It saddens me to say that some of the short-track world is still struggling and 2022 is another critical year. Hundreds of tracks have been hit hard by the pandemic and just opening their doors last season was a welcome relief. However, there’s still much to be done and fan support is vital.
Let’s accentuate the positive. There are several speedways around the country doing great business at the box office as well as the pit gate. But that list is much shorter than it was only a handful of years ago.
Truth be told, some of the tracks suffering have done it to themselves. Last year I watched two shows — one featuring a prominent touring series – throw the green flag on main events after midnight. Still, too many of these tracks simply believe they can operate by unlocking the front and back gates and waving the green flag at 8 p.m. every Saturday night.
Then there’s a format issue that sees far too many feature race winners come from the pole or front row, again including several prominent dirt track open-wheel circuits.
All of that may have worked 30 years ago but in today’s world, there has to be promotion, advertising, marketing, public relations, media relations and good old-fashioned showmanship in the process as well as a compelling on-track product.
But promotion and marketing done the right way will get people into the grandstands and off their sofas.
Without some out-of-the-box thinking, more and more of these treasured facilities will fade away in favor of residential or commercial developments.
COVID-19 has been a gut punch and the recent wave shows it’s going to be a situation to be dealt with again in 2022. But as fans are allowed back in and smart promoters and track operators ensure that health and safety protocols remain in place to encourage folks to come out and feel comfortable, there’s optimism.
The embrace of streaming has been accelerated to the point where if a sanctioning body or track hasn’t figured out a way to beam their events through the internet, they are already off the lead lap. The landmark deal between NASCAR and FloSports to bring more regional and local racing to thousands via streaming beginning in 2022 will be a huge benefit. I hope streaming platforms find their way as both a revenue stream and encouragement for fans to sample in person what they can now watch in the comfort of their own homes.
As a race fan, you can do your part by supporting tracks in your area and spreading the word that some of the best racing every weekend takes place live and in person, and not just on television or radio.
I’m sentimental about the issue as it touches a part of my childhood. I grew up in short-track racing and remember fondly how on every family vacation, no matter where my parents took the Pistone brood, I found a short track in the area and persuaded my dad to take us there.
Louisville, Owensboro, Flat Rock, Caraway, Myrtle Beach, New Smyrna – the vacation hit list read like a short-track Hall of Fame in those days.
I do my best to pass on the tradition to the current generation of Pistone kids. Every summer, we’ve made it a tradition to get a group of nieces, nephews, cousins along with my daughter and hit one of my local short tracks in the Chicagoland area at Rockford Speedway. We took the kids a couple years ago and it’s become an annual trek that is asked about this time of year usually in January, as in “When are we going to the races this summer?”
The kids are already asking when the “Summer Saturday” is this year and I’m pretty sure we’ve landed on a date if everything on the virus front keeps heading in the right direction.
My hope is that 30 years from now, there will still be short tracks around for these kids to take their kids to on a family vacation or summer Saturday night. I’ve sadly sat by and watched drive-in movies and miniature golf courses, two more staples of my youth, fade into the memory banks. I don’t want short-track racing to follow the same fate.
Do your part and make it a priority to get to or support a local short track in 2022. It’ll be the best New Year’s Resolution a race fan can make.