The Fast-Track to Successful Speedway Events
28 Feb, 2011By: Amy Henderson
Whether sitting in the grandstand or parked infield, it's impossible not to feel the roar of excitement through your entire body when a field of race cars flies by at speeds exceeding 190 miles per hour.
This doesn't happen on Main Street USA but it's likely at one of the more than 8,000 speedways across the United States any given weekend.
The oldest speedway in the United States is the Milwaukee Mile with its first race taking place in 1903. Stock car racing, or NASCAR, is the most famous and popular of the racing circuit and arguably the springboard for the development of many of the speedways in the U.S.
The first NASCAR sanctioned race was held at the Daytona Beach Road Course followed by the NASCAR Strictly Stock, known today as the Sprint Cup, in 1949 at the Charlotte Speedway.
Currently, 28 tracks run NASCAR sanctioned events from February until November. They are known as super-speedways, but there are several types of tracks to choose from.
There are dirt ovals, paved ovals, drag strips and road courses.
NASCAR, Nationwide and Indy Racing League typically utilize paved oval or road course speedways while the National Hot Rod Association, or NHRA, utilize drag strips and Automobile Racing Club of American, or ARCA, favors dirt oval tracks.
Some of the most exciting races have happened at legendary tracks in the South like Talladega, Bristol, Charlotte, Atlanta, Darlington and the home of the Great American race, the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway.
The NASCAR season kicks off in Daytona and the track boasts eight major weekends of racing during the season.
"It is difficult to overstate the importance and impact of having Daytona International Speedway in our own backyard," said Mike Jiloty with the Daytona Beach Convention& Visitors Bureau. "The place is always buzzing with activity, but it really comes alive in January."
A number of events coincide with the Daytona 500 including the Thunder FanFest; Rolex 24 at Daytona with drivers from 20 foreign countries and the U.S.; the Nationwide Series, Camping World Truck Series and ARCA Racing Series compete as well.
"Clearly, racing is a big part of the heritage of the area," said Jiloty.
Up the road in Talladega, the track really lights up with the ARCA Racing Series 250, Aarons 312 Nationwide Series and the Aaron 499 in April,and then welcomes fall with the Talladega 250 Truck Series and Talladega 500 Sprint Cup race in October.
The newest stop on the NASCAR circuit is Kentucky Motor Speedway, no stranger to racing. They have been hosting the Truck Series, ARCA and Nationwide Series for years, but this year makes history. KMS not only hosts a Sprint Cup race, but is the first track to be added to the circuit in 10 years.
In order to accommodate the growing sport of racing, the track has undergone major renovations, adding 40,000 seats bringing capacity to 106,000. The location makes it desirable in attracting both northern and southern fans.
"I think we are unique because there are 51 million people within 300 miles of the speedway," said Tim Bray, director of communications at Kentucky Speedway. "You've got a number of major markets and they are all very supportive of NASCAR racing. We have a higher than national average in our market area in television rating. The roots of the sport are very deep in our area and that equals the enthusiasm of what we are seeing for support in the area."
Kentucky will continue to host the Truck Series and Nationwide Series in July but will add the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event on July 9, 2011.
"When it comes to a destination, we anticipate people taking their vacation and camping with us," said Bray of the July date. "We went from 1200 campsites to over 4000 this year."
Infineon Raceway in Sonoma Valley; Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California; Las Vegas Motor Speedway; Phoenix Motor Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway represent the West.
Infineon Raceway has been around since 1968 and is one of four road courses on the NASCAR circuit.
There are several twists among the 12 turns and the course attracts not only the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, but also NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing and the IZOD IndyCar® Series as well an abundance of events throughout the year.
"We have seven major events on our calendar," said Jennifer Imbimbo, manager of media and community relations. "We boast one of the most diverse calendars in the country, whether they love loud nitro, NASCAR or vintage cars. We have it."
Maintaining a diverse schedule is imperative for off-season revenue. "Most importantly is making sure the series is legitimate, in addition to its timing and budgetary concerns," said Imbimbo.
Las Vegas has long been known as an international destination. With ample hotel rooms and casinos from end to end, keeping guests in those casinos is a mainstay of revenue for the area. So community support wasn't quick to come with the development of Las Vegas Motor Speedway. However,its popularity has propelled the community to embrace not only the speedway, but also motor sports.
"Everybody now realizes the benefits of having NASCAR events," said John Bisci, public relations manager for Las Vegas Motor Speedway. "The city has caught on to the value of auto racing. There was a $41 million dollar impact on the town last year. The city wants the race fans. They are loyal customers and spend a lot of money."
The destination is not the only reason for the speedways success. "It's the newness and modernization of the speedway," explains Bisci. "We've spent millions of dollars in upgrades."
LVMS has a ton of flexible meeting space with the Driver Meeting Room, BlackJack Club, Dining Room and Neon Garage as well as an inside road course, outside road course, drag strip, bullring and outdoor paved area.
"The neon garage gave us the banquet space that we needed," said Bisci. "It lends itself to so many things, corporate dinners and banquets and full stage for entertainment. We are a full service facility for anything you need."
The Bread Basket
The Midwest has long been a hotbed for racing with the historic Indianapolis 500 and the legendary drivers that compete there. Who can forget when Tony Stewart raced the Indy 500 and then flew to Charlotte, N.C., for the Coca Cola 600 the same day?
Six tracks on the NASCAR circuit are located in the Midwest: Chicagoland; Indianapolis; Iowa; Kansas City; Michigan and Road America. And all six boast busy race schedules but enjoy success with other industry related and non-related events.
Goodguys is the world's largest hot-rodding association with close to 70,000 members. The organization boasts a busy calendar utilizing mostly fairgrounds but also takes advantage of speedways across the Midwest. This year, they will stop in Chicagoland Speedway, Kansas Speedway and Indianapolis Motor Speedway. For them the choice of utilizing the speedways is easy.
"They lend themselves to a lot of variety," explains John Drummond, spokesperson for Goodguys. "If we do a show at a speedway we can offer our members premium attractions such as NASCAR ride-alongs. We allow members to cruise the track surface and it's pretty cool when they enter the pits. That has a real nice feel to it. Also, the consistency of the layout really helps us from an event planning standpoint."
"Another thing that makes them appealing is their close proximity to restaurants and hotels," added Drummond. "That works perfect for big conventions and shows like ours."
Watkins Glen International has been hosting events since1948 in upstate New York. This small community of just 25,000 grows to over 100,000 on a race weekend. Once a must stop event for Formula One racing, the track has evolved and become another must see race on the Sprint Cup series as one of the four road courses.
"The community has embraced the history of the track," explained Miranda O. Polmanteer, director of tourism and marketing for the Watkins Glen Chamber of Commerce. "But it really goes back to the history of road racing in downtown Watkins Glen. A lot of the fame comes from the international road racing. We have a lot of people that come from all over the world to see the area."
The track hosts Opening Weekend and fans are invited to bring their own cars onto the track for 3-paced laps.
"The thunder road tours have become something so famous we continue those all year now," said Polmenteer. "We have people coming to town specifically for those tours."
Dover, Delaware, is similar in size, just about 35,000 on any given day. But on race-day the population swells to over 200,000. The Dover International Speedway, also known as the Monster Mile is a multi-purpose facility with a full service casino, hotel and restaurants on site and a schedule that includes harness racing from November until April.
"Our biggest challenge is the schedule itself because it's hard to access the oval during the harness racing season," explains Gary Camp, director of communications at Dover International Speedway. "The gaming side of the business has a lot of opportunities with conventions. They do a good job scheduling events year round to keep traffic flowing."
But racing continues to be the biggest draw. "NASCAR puts us on the map," said Camp. "A city like Dover is like a lot of other cities, but when you play host to these events, it gives us a lot of attention."
More Than Just Racin'
It only stands to reason that the strongest tenant of any speedway is motorsports and will make the biggest economic impact for the facility. However, every track looks for smaller circuit racing series as well as corporate and community support for shoulder season business.
Most major facilities around the country offer driving schools. Those schools not only provide additional revenue to the track but also the opportunity for fans to get a first hand experience of what it feels like to go in excess of 150 mph around the track. It also provides team building opportunities for fans, corporate groups and tourists.
"Our speedway is unique in that we have something on the track about 340 days out of the year," said Imbimbo. "Have track rental clients, motorcycle track days, corporate clients, Wednesday night Drag races and racing schools. Something is going on here pretty much every day, it doesn't every really get quiet here."
Likewise, Daytona is also utilized for car shows, vehicle testing, police motorcycle training, driving schools and private events.
Daytona International Speedway has been the site of many events over the years, for example,the Annual Turkey Run is a vintage car event that attracts tens of thousands of visitors in November," explains Jiloty. "The complex is also the site of gatherings of professional, fraternal and civic groups."
The Glen transforms itself every summer with the Finger Lakes Wine Festival. Over 600 New York wines are sampled from 90 wineries. Similarly Michigan International Speedway hosts the Great Lakes Wine Festival.
"The wine trail has really exploded and gained a lot of speed," said Polmenteer. "Those two go hand in hand and they have married them with the wine festival."
Iowa Speedway has really spread their non-traditional event wings with the Newton Bridal Fair in January and the 8K run "Where the Rubber Meets the Road" in April.
The Miss Delaware Pageant is held at Dover Downs and Segway Tours is in the works for April 2011, as well as handful of non-profit run events.
"We try to be a good community partner and work with fundraisers," said Camp.
With the versatility that speedways offer, consideration for non-racing events is a must.