*Turn 2 Blog is a regular feature on InsideCircleTrack.com. Here, site operators Michael Moats and Richard Allen take turns offering their thoughts on the NASCAR and pavement short track racing topics of the day.
In this edition of the Turn 2 Blog we will be discussing five topics regarding the improvement of the fan experience at local short tracks.
We are happy to be joined by Lenny Batycki of the who hosts the popular “PRN at the Track” weekly radio show for the Performance Racing Network. Also, Batycki will serve as the track announcer for this weekend’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 NASCAR race at the Atlanta Motor Speedway.
1. Obviously, not every race track in America can have the budgets of those operated by Speedway Motorsports, Inc. to dedicate toward improving the fan experience. But there are some cost effective things that all tracks can do. What is the one thing you would most like to see incorporated into the fan experience at all race tracks?
Lenny Batycki: “If momma’s not happy, then no one is happy.”
The women’s rest rooms need to be genuinely clean and kept clean throughout the event. That doesn’t take a bunch of money.
Alcohol free areas. Again not a bunch of money.
A new fan greeter that is positioned at the front gate as fans come in. This should be someone who is open and friendly. New fans need to feel as if they are a part of the experience. The greeter can answer questions, offer advice, and do many things to help bring the new fan back and keep the old fans feeling appreciated. This position can be done by anyone with love and general understanding of the track and racing. A lot of our older fans may be interested in trading their ticket expense for being a greeter. Yes, the promoter loses that fan’s ticket profit but a new fan that returns to see the next race and races after that is worth that price.
Richard Allen: In previous segments such as this I have mentioned overall cleanliness and maintenance so I will go in a different direction this time. I would like to see tracks incorporate fan dedicated areas in which a couple of race cars could be shown off with information posted that would illustrate the differences among the classes that race at that particular track, be it pavement or dirt. Often times I believe fans, particularly casual fans, are confused by the similar appearances of the cars and wonder why there are different divisions of machines that look the same. Having a couple of demo models to point out the differences would serve fans well. These would also provide great photo areas from which fans could send out pictures on social media which would help promote the track. Many teams and drivers have older cars that they would love to loan for a couple of weeks here and there to show off for the fans, and of course, the sponsors on those cars would love it as well.
Michael Moats: For me, it starts with general maintenance and upkeep. If fans come to a track and see peeling paint, parking areas not mowed, or restrooms in bad shape, they tend to think the owner doesn’t care and they will take their money elsewhere.
I would like to see some type of interaction areas, especially for the kids. I go to plenty of sporting events where there are areas for the kids to be entertained and have fun before the event starts. NASCAR tracks are doing some of this. Your regular Saturday short track isn’t doing this as much.
2. I recently saw that the Carolina Panthers have taken steps to make WiFi available to all fans in Bank of America Stadium. Again, most race tracks don’t have the budget to make the changes that an NFL team can make, but there could be hot spots placed around the grandstands in certain areas to boost WiFi capability. Is this something tracks need to look into?
Michael: I would say yes to this. But I also know a good number of tracks are in such remote locations that getting something set up for a WiFi system or even a cellular signal booster is nearly impossible. But I do know some tracks that have WiFi they use for their scoring and employees, yet they don’t have anything for the fans to use. I think that is a disservice to their fans.
Richard: Yes, yes, and yes again. This can be done with three or four of the devices that can be purchased at any Wal-Mart and would do considerable good for the track. I know some are concerned about live video streams being posted to social media but that is something that is going to happen regardless. Not only would fans be more willing to post photos on social media from the track which would serve as free promotion but it would also serve the purpose of providing fans with something to do during the down times in which classes are coming on and off the track or track maintenance is being performed. And more, it would help the media get the word out about the track as well.
Lenny: Everyone is “connected” today and promoters have to understand that WiFi is an expense that will cost them just as much or more if they don’t offer it than if they do. Think of how much it costs any promoter to have a score broad that only tells the top five numbers. Then think of how little WiFi costs and how much more information MyRacePass or RaceMonitor gives the fans if they can connect to WiFi. If fans are connected at the races to the track’s social media then the track can communicate and promote to the fans more regularly before, during, and after the event.
3. Track announcers play a vital role in the operation of any race track. Provide one example of something every track announcer must do and one example of something track announcers need to avoid doing.
Lenny: Sell stuff. Announcers are promoters top sales people. Speak when there aren’t cars on the track. Learn to “pitch” the ideas about being hungry or thirsty rather than just saying go get food X and drink Y. And stop saying “concession” stand. No one every thinks “I want to concess”. Rather, use “refreshment” stand and “souvenir” stand instead.
Speak to the first time fan but don’t talk down to them. It can be as simple as, if you are speaking about a particular car, then say where on the track that is and what car car that is not just “Joe Smith tries to make a move on John Jones.” Rather say, “going down the back straight, the yellow number 32 car driven by Joe Smith tries to make a move on the red 78 car of John Jones. Color is the first thing your eye notices.
Richard: The thing I would most like to hear from track announcers is providing useful information such as qualifying results or heat race lineups at times when there isn’t so much noise. Often times announcers will talk during qualifying or heat races and then as soon as that activity ends they go silent with fans having little idea what they just watched take place. And the thing I would hope announcers will avoid is being too repetitive. I really don’t think fans have to be told to visit the concession stand as often as they are.
Michael: I’d like to see announcers offer explanations about the varying classes, especially if a track runs to or more Late Model-type classes. Maybe going through the night’s format would be helpful for the fans too.
One thing I think they need to avoid is yelling as though they’re calling a WWE match. I’m not saying don’t get excited and the voice shouldn’t be elevated, but don’t sound like the lead singer for a trash metal band.
4. Are weekly race tracks doing enough to promote themselves and their competitors?
Richard: Most of the racers I know love being the star of the show and most would relish the idea of getting to take their cars to a grocery store parking lot or a local eatery to show it off at some time during the week leading up to a big event. And more, this would give fans a chance to interact with their heroes in a more relaxed setting than at the race track. Further, the opportunity to attract those who have never been to a race track exists. If a child sees a race car parked in the parking lot of a grocery store, they are going to insist that a parent take them to see it and that opens all sorts of doors for promotion.
Michael: I don’t think they do. But I’ll admit I’m guilty of that being associated with some tracks in the area. It is harder these days because it’s hard to reach the general public since newspapers and local TV stations have almost no coverage of local racing. They have to take to social media and hope the general public will find it. But they can get out into the community to promote their track and their drivers.
Lenny: Use all forms of communication from word of mouth to your website and multiple social media outlets. If you want to be heard in today’s world, you have to make noise in a bunch of different directions.
If you aren’t getting new fans then you probably aren’t using enough channels of communication.
“But we post on Facebook and aren’t growing our business.” I hear promoters saying this over and over. A track’s Facebook page can be like having its racing promo posters up only in race shops of drivers already coming to your event. Your track’s Facebook page is followed primarily by people that already had an interest in that track’s events before they followed it. Additionally, the ways Facebook loads what each of us see on our timeline can push a track’s Facebook page post off of a large number of their followers timelines.
Tracks need to use more channels. Twitter, Instagram, internet banner ads, radio ads, posters in track sponsors businesses and other retail outlets can all be used. Also ask teams, drivers, fans, and employees to share social media and talk to their friends about the upcoming race.
5. A look around the grandstands and pit areas of most local race tracks will reveal that the average age of current fans is leaning toward the older side. What can race tracks do to entice younger fans to come to their shows not just once but often?
Lenny: The new fan is first and foremost a novice to our sport. They don’t know a Super Mod from a Super Stock from a Super Late Model. That can be a super big problem. If a new fan doesn’t understand something about what they are seeing the very first time they attend, that may also be their last time. Places where we feel comfortable, we return to more often. Clean rest rooms, friends we make at the races, understanding the unique things about the world of racing, and being connected via the internet to the world are things the new fans want. If you don’t have all of this as a promoter of any venue, other venues that do have all of this will have a great advantage in gaining those new fans that didn’t grow up at your track.
Michael: First, I think tracks have to get them when they’re at a young age. That’s how I got interested in the sport. But even if a young person is only in their early to mid teens the first time they visit a track, anything hip and happening will immediately get their attention – whether it be the music over the PA system, interactive displays or activities, or intermission games or contests for them to participate in. A promoter cannot always showcase just the things they like, they need to showcase all kinds of things that appeal to a broader base.
Richard: Attracting younger fans is a must if local racing is to survive beyond the current generation. Previously I mentioned the need for increased WiFi hot spots at race tracks. This would do wonders for getting younger folks to show up. Movie theaters, restaurants, and retail stores have already figured this out. The competition for the younger generation’s attention is fierce, and as a high school teacher, I feel like I have a basic understanding of how they operate. They do not like to feel as if their time is being wasted and WiFi would help fill the void of dead time at the race track. Also, playing some upbeat music, and it can be some older stuff that the more mature in the crowd would enjoy as well, works wonders for lifting the spirits of the young and the old.
Also, dirt racing fans can check out InsideDirtRacing.com for more racing content.