There is a very popular publication that is written for track owners and race promoters that I have been lucky enough to receive. When it arrives, I stop everything and devour it – cover to cover. I have gained very valuable education, practical advice useful and applicable tips that have helped me become a successful track owner/promoter over the years.
Then there are times that totally and completely mirror a situation I am experiencing – and the viewpoint and/or advice given totally validates me as a track owner/promoter on at least one or more levels.
THIS IS ONE OF THOSE TIME! If you truly care about racing – and I don’t just mean YOUR child and/or their class – but Grassroots racing in general, and kart racing specifically…. them I pray, as well as encourage, you to read this entire post. If you see yourself on any level, as I did – then for the sake of your driver and the Youth Racing program at KAM Kartway (all tracks and fellow racers really!) let’s BE THE SOLUTION AND NOT THE PROBLEM!
I totally take ownership in not always doing things 100% politically correct, and may appear to some to be calling – out people, when my intent is to be honest with all cards on the table to everyone so as to PREVENT gossip.
Following is a reprint of the the Race Promotion Monthly (RPM) blog in its entirety:
Dysfunctional Racing Social Media “Those that love the sport the most are doing it the greatest damage.” That is the observation BOB KOORSEN, track announcer at Baer Field (IN) Speedway. Koorsen should know. He was employed by one of two tracks that closed in June. When JON RANEY closed Baer Field, he gave as one contributory reason, the negative social media he had endured the last several seasons. Koorsen, of course, was referring to racing people’s enthusiasm for airing dirty laundry online. Drivers’ disdain for promoters is nothing new.
Despite this, before social media, drivers’ complaints about purses, rules and officiating, did not go much beyond the pits, nor did entrants’ frustration and bitterness about the sport’s complexities or their own shortcomings or bad luck on track. Now, as Facebook replaces Web forums as the communication channel of choice for short track racing, an avalanche of ill-feeling and negativity populates the timelines of racing people and it is fast burying the sport.
The ill will of race night Facebook posts, smartphone Tweets, and digital Monday mayhem, distributed by tens of thousands of entrants, and their families, and crew members to millions of fans and would-be fans, dampens enthusiasm–even driving some from the sport. The bitterness and frustration of the moment amplified by the Web’s bullhorn, instead of the extraordinary accomplishments seen every race night, now threatens to become the record archeologists will discover when they dig through the ruins of the sport. It’s a sad state of affairs!
During a recent track visit a long-time driver and car owner (who is also a former track owner who sold out after a brief promotional foray, and did so partially because of the guff he got from “friends” in the pits), said this: “With hundreds of drivers and crewmen and all the negativity they can create in social media, I don’t know how a promoter can buy enough advertising to offset it.”
The words had barely left his lips when a crewman leaning with us on the same stack of mounted tires added: “Take this place for instance. They’ve [effed] the fans for so long that almost no one is in the grandstands tonight.” It was a stark example of the challenge promoters face. The “this place” is one of the best operated, longest-enduring speedways in our industry, a well-promoted and well-attended speedway (with a crowd that night many promoters would die for, we might add). It is a facility the crewman should instead be grateful to have the opportunity to race at. If the same man later posted on Facebook what he said to us, it will discourage more fans and would-be fans from ticket buying.
Social media are the new battleground for hearts and minds of fans, and promoters are losing the war. And in racing lately, sadly the casualties result from friendly fire! Two tracks we know of ended their seasons prematurely, partly the result of negative social media among drivers and crews. Facebook, is the new darling of the racing community as central to the marketing of many tracks as the trade weekly newspapers once were. But, the closure of Baer Field (IN) Raceway and Bradford (PA) Speedway call into question this reliance and demonstrate how it can go wrong.
Consider the June closure of Bradford (PA) Speedway. Recent promoter Jeff Andrulonis isn’t just some dreamer that took over a race track. He was and remains a short track racing enthusiast, a former sponsor of drivers and a car owner, an established businessperson with an affinity for local racing. When he reopened Bradford three years ago he was enthusiastic and optimistic. He believed he had what it took to be promoter, had the resources to affect a turnaround and possessed the unique advantage of ownership of seven radio stations to build enthusiasm for his facility. He also believed in the nobility of the sport.
A month ago, he closed his track and is less certain of the sport’s nobility. He had Bradford on the right path to profitability and sustainability. It had not been easy and required changes to make it turn the corner–including some changes unpopular with entrants. As he persisted in doing the right things to bring Bradford back from ignominy, he, found himself painted as the bad guy before fans and the community, a victim of cyber-thuggery by resistant entrants egged on, he believes, by a neighboring speedway. The combination of old-fashioned rumors and falsehoods amplified by social media cut his car counts, diminished his crowds (which had been on an upward trend). He endured personal character attacks, and finally the threat of a boycott of his radio advertisers. Andrulonis decided enough was enough and Bradford is closed and put up for sale.
He remains an enthusiastic fan, but he will not risk, at the hands of pit agitators drunk with myth and mis-information, his other businesses. We can only wonder what could have been. When will drivers and crewmen understand that they contribute significantly to the difficult situation the sport finds itself in? It’s time they become part of the solution, instead of being part of the problem, instead of seizing every opportunity to badmouth promoters without whom they have no place to race! Fans admire them, look up to them, and put great faith in what they say. Drivers and crewman (and their wives and children, we might add who parrot their grievances) can make or break a track and the sport, and presently with Facebook and Web forums they do more to break it than to make it. It’s shameful!
Not only does cyber-negativity discourage middle-aged fans whose interest is beginning to wain as they age, it all but assures the digital alphabet generations, Gen-X, Gen-Y, Gen-D, and so on, will not frequent events. The gravity of this became clear to us in a conversation with JOHN GARTNER (whom we have invited to the speak at the Workshops), a high school principal by day, and director of the very-successful IMCA Dacotah Modified Tour, who explained why digital generations are a tough sell for short tracks.
Today’s youth and young adults do not do adversity or criticism well, Gartner explained. Their kinder, gentler educational upbringing hasn’t hardened them the same way as previous generations. They expect everything to be fun, expect people to be fun to be with, and they thrive on positive reinforcement while avoiding criticism, Gartner told us.
Racing must adapt, Gartner said. When racers take to Facebook and trash a race track criticizing promoters, officials, fellow racers, most often out of the bitterness of defeat from their own shortcomings, young people who might become fans, officials, racers, and future promoters, are turned off and turn away from racing. They reflexively, even unconsciously, distance themselves from activities that subject them to uncomfortable circumstances. Similarly, when young mothers and fathers read Facebook, and follow the online threads as they check out the track as a possible family activity, instincts tell them to stay away. It’s not the environment or the experience they want for their children, nor for themselves.
So negative social media from drivers, teams, and hardcore fans, is doubly damaging. New promoters and track owners, sorely needed by the sport are driven from the sport by undeserved personal attacks and entrants’ self-absorbed public negativity. In addition, web surfing new potential fans unseen by promoters are turned off before ever buying a ticket by all the vitriol and vulgarity they see in online social media. If this continues, it doesn’t bode well for the sport!
Imagine what we could accomplish if drivers and teams and their families and friends were part of the solution, talking up their local speedways, instead of tearing them down. Imagine what we could do if we could harness the power of social media positively. In an attempt to head off problems that were developing among his entrants and persuade them to be more mindful of the negative power of social media, and to encourage them to become a positive force for their track and the sport, another promoter we talked with, in a drivers’ meeting, told his drivers and crew persons this: “When you bad mouth the track and its drivers and officials on [social media] you insult everyone involved here at the track, not only me and our officials, but your friends in the pits and your fans in the stands. Everyone wants to be proud to be associated with racing and proud of the track, in the same way everyone is proud of their school or college and its sports teams, and when you slam the track on Facebook or elsewhere, you insult everyone and hurt everyone’s feelings and diminish everyone’s pride in the track and the sport. People want to be proud of racing, be proud of their track, and want it to have a positive image because then it reflects positively on them. They don’t appreciate being called out negatively, made to look bad by association. Would you? When you denigrate the track and your fellow drivers and teams, in front of the community and fans in [social media] you make yourself look like a poor sportsman and a poor loser, and you make the sport less attractive to sponsors, and fans, less a place people of the community want to be associated with.”
We hope the drivers, and teams take what he offered to heart, and we hope drivers at other tracks do as well when presented with such a pep talk in pit meetings. But, we worry that cyber-negativity already has too much momentum, making it difficult, if not impossible, to overcome, and worry as well that it will soon infect even the Camelots of our industry as those that love the sport the most, continue–either punitively or unwittingly–to do it the greatest damage.