You Can’t Race Without a Race Track

by Scott Gardner – President, International Hot Rod Association

There are two distinct trends happening with race tracks and racers these days. Generally race tracks, as a percentage, are closing at an alarming rate and a small but vocal group of racers are sometimes adding fuel to the fire of that trend. Having been a track operator for nearly twenty years, I have struggled with operations, finances and decisions. Being a track operator is not for the faint of heart.

Race tracks close for a variety of reasons. The most common reason is financial. Simply put, the profit margin in race track operations is razor thin. It takes a wise operator to figure out the path to profitability and that path varies dramatically from facility to facility. In some markets, specialty events like heads-up classes, brand events, etc., work well. In other markets, it’s appealing to the street enthusiasts to bring their cars to the race track that makes the difference. Yet for others, who are lucky enough to be in bigger markets, it’s the major spectator event that is the path to success. However, many track operators struggle to find that niche.

The risk versus the reward of running a race track is often upside down. Long hours with big financial commitments makes high stakes gambling in Vegas look like child’s play. I would guess the divorce rate of track operators is high. The stress, long hours, risk, and in most cases, low rewards are often more than a person can take or would even want to attempt. To put this into the racer prospective … a racer who spends 50K annually to race is doing so for the love and enjoyment. For the track operator, who loses 50K, there is often no credible value against that loss.

Then enters the small but vocal group of racers (with bystanders who join in with them) that voice their often uninformed positions via social media on how bad they believe their local track is operated. Perceived poor track conditions, lighting, parking, concessions, procedures, etc. are all discussed, while never realizing their attitude and words are very destructive and can ultimately lead to the demise of their home track. While it is human nature to complain and it is understandable people have frustrations, it makes little sense to publically lambast a business without ever reaching out to discuss the issues with the management. If I go to a restaurant and have a bad experience, I will reach out to a manager and hopefully get my issues resolved. If not, I might choose to go elsewhere but won’t spend countless hours tearing down the business on social media and then return there to eat the next day. That cycle makes no sense.

As a Track Operator I would sometimes see race cars or teams with issues. This could be bad tires, the car being lined up crooked, etc. Do you think I run to racers and tell them they don’t know what they’re doing? Or get on social media and talk about how unwise they are? Not a chance. So, why are some racers so openly critical of how a track is operated? I believe it comes from really not understanding the challenges of operating a race track. Rather than taking energy to tear down the local operator/track, why not develop a reasonable dialogue legitimately addressing the concerns? Most track operators are willing to listen to sensible suggestions.

Thankfully, for the most part, this vocal group is often not taken seriously by the majority of racers and fans who understand the challenges of operating a business. My hope is that those who choose to tear down their local operators don’t ever succeed with what appears to be their goal of tracks closing. Whether the negative local few know it or not, that is what they are doing – closing tracks. We need to keep our track operator’s enthusiast and motivated, not beaten and disheartened.

Until next time, I will see you at the races…