that would mean fewer commercials and less money the TV networks would pay for rights.

I am not sure which seemed more unlikely, Earnhardt Jr. leading the race or Ken Schrader leading the race.  I didn’t know Schrader was even running any Sprint Cup races, so I guess the nod goes to him not pitting on a caution and taking over the lead, and then nearly causing a series of wrecks as cars sped by him inside and outside.

Nice run by Mark Martin.  As Rusty Wallace mentioned, there are times at certain tracks where a banged up car actually runs faster than one that hasn’t been in a wreck, and this was one of them.  It is always fun to watch Martin being interviewed after running well at a race.  He actually sounds enthusiastic, unlike Jimmie Johnson.

I am not a Denny Hamlin fan, but at least he is keeping Chad Knaus and Johnson from already counting their bonus money for a fifth straight Sprint Cup Series championship.  I would rather have Kevin Harvick win the championship than Hamlin or Johnson.  With Talladega coming up, anything can happen, but it seems like Johnson is able to cause wrecks at NASCAR’s biggest track, but somehow keep away from doing his car any harm.  I don’t want anyone to get hurt, but Johnson finishing about 35th next Sunday would be OK with me.

Finally, forget what I have said in the recent past about Kurt Busch not being quite the a$$hole his brother Kyle is.  He is as big an a$$hole as Kyle.  Yes, Jeff Gordon bumped him out of the way to pass him today.  The proper response would have been to bump Gordon out of the way in return, not spin him out, run him into the wall, and destroy whatever chances he had for both a decent finish and maybe a championship too.

No nap during the race, but like I said, I worked out for an hour.  When I came home there were a few tasks my wife had me do as well.  And still the race seemed to go on forever.

Thanks for stopping by.

NASCAR Undercover

October 23, 2010 Leave a comment

NASCAR may actually get some decent ratings this weekend.  No, the Martinsville race will probably be just like the other recent races, down 25% or more from last year.  The ratings hit will be when NASCAR exec Steve Phelps goes on the show Undercover Boss on Sunday night.  I have watched this show several times and it is pretty good for a reality show.  Unfortunately it was felt that Brian France would be too recognizable to do the show.  That is too bad.  I think France needs an unfiltered sense of what really is from fans and teams. It will be interesting to watch to see if any real changes come from this venture.  See below for an article:

http://www.scenedaily.com/news/articles/sprintcupseries/NASCAR_executive_Steve_Phelps_goes_undercover_for_CBS_hit_show.html

As I mentioned, NASCAR ratings during the Chase have dropped significantly in comparison to last year.  TV and NASCAR executives “don’t have an answer,” i.e. they don’t have a clue.  Some writers claim that NASCAR ratings are a result of leaving their roots, taking away races from tracks in the southeast U.S. and moving them to places like Chicago and Los Angeles.  Others complain about the cookie cutter 1 ½ mile tracks that too many races are run on.  Constant commercials irritate the hell out of me, and so do inane announcers and analysts who risk censure if they stray from the party line. Jimmie Johnson’s seeming ease in winning championship after championship can’t help ratings.

I think probably all of the above are contributing factors in ratings decline, but put all of these problems under the heading of “lack of trust.”  I believe fans do not trust this generation of the France family, certainly Brian France, to do right by them.  They believe greed has overcome common sense.  NASCAR needs to prove otherwise for fans to resume old habits, and it seems NASCAR is more like a mile long train just getting under way, than a race car with pedal to the floor at Daytona when it comes to making any changes.

Barring any unforeseen change of circumstances, like winning the lottery, it appears my racing season is over for 2010.  Driving by myself to York for a daytime race just didn’t seem like a lot of fun when I thought about it.  It looks like Martinsville and Undercover Boss on TV will have to be my racing fix this weekend.

Thanks for stopping by.