"Something to Think About"
March 1, 2012

"The Best View in the House"

A few weeks back, a lively discussion broke out on our Message Vault focusing on different ideas to help improve the health of the sport of short track racing...  It's one of those subjects that we all feel that we have the answers... that we have the magic bullet, (Hey... I'm not saying that I'm any different!)... and if only the track owners and/or promoters would just hear us out, well... well.. it'd be just like it was in 1972, sitting in the packed covered grandstands at Flemington... right?  Probably not... but read here's more...

I've been pretty vocal on the subject before.  Not as much recently... maybe I'm mellowing with age and with just getting used to "that's just the way it is..."  Like many of you, I've made suggestions along the way and have done so for most short tracks I've attended... (started in the late 70's when I provided a custom made cassette of all race and car themed songs for them to play (Bob Seger's "Making Thunderbirds", Springsteen's "Racing in the Streets", Jim Croce's "Rapid Roy That Stock Car Boy"..., etc) for the early arriving fans while the track crew was working in the track.  The result of my efforts:  At least 5 more years of Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire" and "The Night Chicago Died" by Paper Lace...  Come to think of it, I never did hear my cassette played, but I guess I felt better knowing that I had given it a shot...  Did my little part to make the show a little better...and here it is 30+ years later, still trying to look at things that might make the show a little better... a little stronger.

On the one hand, I don't like to be critical.  I appreciate what we have, and am grateful that in these difficult times, there are still those out there that are willing to put it all on the line to keep the lights on at our local short tracks.  I don't think many of us realize how huge that really is, and what a commitment - not only financially, but time' wise... family' wise...  maybe even health wise.  (I've seen owners and promoters look like a piece of themselves were ripped away when they had to turn off the lights for the last time.  Those that put their heart and soul into it never can prepare for what it's like to not have it anymore - the good and the bad.)  I rarely offer my suggestions or my opinion on the subject anymore.  I go to the races... I enjoy them for what they are... I still find the genuine excitement and the ingenuity of the driver's, mechanics and owners that drew me to the sport 40 plus years ago... and I hope to be able to do so for many, many years.  But like many of you, I want our sport to be stronger...  I want it to have a solid future.  (A solid future will help secure an appreciation for the past or to put it another way, if there is nothing left of the sport, it's history will die with it.) 

So, let me too get out my magic bullet and take a shot at what I think needs to be done... just like the rest of ya'...  Is it the answer?  No... Is it the magic bullet"... No, probably not.  But it is an idea and a perspective that sometimes gets out shouted by those with louder voices... and often ignored... so if for no other reason, I'll take a shot at this... Like a kid at the local carnival that picks up the big mallet and gives the target a whack hoping to hear the "HE-MAN" bell, but knowing that most likely only "Try Again" status will be achieved... 

Here's my shot at "How I'd Go About Fixing Short Track Racing"... It's a view not from the office, not from the pit shack... not from laying on my back changing gears... but from somewhere that's often overlooked by the sports insiders...  I'll take a crack at this from a different perspective.

What I'd like to see at a racetrack is an owner and/or promoter who makes it a priority to attend his track as a fan.  I mean it... really, as a fan, sitting about 8 rows up.... not with a bunch of buddies... just by himself, no phone... no headset.... no 2 way radio.... just as a fan...(with a notepad and a pencil.) 

He shouldn't tell anyone what he's up to, and if any of his staff spots him, they should be instructed to LEAVE HIM ALONE FOR THE NIGHT - THAT HE IS NOT TO BE CONTACTED/CONSULTED or DISTURBED.  NO RESPONSIBILITY... NO AUTHORITY.... NO CONTROL... For this night, he is "a fan".  Here's a plan for how he should spend his entire night from the time he arrives, to the time the final checker waves: 

1.  Park where the fans park...  Get there in time for the first scheduled event as per the schedule.  Note whether the start time matches the advertised start time. 

2.  Get and line and get a ticket.  Are people being greeted by track staff?  Are people being welcomed for coming out to the races?  Is there a good, exciting vibe in the air?  Or does it seem more like people are just going through the motions... 

3.  Sit where the fans sit...(not in the tower... not in a pace truck... not wandering the pits and the grounds....  sit in the stands like a fan.. Right in the middle somewhere... about 8 rows up.  Are the stands comfortable?  Evaluate what you are looking at.  Is it pleasing?  Do things look well keep?  Is there things for you to look at during the caution periods or other down times?  How is the signage?  Does the place look alive, or look kind of desolate and barren?   (Take notes...) 

4.  Look at other fans around you...   Do they seem to be enjoying the show or do they look like they are being held hostage waiting for something exciting to happen?  What do they like?  What are they excited by?  What do they seem to be bored by?  (Take notes...) 

5.  Listen to the announcer.  Can you hear him/them?  Is it TOO LOUD?  Is what you are hearing friendly, informative, enjoyable?  Are they talking too much - too little?  Is there a lot of dead air?  Are you hearing information that would allow you as a new fan to follow the program (what class - qualifying info - color and/or teasers about driver's that are in the race that make you want to root for, or pay attention to?)  Compare it to what you would expect when watching a TV football or baseball game... Are you getting interesting, relevant information, or are you just being told what it is you are already seeing...("The cars are in the 2nd turn... now they are on the backstretch... now they are heading into the 3rd turn....")  Is there value in what they are saying?  Is what they are saying helping you to be more interested in what is going on?  Are they putting teaser's out there as to what might happen, so that you buy in more and pay attention more to see it happened?  (Kind of like when the baseball play by play guys on TV predict what pitch will be thrown... or what play a team will probably run in football based on what down it is... what the score is...  (Take notes...) 

6.  Evaluate, "How's the racing?"  Is it interesting, compelling, exciting... or does it just seem like your watching a bunch of guys that paid to have a track session where they are just running lap after lap... or like a practice session where it seems pretty predictable.   (Take notes...) 

7.  Pay attention to the amount of time it takes between the time one race is checkered and the next goes green....  Pay attention to how long it takes when a yellow comes out... and how long it takes before they go green... Does everyone seem to be rowing in the same direction to help get things cleaned up?  Does everyone seem to have a sense of urgency to get the cause of the yellow corrected in a safe, yet expeditious way?  (Take notes...) 

8.  Walk down to the concession stand and buy a hamburger, fries and a soda.... Is there a few picnic tables or a place for people to sit down and casually eat their food... If so, take a seat and eat, and evaluate the atmosphere.  Once done eating, take a walk and check out anything else that might be set up in the midway (displays, vintage stuff, sponsors stuff, novelty stands.)  And yup... use the fan bathroom.  (Yup...take notes...) 

9.  Once back in the stands, notice is there a flow to the program?  Does it seem to have a beginning, middle and an end?  Does it seem like there is a sense of momentum building as the night moves on... like working toward the 4th quarter of a football game... or the last period of a basketball game or hockey match... or does it seem to have a few peaks with big valleys (slow times) in between.  (Take notes...) 

10.  How was intermission handled?  Was it the old model of making it so undesirable that people would feel compelled to leave their seats and go buy a hotdog, or was there still a level of "entertainment" for those who chose to stay in their seats (contest with the kids... giveaways... driver interviews in front of the stands...)  Was it too long?  Was it "professional?" Decide if you want intermission to be so boring that people are driven out of their seats to go buy a hotdog or a souvenir, or that it's going to be so compelling that fans won't want to miss a second of it... and may enjoy it so much that it is one of the highlights of the night.  (Most major sporting events now take advantage of their breaks to entertain fans with a variety of audio/video and in person activities that keep the fan engaged with the whole experience of being at a live sporting event.)  (Take notes...) 

11.  Evaluate the "headlining act"...  Was it worthy of the title?  Was it built up by the announcers as the headliner?  Was their event run efficiently?  Did it have high value?  Did you want somebody to win/or somebody to lose?  If you were a first time fan, would you have known that it was the headlining act, or did it seem like just one of many other races that rolled out onto the track?  Was that one event worth at least 1/2 of the admission price?  

12.  How was victory lane handled?  Too short?  Too long?  Too detached from the majority of fans?  Was it fan friendly or did the importance seem to be more on it being photographer/sponsor friendly?  (Take notes...) 

13.  Finally, at the end of the night... get up... grab your blanket... head straight for your car/truck and go home and review your notes....   

14.  Over the next 3 days, create a list of necessary changes... Over the next week, get people who can help implement and manage the "new ideas".... Assign staff and/or have staff volunteer to champion each item until all are assigned out to somebody who will make it their responsibility to manage the specific change.  Start with the stuff that can be changed right now... and change them.  As for the items that will take longer, take the beginning steps so that those ideas are in motion and monitor their progress week over week.  Continue to monitor the progress or lack of to all of the changes to see if they are meeting with the desired results.  Continue to manage and adjust. 

15.  Every 2nd week, spend the entire night in the stands again.  Look for what is improving, and look at what is still in need of fixing...   

Recap:  If as the owner/promoter of the track you get to the point where you wish you could just sit in the stands EVERY WEEK... because the show is so compelling, unpredictable and fun.... then congratulate yourself on a job well done!  If not, then keep making the adjustments... keep making the improvements until you get to that point. 

 If you continue to find yourself bored, un-entertained..., and don't look forward to sitting there, and would much rather be running around with a headset on... or in and out of the pits... or sitting up in a tower somewhere "managing the show"... then consider appointing someone who will sit in the stands and will take on the responsibility of documenting the issues... And then be willing to give that someone the authority and resources that they will need to manage the process and to make the changes that will help grow the sport, spectator side first.

Final Lap:  Being an owner and/or promoter of short track racing is one of those things that everyone feels "I could do a better job"...  Seems everyone's got the answer...  The drivers, the owners, the crew members, the track staff, the vendors... and yes, the fans in the spectator stands.  Maybe we're all a little right... Maybe we're all a little wrong.  But we can all agree that we all want to be able to come back next week, even if there's work to be done...  For that to happen, the owner/promoter has the difficult job of balancing what's best for all... and the even more difficult job of trying to provide it... often with very limited budgets and limited manpower... And they have to be able to do it in a profitable way to justify the time, the effort and the risk that they are taking as entrepreneurs.

The view from row 8 of the stands is just that... just another view that needs to be considered in coming up with the right mix.  I'm just concerned that with all the discussions I usually hear on the subject of how to improve racing... such as "They should use such and such "Crate Engine"... or "Here's what they should do for tires..." ... or "They should get rid of sail panels"... or "They should add this class"....  All legitimate concerns..., all points that track management seems to wrestle with weekly....  All have their level of importance, but it seems that they are all points that are brought up by the competitors... Again... ALL IMPORTANT... but often only looking at it from the perspective of what it takes to compete.

...But I just hope that someone with the authority to make changes considers the view from row 8.  It just might be the best view in the house, to see what's really going on.


Visitor's Comments To add your comments  - Click Here
Date: Visitor's  Name:


03.03.12 Ed Duncan This may sound crazy, but put up suggestion boxes in the stands.  One at the Novelty stand an one at the Handicappers shed in the pits.  You just might end up with some decent input. JMO
03.03.12 3Wide I totally agree Ed.  I would value what somebody took the time to hand write, or type and who then left it at the novelty stand, the pit shack, or even the track office more than stuff on line because at least the owner/promoter would know that the person with the opinion was actually a customer.  (For me to subscribe to my own theory then I think I need to print out the above and deliver it in person!... What'dya think Ed?)
03.04.12 Ray Miles Joe, I'm glad to see that you placed your response to my post on this part of your site; it's easier to find and to get to. I thought you had a very unique way of approaching the issue, I hope more people will read it and come up with ideas of their own.

Though there were initially about 15 people that responded to that post with some good ideas, I thought that the replies would've been a lot more than what showed up.

As you know, I posed the same question on my site as well and only got 2 to 3 replies to the question ( http://www.lsracers.com/ ). It's really puzzling when on any given day, there might be hundreds of conversations among people about this same subject and yet when you give people the opportunity to express their ideas in a massive public forum such as your message vault and other venues, only a few brought ideas, opinions and input to the table.

I can't figure out whether the people who attend races either as fans or competitors, think that anyone will listen or do anything about the issue whether they voice their opinions or not, or as long as there's a few tracks left running, that all is well and somebody will always come up with the magical plan to keep their track or tracks open for many years to come.

In my time I've watched tracks like Reading, Old Bridge, Alcyon, Nazareth, Vineland, Harmony, Flemington, East Windsor and Pleasantville get shut down.   Wall Stadium, for whatever the reasons, has managed to dodge a bullet and remains open at the present time, but the above mentioned tracks, who would've thought that they would close. Most of them seemed to have a good field of cars, seemingly loyal race fans, so what happened, what was the real cause for their demise, does anyone truly know?

As each of the tracks closed one by one, people just said "Wow, that's a shame; I never thought I'd see the day, but we still have all these other tracks we can go to". So now we're down to 2 dirt tracks, 1 asphalt track, and a motorsports complex, which isn't really a short track. What's in the future for these race venues that are left, are they going to listen to the voice of the fans and the competitors?

We also have to realize, the track owner/promoter have an overhead to meet every week.

Will any of us be of any help to solve this issue; I hope it will turn out that way some day. I do think that people now realize that we could very well see the end of short track racing if we can't figure out a happy medium and that includes competitors, fans and promoters alike. As a former competitor and still a race fan I sure hope we can figure it out.
03.05.12 fltlnjok All your points are dead on. Again, I was an AVID Flemington fan for years until a job caused me to move far enough away so that a family evening was cost prohibitive. I now go to Middletown frequently and Accord occasionally. I don't know about Middletown but I know Accord is FAMILY Owned and this off season a lot of time & money were invested to improve the racing. The only problem that I see here is the line at the concession stand. There's only one.

There is a relatively small staff but I did see them going around the stand and grounds throughout the program. So maybe someone does listen & care.

From what I've read, they flattened the track and changed the rules to eliminate the sail panels.  Can someone tell me what a "sail panel" is? Is that the large vertical spoiler art the rear? I'm not stupid, just old. That's 2 hours away from home but a good time.

Maybe this year I'll get to Bridgeport & New Egypt. Maybe Wall, too. There are only so many weekends.

Again, to the McCaughey boys: I knew your father when he used to walk to the old Somerville High School from your grandparent's home near where the Bridgewater Commons Mall is now. Good guy and a pleasure to know.
03.05.12 3Wide Here's a sail panel:

(Above photo by 3Wide)
It's the big rectangle piece above the 1/4 panel and from what I'm told, it really helps the car turn into the corner.  I always think of it working kinda like when we were kids and would put our hand out the window at 55 mph... all fingers close together pointing up...  A slight twist of the wrist and your hand would want to turn really hard in that direction.

In addition to helping the car turn better, one of the other reason some tracks run them is to distinguish them from the Sportsman or Crate Sportsman divisions.  It's pretty easy for "new fans" to see a group of "sail panel" cars coming out on the track and know that they are "the faster ones."

Me personally, I don't have a big like or dislike for them.  Like a lot of you I prefer smaller bodies and the way smaller bodied cars have to be driven (more slide, they don't tear up the track as much, etc...) but as my column above indicates... I don't think Sail Panels or the lack of Sail Panels is where promoters and owners of speedways should be focusing on right now to make the biggest gains in their programs.

It's a bunch of little things done really, really well.  Thanks for you addition to the thread fltlnjok.

All Previous Editions of: "Something to Think About..."
"Putting Competition Back into Qualifying - The "Top Half Advance" Qualifying Method"
"This Time, It's an Inside Job"
"What Are We They Expecting?"
"Is The Problem Really Under the Hood?"
"The Best View..."
"Local Boys Have at It?"
'Are You Going to the Races Tonight?"
"The Bigger The Bodies, The Smaller The Attendance?"

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