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 Columns & Editorials

April 18, 2006

Stock Car Racing Is All About Marketing In 2006

By Jack Smith

Long time readers of KARNAC.com and Florida Stock Car Racing will remember over the years the many times we have taken speedway ownerships to task for under performing in the area of media, marketing and promotion. We will now report on an example in Florida of a speedway, or perhaps we should say multiple speedways, that are actually achieving success in those areas.

Great changes are usually preceded by an event or series of events which paint the landscape with a different brush. The year 2001 was, as most Americans will agree, a year of momentous change in all our lives, whether we wanted the changes or not. But that year also signaled a positive change for Florida stock car racing, a change mostly unnoticed by those even in the inner most circles of the racing community.

When the Governor of the State of Florida stood on the front straight at New Smyrna Speedway on the night of October 13, 2001 and spoke 15-20 minutes he told the fans, "My Brother says we need to get back to normal and normal in Florida on Saturday night is stock car racing!".

That was a point where the racing game was changed. As a point of fact, State Senator Bill Posey, former owner of Eau Gallie Speedway and FASCAR race car driver was responsible in large measure for bringing the Governor to the race. Coming close on the heels of September 11, the importance of the event was magnified beyond what anyone could have expected.

Terry Roberts, FASCAR Marketing Director and General Manager of New Smyrna Speedway, explained it this way, "It really all goes back to when Jeb Bush came, the momentum started then and we have not let go of that." The "it" Terry Roberts is talking about is a community oriented marketing campaign that has transformed the relationship of New Smyrna Speedway with it's neighbors in a way no other speedway in Florida, and few nationwide can boast of.

"We do a lot of things that other tracks don't know about and really don't care about, they care about what happens Saturday night where ever they are. We have be concerned what legislative things might happen to motorsports in Florida, we have been concerned about those things." Roberts feels very strongly about the importance of maintaining a strong awareness of the political and governmental landscape as it affects motorsports, "We'll be in Tallahassee this year as part of our delegation goes up there to see what is involved with our County and what's going on, and if a track owner or operator tells you it doesn't make a difference they are way wrong".

A point echoed in a recent discussion we had with Craig Armstrong, media and marketing representative for South Georgia Motorsports Park, "We have been embraced with open arms by the Cook County Officials, they are very progressive, this has been the spark plug that is driving the engine of bringing new business to the County, and they will tell you that in a heartbeat". Working in cooperation with local governments and businesses is no longer a luxury, it is a business imperative. Armstrong says, "In my opinion, there's are a lot of old time promoters....and people think they know something about the motorsports entertainment business who really don't, or they are holding on to old notions about what should be in the perfect world. You know, 'it worked 20 years ago and there's no reason it shouldn't work now', and that mentality is going to put those kind of people, unfortunately many of them are my friends, either out of business or force them to change their ways and to make motorsports entertainment relevant and exciting to the new generation of race race fans".

Roberts agrees, "Craig is exactly right about what he says, you can't live in yesterday, what's going on today and tomorrow, and look down the road. Things we do today, how is that going to affect us down the road?" The FASCAR Marketing Director hit the nail on the head when he explained that the advertising and marketing campaigns are two and three year processes.

The relationship with Bright House Networks, the title sponsor for the opening Sunbelt Series opener at New Smyrna Speedway is a case in point. "Bright House is a huge corporate Sponsor, I will sell a sign if someone wants to buy a sign, we will sell them a sign, but Bright House didn't just buy a sign, it is a whole big package that we haven't even touched the tip of the iceberg yet, and that is coming up. It took me about three years to put this deal together."

In addition to sponsoring the opening night, Bright House will be the title sponsor of the huge Crash-A-Rama event at Orlando in early June, and will be the "presenting sponsor" for the Florida Governors Cup on November 18. There are also parts of the Bright House program that FASCAR is holding close to the vest.

One area of the Bright House program that Roberts was willing to talk about is the new advertising direction FASCAR will be taking, "You will start to see us begin to market our drivers, they will be a part of our commercials that we do throughout the year, to invite people to come out to the speedway".

Two new programs FASCAR has begun to implement at New Smyrna Speedway are just getting underway and picking up speed. One is a unique Green Flag Fundraising Program for organizations and non-profits, and another is the Central Florida Car Clubs Program.

The Car Club deal is designed to involve classic car enthusiasts, a huge audience throughout Florida, in the activities at New Smyrna Speedway. Billed as a way for car clubs and groups to promote their activities and events, members can bring their cars, get a free pass to the speedway, and be a part of the parade lap. In addition New Smyrna's grounds renovations have continued and a section south of the concession area has been setup for the clubs to have a "mini car show" at the track on race night. New Smyrna Speedway is currently booking Car Club nights running through November.

The Green Flag Fundraising program allows tickets to be purchased at deep discounts for resale by organizations seeking to raise money or awareness for their particular group or its activities. There are literally hundreds of organizations seeking funding sources around the state, and in a time when it is harder and harder for many of these groups to get the funding they need, this program over time will likely benefit the community as well as the speedway.

But even if these are break even programs, Terry Roberts, reflecting the attitude of FASCAR owner Robert Hart, has it right, "Racetracks want to take out of the community, but they have to put back into it also, and I really believe the more you put back in the more you get out", adding after a moment of reflection, "and we've been blessed to be at this speedway and given the opportunity to the things that we do."

The events surrounding the visit to New Smyrna by Jeb Bush in 2001 may have been the catalyst the FASCAR organization needed to make major changes in its marketing but the changes actually began prior to that. Owner Robert Hart hit a a home run when he brought in Don Nerone as General Manager and Terry Roberts as Marketing Director for the organization.

Terry Roberts explains "New Smyrna Speedway has come a long way in six years from where it stood in the community, with our involvement with the Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranch, and the Police Athletic League. Things are really coming along and they are huge".

There have been quite a few events in the past few years that have caused serious observers of the racing scene to take notice. People who follow the business of racing closely will remember on July 1, 2004 a major section of State Road 44 near New Smyrna Speedway was named in honor of Clyde Hart, Robert's father and the man who built the famous speedway in the mid sixties. The Volusia County Sheriff is a regular participant in the annual Battle of the Badges at new Smyrna. If there is any doubt about the advertising and staying power of this kind of involvement in the community type "Sheriff Ben Johnson's Battle of the Badges" in Google and you will find the first link that comes up is the New Smyrna Beach Visitor's Bureau. A fact Floridians may take for granted but surely not the national and international visitors to the area. The other links that come up on that search will amaze most race fans, who complain about not enough publicity for racing. We'll make it easy for you, use this link to see for yourself..

And the gains are not limited to New Smyrna Speedway. Last year Rusty Marcus, named Lowe's Motor Speedway Short Track Promoter of the Year, made major breakthroughs in bringing excitement to FASCAR's Orlando Speedworld. Crash-A-Rama continues to grow and thrill audiences under the guidance of Don Nerone. Nerone is working this year on helping rebuild Columbia Motorsports Park, a recent addition to the FASCAR organization.

FASCAR, even with its marketing reach and successes, must be ever vigilant for new opportunities to make itself known and to further the reach of stock car racing in Florida. And yes, race fans who may be wondering, a brand new scoreboard is on order and is expected soon to complement the brand new hospitality area and the other fan friendly design additions to the grandstand area.

Now for those tracks that unlike New Smyrna Speedway and South Georgia Motorsports Park, do not have a dedicated, experienced marketing director, the question is why not?

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