It’s an intimidating time to host a sportsman drag race. Whether as a track owner, manager, or independent promoter, the current climate certainly lends itself to some sleepless nights on the part of an event organizer! I can empathize. In addition to my own 2+ decades behind the wheel I also foray into small-time event promotion once annually, hosting a door-car only bracket race at my home track each summer.
The task is more daunting today than ever. Diesel fuel has skyrocketed to prices we’ve never previously seen. Parts necessary to go racing, if they’re even available, have risen in cost. Traction compound is a scarce commodity at best. The cost of living in general has risen to the point of making even the more financially secure competitors scrutinize both their travel schedule and their investment in racing as a whole. In short, “Times is tough!”
So I think it’s natural, as an event promoter, to go on the defensive – to venture into self-preservation mode. Using my own example, when planning our event for this summer, I’ll admit to having thoughts of cutting purses, removing the “guarantee” from our flyer, and several varieties of added “incentives” to our event that, in reality wouldn’t accomplish anything except adding expenses for our racers in an effort to cover my own rear end. While those options can be enticing, I would argue that they are not the answer. While it may not be realistic to grow our audience and customer base in these times, sacrificing value in the name of limiting risk is a surefire method to diminish attendance in both the short and long term.
In lies the “problem” with the sportsman drag racing/bracket racing revenue model: for most sportsman/bracket events, the sole source of revenue comes from the racers in competition. Entry fees (along with buybacks and related gimmicks) alone are responsible for not only paying the purse, but also compensating track employees, covering related expenses, AND (hopefully) turning some sort of profit (and let’s be clear here… speaking from experience, promoting and running an event is A LOT of work – I’m a firm believer that track owners, operators, and promoters who invest that work and risk their own money to post prize money deserve to turn a profit!).
It’s a business model that can thrive when times are good, when racers are prevalent and willing to travel. Today’s climate does not necessarily provide those ingredients.
The key to success as a sportsman drag racing promoter, I’ve argued for years, is to transcend that conventional business model. While I’m sure there are a variety of creative methods to create multiple streams of revenue, there are three that stand out to me. Two are obvious, one is a bit more controversial (and to this point, essentially unproven within our industry).
Sponsorship is the obvious first option. Local businesses and industry manufacturers alike see real value to affiliation with race tracks and events. As racers, I think we can all attest to some level of affinity to the businesses that support our endeavors. We’d rather eat at the pizza shack down the road that has a sign at the facility than the one next door that’s never acknowledged the race track exists. Similarly, all things being equal, we’re often more likely to purchase a crankshaft from the manufacturer that title-sponsor’s the event, than we are the manufacturer who does not. As long as promoters can think a bit outside the proverbial box to truly provide value, outside sponsorship is typically a win-win-win situation. It provides value for the partner/sponsor. It creates additional revenue for the race (profit). And it adds value to the racer, because it allows more of the racer investment (ie. Entry Fee) to be reflected in the purse and/or presentation of the event. And by making the event more valuable to the racer, guess what? More racers tend to show up. That’s good for both the promoters, and the sponsors. It’s a virtuous cycle!
The second option is spectators. Wait, what? Spectators at a bracket race? While we’re all spoiled by Nitro Funny Cars and high-winding Pro Stockers, the truth is that the average bracket car is pretty engaging to the typical human being within our target demographic. The cars are loud, fast, and often do cool wheelies. Better yet, while most sportsman events don’t feature a showman at the level of John Force, bracket racers have incredible stories. Tell those stories! Build up racers that are easy for fans to love (or easy for fans to hate)! Get spectators involved in the action: explain what they’re watching and provide a reason to cheer for a particular driver or car. The little race that we put on is unique, because the host facility is located in a rural area that admittedly doesn’t have a ton of competition for the entertainment dollar… But we PACK the place year after year for the Saturday night “show” of our bracket race. In addition to the typical on-track action, we have a wheelie contest. We have a burnout contest. We have a fan engagement program that provides spectators with a real rooting interest (if their driver wins, they earn a prize). We invest a small amount of money advertising (which is easier and more impactful than ever thanks to social media), and reap the rewards. Once again, everyone wins: racers see more of their investment reflected in the purse (because a large portion of profit is derived from the spectators), and they get to race in front of a crowd (which just adds to the cool-factor: I don’t care who you are!). Sponsors get more visibility. Fans get a great show. And the race track and/or promoter enjoys added revenue (from both the gate and the concession stand).
The third option, admittedly, is essentially untested within our market, and is (fairly) the most questioned… possibly even the most objectionable. But it’s coming (like it or not). And if done right, I’m in the camp that believes that it could be great for our sport. It’s gambling. If local racing took on more of a horse track model – very dependent on spectator engagement and action, there is potential for significant revenue streaming in from sources beyond racer wallets. Are there logistical concerns? Are there competitive fairness and equity concerns? Of course. I won’t claim to be smart enough to figure those out. In fact, simply trying to wrap my mind around it gives me a headache. But there’s undeniable potential. And given the quickly changing landscape surrounding the legality of sports betting and online gambling, it’s safe to say that someone is working on this. In fact, I can say so with certainty: I’ve got a good friend who is working in this direction. I know he’ll face some resistance, but I hope he succeeds, and I know that if he does, he’ll do so with the best interest of our sport in mind!
My point to this rambling is to encourage track owners, operators, and promoters to think beyond the traditional sportsman drag racing revenue model. Like most ideas, the best time to move on these strategies was probably a decade ago. The next best time? Now.