HEDGER: The Long Look


BALLSTON SPA, N.Y. — Anyone with access to the latest edition of “Racing Promotion Monthly” should make a concerted effort to read editor Stewart Doty’s insightful comments under the title “What If All We Did Right Was Wrong?”

Doty makes the point that for many years, auto racing promoters have taken the proper steps to build their crowds and present compelling events in a timely manner only to have the world change around them and negate much of what they’ve worked so hard to achieve.

Also, he correctly points out that racing pundits, us among them, have chided some promoters in the past for simply not promoting, counting on people to come through the front gate out of habit as the crowd steadily declines. And while he agrees that that assessment may still apply to some promoters, especially former racers for whom racing is the thing and attendance is a secondary consideration, he believes that in most situations, new factors are in play.

Among them are competition from the extreme sports that did not even exist a generation ago, activities that resemble the video games that youngsters grow up with today and relatively new events such as stadium off-road events, supercross and monster truck shows. All draw people who in the past might have become dedicated short-track fans, leaving the speedways to suffer.

We also agree with Doty that the majority of today’s youngsters are not car oriented. We spent over three decades teaching auto mechanics and over the years, the true “gearheads” went from the majority to the rare, but highly appreciated, exception.

But we see many participants in the pits each week who are not true “gearheads” either. Most teams, if they are lucky, have one true mechanic in the group to take charge, supervise and, most importantly, teach the others how to do things properly. With UPS bringing parts overnight that were once built by each crew, those who really want to race can.

The big difference is on the grandstand side of the equation. Racing crowds generally skew older, while monster trucks, heavily promoted on TV with catchy names like “The Gravedigger,” draw hordes of youngsters and their dads. The huge Lebanon Valley Speedway recently filled the place for four consecutive nights after a few years with three nights of monster trucks drawing overflow crowds.

Lebanon promoter Howie Commander and associate Lyle Devore draw well at everything they do, whether it’s stock cars, drag racing specials on the adjacent strip, the annual “Night of Destruction” crash and burn spectacular or the annual World of Outlaws sprint car show. But it doesn’t just happen. Both work hard and more importantly, smartly. They know their audience and reach out to them, knowing that different events do not attract the same people.