Is Florida Speedway Co-operation All That Important?
By Jack Smith
We hear the constant drum beat on message forums and in conversations between fans, among drivers and promoters about the importance of "promoters" working together, or more precisely, "not working together".
Each year the Florida track owners, speedway general managers and series promoters get together in the autumn for their yearly scheduling meeting. They come with sharpened pencils, some with plans already drawn out for the coming year, some with their latest "big idea". Actually not all of the owners are present, for different reasons. Not all dirt track owners are present, and Five Flags Speedway is not usually in the mix.
It seems like a pretty good idea, the people who put on the shows organizing things well in advance and the traveling series and owners save time by getting a lot done in a few hours as opposed to endless phone-tag sessions and other irritating distractions to their daily routines. It also serves as a way to help prevent major events being scheduled on top of one another, or in current racespeak "getting promoters to co-operate with each other".
Does it work?
Sometimes yes, and sometimes no with an exclamation point. A recent example, according to some fans, track owners etc., of "no co-operation" was the Florida Triple Crown weekend. On Friday night the Triple Crown opened at DeSoto Super Speedway in Bradenton, Fl. The event was a combination FASCAR Sunbelt Series and All American Challenge Series event with points being important to both series and the Triple Crown chase.
Twenty-two super late models signed in and twenty of them took the green flag at DeSoto in a cleanly raced event won by Jeff Sloan, beating several of Florida's best in the process. Orlando Speedworld, 134 miles to the north east, also raced super late models with eight cars in the field and won by Chad Pierce outrunning Jared Allison.
On Saturday night Citrus County Speedway raced a Twin 50 super late model show. The same night of course that the Sunbelt Series raced the second leg of the Triple Crown at the "bullring" Bronson Motor Speedway. Seventeen super late model race cars started the first of the twin 50 races at Citrus. Only nine cars signed in at Bronson and one broke prior to the race.
A total of 26 super late model race cars were ready to race on Saturday night.
[Ed. note: a report that Columbia Motorsports Park had four super late models was in error. CMP had no super late models racing according to FASCAR officials. This article has been corrected.]
Sunday, Ocala Speedway hosted the final leg of the Triple Crown with a daytime show and featured 18 cars. Six Florida drivers made all three races. Another 4 raced in two races. Fifteen of the 22 teams that made it to DeSoto Super Speedway ran no other triple crown race. Seven of the 18 racers at Ocala only raced in that one Triple Crown event. Two drivers that raced at Citrus County Speedway on Saturday made it Ocala for Sunday's race.
I'll leave it to you to draw your own conclusions from the above facts.
While some fans and racers are scratching their heads over why multiple tracks would schedule super late models on the same night, this writer is scratching his head over an entirely different questions.
How many super late models are there in Florida?
Where are the rest of the super late models? What is keeping them home and how do we fix it. Some fans like to romanticize about the 'good ole days' when 140 late models showed up to race. That day is past and will never return. That is not being negative, that is being realistic. Some complain that a field of 50 cars fighting for 28 starting spots is what is needed. Looking at the big picture, two tracks with full grandstands and 25 cars showing up at each fulfills the economics far better these days.
No scheduling meeting will fix a paltry 30 super late models racing on a night with two big races plus a third race at a track recovering from the doldrums.
What we hear consistently and no, not from message board experts, but from drivers, crew members, car owner and even their wives is the affordability factor. Though other reasons for not racing arise, the most common reason by far that we hear is money.
Not the purse money, just the cost of racing versus the cost of living. Another factor is that many of Florida's drivers have drifted northward in hopes of hitting a home run in the big leagues of racing.
There just aren't many high profile races in Florida, at least as far as the super late models go. The Snowball Derby will pay $20,000 to win this year and all the way back to sixth will $5000. There are 42 drivers pre-entered, 11 of them from Florida as of the date of this article.
The Governor's Cup will pay $10,000 to win this year and up to $20,000 in bonus money will be spread through the field. Thirty-four teams showed up for last years' Cup race, which paid $5000 and $100 for each lap lead, earning winner Mike Fritts $17,900 for his winning effort.
There are a whole new batch of potential Super Late Model racers coming up through the ranks. These are youngsters racing FASTKIDS, FASTRUCKS, FASCAR Pro Trucks, Mini Cups, Legends and so forth. Will the current confusing messages these drivers (and more importantly their parents) are getting entice them to race in Florida, or will they drift northward and join the ASA Late Models, and other series north of the state line?
Other than the successful efforts of FASCAR's Terry Roberts with BrightHouse and Radio Disney, there is not much to report on the major marketing sponsorship scene with tracks or traveling series. Three years ago the then promoter of the Gulfcoast Modifieds was nearly crucified for taking a commission after securing a major sponsorship with Corteco. This attitude does nothing to lure competent sales and marketing people into the industry. And that is what it takes to secure major dollars from high profile companies, not smoke, and not mirrors.
There is no good reason why, if the drivers on the sidelines could be brought back, that a very good field of late models, super late models, trucks or even modifieds could be fielded at New Smyrna Speedway on the East coast of Florida and on the same night at any one of several tracks on the West coast. We have seen this happen several times in the last few years. Yet the urge seems to be to kill the competition instead of using the competitive factors to create better shows.
Each race track for the most part does not compete with other tracks for its Friday or Saturday show, either in terms of fans or in terms of drivers. If there is a TBARA event at DeSoto on Saturday night, fans of that series will go to see them, regardless of your special promotion, unless you are giving away money and even that won't work for die hard sprint car fans.
No amount of purse money, cajoling or anything else is going to get a significant number of Charlotte County Speedway regulars to come to DeSoto on a regular basis. The drivers mostly live in Lee and Collier County and it is just too far for them to travel, in their estimation. That example is one, but it is repeated statewide. A very small handful of drivers will take their cars and family from the Tampa area to Orlando or New Smyrna on a regular basis.
Citrus County Speedway has the highest average car count for asphalt tracks this year, and has consistently over the last few years. Some have said that is due to Sunshine Speedway closing. The facts indicate otherwise. Citrus was drawing more cars than anyone else even when Sunshine was running, as the archived race results in the Tracks section of Florida Stock Car Racing clearly show.
DeSoto Super Speedway has seen its car count of local racers steadily grow as youngsters of former racers begin to get involved in beginners divisions and move up. This trend is being repeated across the state, although the progress is slow.
It is doubtful any track really needs traveling series shows.
However there are some very entertaining and consistent fields in series such as GulfCoast Modifieds, Florida Mini Stock Challenge Series, Goodyear Challenge Late Models, Southern Sportsman Series, FASCAR Pro Trucks, FASTRUCKS, Outlaw Modifieds and the king of them all, the TBARA winged sprints. They bring quality shows for the most part that help speedways attract fans. They serve a good purpose, and the tracks are not organized to operate these kinds of series, so the series promoters are an important ingredient in the entertainment mix.
We are left with the conclusion that when the owners and series promoters get together for their annual scheduling media this year, they focus on positive ways to improve the industry, and not dwell on negatives which will never bear any fruit, except perhaps some mutated samples spoiled by spiritless exercises in futility.
The racing community is only as strong as the people who comprise it. It's not about the real estate the track sits on. It's not about the egos of the ownerships and promoters. It is about the drivers and their families, the fans that spend their money, the sponsors, and the people working at tracks, nearly all working not for the money but for the love of the sport of racing.
If, when the owners and promoters convene this fall, they spend time looking at the long range panorama of the future and find ways to strengthen the resourses we do have, including the traveling series, the people resources, the sales resources, the media resources and find ways to make racing more affordable at all levels, in order to keep racers racing and maybe bring back a few sitting on the sidelines, they will have served the racing community well.
Co-operation between two or three tracks that hurt another speedway's programs is doubtful to be really seen as co-operation, but more likely viewed as competition. Real co-operation would be activities done with agreements where all parties win. In business, win-win conditions and activities is the hallmark of the really successful, conversely win-lose is the hallmark of shallow short term thinkers who leave no lasting legacy to their endeavors.
There was once a very great man in the 1860s, who used the phrase "the better angels of our nature" in a famous speech. Florida racing needs leadership as much as it does "co-operation". Good leaders, who leave a positive mark on their time always appeal to the "better angels of our nature".
Yes, scheduling is important for all kinds of obvious reasons, but no amount of co-operative scheduling is going to increase car counts, front gate attendance or entertainment quality.
It's about people, as in race car drivers, fans, staff and sponsors.
It is also about the future of the sport, which even the dullest among us must realize we cannot take for granted.
Where do you think co-operation is needed to secure that future?
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