For Robert Sargent, a job at the race track was simply a way to make some extra money in high school. A young athlete with a college athletic career ahead, he did all the physical work.
It was just another job for Sargent, who later went off to play four years of college football on scholarship. But when he returned home a few years later to train before trying out for a professional team, his job at the local short track became much more than a part-time commitment.
“My idea was to train during the summer and sell beer for (the track’s owner at the time) to get a percentage of that,” Sargent said. “He had a different idea — that I would take the whole place.”
As Sargent puts it, the decision for him to take over the track’s operation “was that simple.”
“I probably had a better shot of running a business than I did at playing pro football, let’s just put it that way,” Sargent said. “I could have tried out, but that doesn’t mean I was going to make it. I didn’t have any guarantees there either.
“I wasn’t probably quite a good enough athlete to make it, but I was going to try.”
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Instead, Sargent tried running a race track. That was 1985. More than 30 years later, he’s done quite a few things: He bought the race track after three years of leasing it and later started his own business, Track Enterprises Inc., which has grown to promote more than 80 races each year throughout the Midwest. Sargent has earned promoter-of-the- year awards from sanctioning bodies such as USAC and DIRTcar UMP and received the Marcum Award from the ARCA Racing Series.
The race track that eventually led to his career — and all of those awards — is Macon Speedway in Illinois, a fifth-mile dirt track in Sargent’s hometown.
But before he built a career around promoting auto races, he had to get the track.
“It was interesting,” Sargent said. “As a 20-year-old, I had to go beg, borrow and try to gather some money up to put a down payment on a lease to even get started. It was all my responsibility.”
It was also Sargent’s responsibility to get the race track back into shape. While Macon Speedway was still an active track when the young entrepreneur took control, Sargent said it “had gotten to the point that it needed a lot of physical work.”
The good thing was Sargent didn’t really know how big of a commitment he was getting into.
“Maybe it was good (that I took the track over at that age), because I was young enough that I didn’t know any better and I didn’t have any fear,” Sargent said. “I was just very aggressive then, and tried to take it on as a business.
“I had a lot of friends in the community and they really helped in every aspect,” Sargent added. “For a lot of them, physical work took place and we just went at it. We took it one day at a time and just worked hard.”
According to Sargent, that work involved preparing rules, rounding the drivers up, promoting, advertising, figuring out the logistics of concessions, preparing the dirt and “every aspect of running a business and a race track.”
Figuring all of that out “obviously isn’t an easy thing to do,” Sargent said, and it doesn’t necessarily get easier with time. When Sargent took over, it was “a different era, a different time” and he’s had to adapt as society kept moving forward — and getting more distracted.