Minter: NASCAR Needs To Go Where Fans Go
By Rick Minter | Senior Writer
In these times of declining attendance at NASCAR races, my mind always wanders back to some of the great short track promoters I’ve known over the years.
They weren’t necessarily flashy. They didn’t try to grab attention with fake April Fools Day press releases and controversial billboard advertisements. They just understood their product and their audience.
And all the great ones were fans first and foremost. They didn’t get wrapped up in rules controversies and such. They watched their races from the grandstands, just like their paying customers. When the show wasn’t moving along at a reasonable clip, they got bored just like the rest, and they did something about it. When it was exciting, they were on the edge of their seat just like everyone else.
The late Hence Pollard, founder of Senoia Raceway just outside Atlanta, was one of the great ones. He carved a 3/8-mile clay oval out of his farm, mostly because he enjoyed dirt track racing. And he did everything he could to make sure everyone else enjoyed it just as much as he did.
Mickey Swims, of Dixie and Rome Speedways in Georgia, works right up until race time preparing his race tracks. But once the races start, he takes a seat up top, and even after all the years he’s been in the business, he’s as big a fan as you’ll ever see.
The late Joe Lee Johnson, winner of the inaugural World 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway in 1960 and the 1959 champion of NASCAR’s Convertible Division, made his living as owner and promoter of Cleveland Speedway, a dirt track in Tennessee.
One night I ran into Johnson at a dirt track in North Georgia. Actually we were standing in line to get into the men’s room. As we chatted, Joe Lee lowered his voice to a whisper and revealed one of the trade secrets of successful race promotion.
“Listen to what the men are talking about in here,” he said. “This is where you can find out what your fans really think of your race track.”
I have no way of knowing what goes on in the ladies side of the facilities, but when men are standing at the sink or the hand dryer or wherever, they tend to speak their minds, even to total strangers.
Johnson went on to say that he paid attention to the rest room chatter at his track, and made adjustments accordingly.
Atlanta Motor Speedway president Ed Clark is one of the modern-day promoters who spends considerable time visiting with fans in their element. He does it in the campgrounds at his track and at other tracks like Bristol Motor Speedway. He uses what he learns there to make the changes he can make at his track. Those campground visits have helped him understand that for many fans today, the overall adventure of the race weekend is more important than the race itself. And that’s one of the big reasons he’s turning his track’s Labor Day Cup race into an event that has a “state fair” kind of feel.
But at some point, NASCAR needs to figure out what its fan base wants on the race track and then try to deliver it.
It’s time some of the big movers and shakers put on t-shirts and ball caps, load up the cooler, buy a ticket and take in a race weekend just like the average fan. They might even consider attending some other form of motorsports, like drag racing.
And while they’re at it, they should listen very carefully when they’re standing in line at the rest room.
– Rick Minter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Comments