With Financial Risk, Specials Need Support to Survive at Racetracks
One common thing I hear from drivers and fans alike is the desire to see racetracks host more specials.
This could include a special night with an expanded purse for a particular class or a tour, such as the Wissota Late Model Challenge Series or the Advantage RV Modified Tour, for example. Or even a national tour like the USMTS, World of Outlaws or Lucas Oil. Or even more local like the NLRA Late Models, for example.
As a fan I love these kind of events. The Challenge Series and RV Tour put on very good shows at pretty much any track they go to. And I'm really hoping drivers support the Steffes Wissota Street Stock series which I think could be a huge boost for that class in the region. The Dakota Modified Classic Tour is another that has put on a great show.
So why aren't there more special events at a lot of tracks? My theory is this -- without a sponsor or sponsors to cover a large part of the purse, some tracks can't afford financially to lose money if the event bombs. What I mean by bomb is a small car count or in most cases, a very sparse crowd, which is usually the worst of the two. There is a great deal of financial risk involved if you don’t have sponsors.
Back in 1999 I was at a track in western Wisconsin that hosted a mid-week modified special that paid $1,000 to win. There were around 20-25 cars if I recall, some very good drivers, and then I looked to the stands. I counted and there was less than 100 people there. A good chance the track lost a good deal of money that night. That track now sits idle, by the way.
I talked to one person involved in a more regional touring series a while back, and he made an interesting comment: a lot of tracks in smaller rural communities don't have the money to host events with a larger purse with a sponsor stepping up to cover a majority of the purse. In many cases, this individual is correct.
Smaller tracks in rural areas are more limited financially in a lot of cases -- less population to draw fans from and less potential sponsors to offset increased purses. Some facilities simply don’t have a large enough seating capacity to attract the crowd you need.
Let's use a late model special as an example (generic, no series or sanction and in this case, sponsorless). You are paying $2,000 to win and $250 to start a 24-car feature. You'd pay $1,500 for second and $1,000 for third and decrease it down the line. That's a purse over $10,000 for one class.
Let's say you get 24 cars with three people per car, including driver. That's a little more than $2,100 in pit fees. Or about a fifth of a $10,000 purse.
You need to make that up in the grandstand. We will use $20 as the adult ticket price. Let's say the weather is lousy and you get 200 paying adults. That’s about $4,000. That’s not counting student tickets, let’s say that brings in $1,000. So with pit fees and gate, you’ve covered about $7,500 of the $10,000 purse. That would be a loss of about $2,500 just on the late models.
Many tracks can’t absorb that can kind of hit financially. As a result many shy away from hosting tours or series.
We are fortunate in this area to have some great special events — the World of Outlaws come to the area a few times a year, the John Seitz Memorial at River Cities Speedway is a fantastic event, you have the Dakota Cat Mod Shootout and the Sanders Mod Tour at Norman County Raceway and Red River Valley Speedway; the Advantage RV Tour comes to Viking and I-94 Speedways; the NLRA is at several tracks in the region; the Dakota Classic Mod Tour comes to Jamestown each year and a newer event that was a big hit, the Dakota Dream, is at Sheyenne Speedway. As a fan it’s so nice to have options to see events like that.
But in general, those events seem less frequent than say, five years ago.
It’s important as fans to support special events. That means showing up. It’s also important drivers show up and support these events. It’s also important to thank sponsors who put up money for increased purses for these events. It goes back to a recent blog about how it takes all of us. Otherwise, they will go away.
Just some food for thought when thinking of special events at racetracks.