RODDA: Tough Times For Promoters

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Ron Rodda.
Ron Rodda

LINCOLN, Calif. – Promoting a short-track is never easy, but when a show is a big success the rewards for a promoter aren’t just financial.

Knowing that you did this, you made it happen and it worked, gives promoters a sense of accomplishment.

Those days are difficult to come by in 2020.

It is important to realize the level of frustration promoters face this season. One person, in many cases, makes a decision that is the difference between having a chance for success or being towed toward increasingly overwhelming hardships. In many cases, that person has no concept of how short-track racing operates and how distancing in the stands is relatively easy for weekly shows.

Situations resulting from one person’s decisions, or perhaps a small group at most, create questionable decisions. In Wisconsin, Red Cedar Speedway in Menominee was ordered to cancel its season while other tracks in the state but in different counties race with large crowds despite having a higher per capita number of confirmed virus cases.

How can that possibly be explained logically?

Things should never be decided with the “who makes the decision” being more important than the statistics and facts.

Placerville Speedway was able to open its season last Saturday with promoters Scott Russell and Kami Arnold finally hosting racing after one practice day a few weeks prior.  Reaching the point where June 13 was opening night, more than three months after the scheduled first race, was an arduous journey.

“We were in constant contact with our fairgrounds and county supervisors, county CAO, and health director which led to having this first race,” said Russell. “We had to wait for the guidelines from them, we gave them our ideas, and we stayed in touch with what the orders are and how we can work within them.”

After all the work that went into getting to race day, Friday night weather came very close to creating a postponement.

“When I got there Saturday morning there was a foot of water standing in the bottom of turn one,” explained Russell. “There was about a foot and a half of water behind turns one and two I had to pump out, and at 9:30 that morning I almost cancelled the race because I knew it’d be hard to get this thing in the order I wanted it to be.

“It’s hard enough on a good day to get the track where you have a top and a bottom and I couldn’t get on the track until 1 p.m. with the blade. The rain had come down the turn four hill and created ruts across the track so I had to get the blade out there to fix it. I think the race turned out OK but definitely not the surface I was shooting for.”

The track had some problem areas after sprint qualifying but when stock cars hot lapped and more laps were turned in heats, the track seemed to get better and better.  A very good show resulted and, despite empty stands, a 93-car turnout and plenty of people in the pit area made it seem as if things were all good again.

Of course, they weren’t since had it not been for sponsors coming to the rescue, the race would likely not have happened. Russell and Arnold don’t want to race for lower purses than a regular payout, which makes racing that much more difficult, not to mention making it hard not to lose money. All of that makes promoting races a grind this year.

As if the first race of the season usual worries weren’t enough, Russell said he was wondering what to do when everyone is anxious to race, only for the area to get hit with a rainstorm on a Friday night in the middle of June.

“The next morning I had knots in my stomach wondering just what to do, just try to make the best of the situation and go for it or cancel it,” Russell said. “I was on the fence on which direction to go and I finally decided that everyone’s been waiting for so long, I’ll just go for it and make the best of the situation and hope everybody understands.

“We’re taking it week by week, I’ve had a lot of anxiety and stress leading up to last weekend, not about doing the race, but I just lay in bed at night and think how do we sustain this?  You can only go to sponsors so many times, that’s the part that is stressing me out.  I raced, I had a team, I know how expensive it is to get these cars to the track, and I feel we already don’t race for enough Saturday night.

“For me to come out and say I have no fans, we need to race for a modified purse, is not what I want to do. We are going to have to decide down the road if we don’t get to where we can have fans, what is the next step? Do we run for a modified purse or do we just close our doors until we can have fans? I don’t know what the answer is.”

As to how many times Placerville can race this year with a full purse but no fans, the answer was “a handful,” and after that a decision will have to be made.

Streaming helps some with the bottom line, but that does not make up for the lack of fans.  A promoter’s expenses are mostly set whether 60 or 90 cars race, but with empty grandstands the odds of making a profit are slim.

It is up to the state of California as to racing’s future and it is safe to say the people making those decisions have never been to a race.