Close Calls: Creative promotion adds value for race fans, competitors

Picture-4By John Close:

Like most racetrack promoters, Wayne Brevik is always looking for ideas that will draw competitors and fans alike to his Marshfield Motor Speedway.

Unlike many of his contemporaries, Brevik is succeeding.

In an era where a soft economy and seemingly unlimited entertainment choices have negatively impacted fan attendance at stock car races, Brevik’s central Wisconsin racing facility is thriving thanks to his willingness to break with convention.

Picture-1Brevik’s most recent promotion came last Thursday when Marshfield hosted the ‘White Knight 99 + 1’ – a 100-lap super late model event honoring recently deceased Wisconsin racing hero Dick Trickle.

To draw fans to the unconventional mid-week special event, Brevik offered $4.99 adult admission along with 99-cent beer, soda, hot dogs and candy at the track’s concession stand. Additionally, all military personnel – current or past – with valid military ID were admitted free.

Originally opened as a dirt track in 1977, the half-mile Marshfield facility was paved prior to the start of the 1996 season. The speedway hosts weekly Saturday shows throughout the summer featuring four to five divisions at each event. Adult admission to Marshfield – an ASA (American Speed Association) Member Track – is just $10 for the regular Saturday events.

Picture-2Brevik also included the racers in his list of friendly discounts last Thursday giving each super late model competitor entered in the event two free tires and two free pit passes. The race also paid a hefty $3,000 to win.

Finally, the track offered free ‘rough camping’ for anyone who wanted to stay the night.

The result?

A crowd of more than 1,800 fans – and 34 super late models – showed up for the event. Both totals are impressive especially given the area was plagued by massive thunderstorms throughout the day.

“We still made money,” stated Brevik. “We were definitely hurt by the weather, but that’s okay. We had 42 entries, but a few decided not to come because of the bad weather. We also had fans calling the track throughout the day asking if we were still going to race. I think we would have easily had over 3,000 fans here if we had good weather. There’s nothing you can do about bad weather. The good thing is we were still in the black – not by much – but we made money even with the discounted admission. People still have $20 in their pocket and at the end of the night, they are going to spend the concession stand or shirt shack.”

Most racetrack executives would scoff at Brevik’s ‘give away the farm’ promotion, but Brevik took a chance anyway for several reasons.

Picture-3“First, we wanted to do something to honor Dick,” said Brevik of Trickle. “Our schedule was already set for the season and then Dick passed away this spring. We felt it was important to do something because he was so special to so many people around here.

“Second, we have a beautiful facility and want a lot more people to know about it. Marshfield is a great city and known for it’s world-class medical hospital and care. But it’s also a suitcase community and a lot of people just don’t know that we’re out here racing every week. We thought that by making the Trickle race an affordable mid-week event, families could come out, see what we have here and come back in the future.”

Brevik also took a chance on scheduling the event on a weeknight, something that usually means fewer fans and competitors. In this case, however, just the opposite was true thanks to a little creative planning and cooperation.

“We looked at the racing schedule from around the state and saw that July 25 was a good date,” said Brevik. “There was only one other track racing that night and it was a regular show, not a special event. That date also allowed us to lead into Friday and Saturday’s big Larry Detjens Memorial race at State Park Speedway in Wausau and a big super late model event at Madison International Speedway on Sunday. That allowed a lot of fans and some teams to attend all three events. One thing I’ve learned is that you have to work with the other tracks to be successful. Otherwise, you’re just beating each other over the head.”

In the end, not even a battle with wet weather could derail Brevik’s best-laid plans.

“We never thought of cancelling because of the bad weather,” said Brevik. “There were a lot of people who traveled a great distance to be here for this race. We had fans come from as far as Iowa, Nebraska and Illinois and we owed it to them to do all we could to get the show in. We were going to keep it going no matter what.”

The success of Thursday’s racing program has Brevik looking ahead to 2014 and a repeat performance for the special event.

“We’re already in planning mode for next year,” Brevik stated. “We’ll probably run it again on a Thursdaynight and definitely keep the 99 (Trickle’s car number throughout most of his career) promotion for sure. We’re also talking about increasing the purse, the number of laps to 150, and locking in the top 20 finishers from last Thursday night. In the end, we were very pleased with the outcome of this year’s race despite the bad weather. We can’t wait to do it again.”

BORROWED TIME? –

You really have to wonder how long NASCAR will continue to race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway after a weekend that produced a pair of less than exciting events and acute apathy at the turnstiles.

Saturday’s NASCAR Nationwide race was a total snoozer as Kyle Busch led all but eight of the 100 laps contested. Sunday’s 20th-annual Brickyard 400 Sprint Cup event was even more sleep inducing as only one – just one – of the 20 lead changes over the 400-mile distance was an actual on-track pass.

The rest came as teams cycled through stops on pit road.

Even more alarming than the lack of on-track action was the size of the crowds attending each event. As little as five years ago, the crowd for the Brickyard 400 was estimated to be in the vicinity of 240,000 fans. On Sunday, generous estimates placed the grandstand head count at 75,000.

Saturday’s crowd for the Nationwide race looked to be half that – or less.

There are numerous theories as to why NASCAR has had this epic fall from grace with the ticket buying public at America’s most famous raceway.

Here’s my take.

Fans want action – and, as discussed in the piece above about Marshfield Motor Speedway – they want value.

Right now, NASCAR race at Indy produce neither. Race fans aren’t stupid and they’ve clearly stated they aren’t going to shell out more than $100 for the best seat to watch cars endlessly drone around the giant speedway in parade formation for three hours.

Throw in additional hundreds of dollars per person costs in transportation, lodging, food and souvenirs purchases and clearly, Indy is no bargain.

It also makes paying $4.99 to see a grass roots, action-packed super late model show on a Thursdaynight seem pretty dang good to most race fans – especially if they’re holding a 99-cent beer to boot.

LAST CALL –

The problems at Indy weren’t NASCAR’s only issue this past week.

Even though NASCAR Camping World Truck Series event at Eldora Speedway was an unqualified success on multiple levels, it didn’t exactly deliver a boffo television audience.

Initial reports from NASCAR broadcast partner SPEED indicated the race received a 1.2 household rating share – or attracted approximately 1.4 million total viewers.

That ranked the Eldora event as the 10th most-watched Truck Series race ever on SPEED.

Only 10th?

Frankly, given the buzz in the NASCAR community and months of widespread promotion about the event in both traditional and non-traditional motorsports media, the TV viewership numbers have to be somewhat of a disappointment for NASCAR execs.

At the very least, the television audience numbers are sobering to those trying to market the division – and NASCAR in general. After all, if one of the most anticipated NASCAR events in decades doesn’t peg the TV meter, then what will?

About John Close

John Close covered his first race as a professional media member in 1985. Since then, Close – a former Associated Press newspaper sports editor – has written countless articles for numerous motorsports magazines, trade publications and Internet sites.

His Close Calls column appears each week on www.CloseFinishes.com, www.MotorsportAmerica.com and www.RacingNation.com.

Close has also authored two books – Tony Stewart – From Indy Phenom To NASCAR Superstar and NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series – From Desert Dust To Superspeedways.

Close also spotted more than 150 NASCAR Cup, Nationwide and Truck events from 1995-2008. His third book – On The Spot – a volume about the history of NASCAR race spotting, will be published later this year.

You can direct comments/inquiries to Close at www.closefinishes@carolina.rr.com.

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