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 Columns & Editorials

July 29, 2007

Avoiding the Summertime Rainouts

by BJ Cavin

As all stock car racing fans know, rain and racing do not mix.

Tradition is the reason rather than necessity, but stock car racing currently comes to a halt when nature chooses to dampen the track. For asphalt and concrete tracks there is always the hope of drying the surface and going racing after some delays, but for the dirt tracks a good shower usually sends everyone home.

And we all know that rain is as much a part of life in Florida as is the sun, and rain will usually become an issue for race tracks all over the state every season when the summer storms begin rising on the sea breezes.

True race fans rarely allow a little weather to keep them from the track on the weekends, but the not so hard core fans may not be so apt to endure a little wetness in order to see some racing. That combined with high humidity and rising temperatures, works to thin the crowds at many local race tracks each summer, especially in the hottest months of July and August.

Another effect the summer weather has at the track is in concession sales. While the sales of soft drinks might rise, the sale of foods and such drops as it is not conducive to eating when you are hot and sweaty. In both cases the tracks lose profits when the fans stay home, go to a movie, or come to the track and sip on a soft drink or a beer instead of buying the burger and fries for each member of the family.

Rain, and a rainout of a night's planned events, is bad enough. Anytime that a track is forced to cancel or postpone events it hurts the profit margin. But the worst case scenario is when the rain materializes late after preparations for the night's events have already begun. In those cases rain checks must be issued to fans, pit crews, and drivers, and that take a chunk out of the gate proceeds at the next event.

In addition, any food that is already prepped is usually lost because it cannot be held for a week and reused, so there are more losses there.

And finally, there are the losses caused by expenses such as the employees who are there and working and have to be paid for their time, when virtually no money was generated with which to pay them.

It is for these reasons that no tracks choose to issue any rain checks after heat races are completed and many are quicker to call off events before they can even get started. A rush to judgement on the weather could be driven more by a fear of losing more profits than an attempt to save crews and fans a wasted trip to the track.

The stock car racing community in Florida has become quite adept at dealing with the weather woes that our climate brings, but that does not make it any less frustrating when events are being delayed, postponed, or outright canceled, several weekends every summer.

So in response to this some tracks began running what is sometimes referred to as a "split season." Under such schedules the racing season is begun in January or February and will run through late June or early July. Then there is a break of a month or two before racing resumes (either as a separate season or a continuation of the earlier season) until sometime around Thanksgiving or even into December.

Mild winter weather in Florida makes this possible, and it gives the Florida tracks a much longer window during the calendar year within which to schedule events and therefore make more profits. Some tracks have adopted this type of schedule, or some variation of it, and found success.

Others found that the fans and drivers were less inclined to adapt to a new routine. Currently one can find tracks that run a continuous season and a split season in Florida, so the jury seems to still be out on which is the better method. But it cannot be denied that attendance at the track and concession sales will slump as the heat and humidity rises, and one answer to that is refusing to fight Mother Nature.

The weather pattern over Florida this season has featured heavy storms covering most of the state on a daily basis. While it is normally a matter of one or two tracks in the state suffering rainouts once or twice in a season, it has become a matter of multiple tracks suffering repeated rainouts week after week, and everything from the tracks to the drivers to traveling racing series, are feeling the loss of income.

This is a very frustrating situation for promoters because rained out events need to be rescheduled, but the rains keep coming and more dates keep falling victim to the weather. And with the repeated rainouts even the fans and drivers are finding other things to do instead of going to the track and dealing with the weather.

Will it rain or will the storms miss the track? Will the track call off the night's events or attempt to get them in? It amounts to an inability to make solid plans and quite a bit of inconvenience, and that has caused some to find other things to do where they can at least not have to grapple with whatever nature decides to do.

Not that long ago I watched Ocala Speedway owner and promoter Michael Peters look up from a radar image on his computer screen and loudly proclaim that, "...we will NOT do this next season!" Was he serious about that? Could Ocala Speedway be going to a split season to avoid the summer weather hassles?

Maybe that was a heaping helping of frustration talking when Peters said that, or maybe he was serious. Time will tell, but if he is like some other promoters in Florida time might make it all go away.

Once the weather calms down in the waning months of the season it is easy to forget about all of the hassles and frustrations that were experienced when the weather was threatening your every plan and contract, and putting a dent in your wallet as well. Many promoters have shouted the same proclamation only to schedule racing throughout the summer for the following season.

And when the frustration of rescheduling and money loss is not there to numb the fear of changing things, promoters tend to think about how their drivers and fans may react to their traditional racing schedule being rearranged.

One might think that drivers and fans might appreciate the break, but it is quite hard to gauge reactions to such things without actually putting new policies into effect. That means change, and promoters are usually afraid of change, especially if that change might hit them in the pocketbook.

But losses are losses, whether they come from bad weather in the summer or a unwillingness to adapt to a new schedule for racing, and the weather in the summer of 2007 is reminding promoters that there is another option out there.

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