|The Graybeard Report by Doc Lehman
|The Graybeard Report 7-17-06|
By Doc Lehman
The dirt racing industry has found itself in a precarious situation lately. Last year, prior to
2006, it looked like the business folks in dirt racing were all a group of Dorothy’s skipping
merrily on their way to see the wonderful wizard of good times and fat bank accounts. But
something happened between then and now. Like gasoline prices, the economy and as
history keeps repeating, the usual gang of liars, cheats & thieves in power running the
country, just with different names and political labels.
So as the country takes a hit, and by country I mean those in this country that are
employed and paying the bills, personal budget trimming occurs and it appears, from coast
to coast, that attending dirt tracks has been slashed out of a lot of people’s budgets. So the
industry needs to dig in and dig deep and make a concerted effort to grow this sport.
As a former and current supporter of sanctions, I think the times they are a changin’, to
quote Zimmerman. Take a look around at the Sprint Car world and it’s appears to be
damn near on life support to some degree, especially as the sanctions go. The WoO/NST
spilt has played havoc on that segment of the sport and especially on promoter’s wallets.
Some have made money, some have made a lot of money, but too many have lost their
Believe me, promoters all across the country are taking a good, hard, long look at the
importance and relevancy of sanctioning bodies in the Sprint Car world and there are a
number of Late Model based promoters who are doing likewise, evaluating the worth and
value of Late Model sanctions.
If initial buzz from a number of promoters is any indication the sanctioning bodies might
have to reevaluate and renovate how they do business and what services they can provide.
Some promoters are finding that going unsanctioned is the way to go financially. Some
insist that all a sanction will provide is a half dozen or so ‘names’ and their hands out
wanting sanctioning fees, winner’s circle money, a bazillion free admissions for their
Some promoters also are beginning to feel that sanctions have little value in terms of
helping them promote and publicize their races. Granted, in the beginning of time that
wasn’t the sanctioning bodies duty or responsibility, but in the years ahead if they want to
book dates they better do more than send out the standard press release with only the
name of the track changed.
Sometime right around November of 2003 everything in dirt Late Model racing changed
and not necessarily for the better either. The past couple years more and more focus has
been cast upon the ‘national’ dirt Late Model racing scene at the expense of weekly racing,
the true backbone of this sport. Let’s face it, while the national sanctions, both former and
current (who the hell can keep track these days?) it would be prudent not to lose focus on
the importance of weekly racing, as from weekly racing springs the beasts known as
national touring sanctions and their ‘star’ drivers.
Well, as some are now realizing, and to quote an old Chinese proverb: “To know the road
ahead, ask those coming back.”
We are all familiar with the sale of UDTRA and Renegade and the emergence of the World
of Outlaws Late Models Series and the new Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series. We all know
who was ‘in charge’ prior to those changes (WoO LMS/Xtreme) and we all know those
carpetbaggers are now all out of the sport and a distant and fading memory.
In their place at the ‘national series’ are quality people with a commitment to the sport.
People like Spencer Wilson, James Essex, Tom Deery and others are good people who
mean well. But, and they may not realize it, they’ve been unfairly saddled with baggage.
When the now former carpetbaggers were ‘in power’ they made grandiose promises to the
world at large. You remember, they were going to save our sport, grow our sport, take us
to the promised holy land of packed grandstands and huge purses and they promised they
would definitely have Wall Street and Madison Avenue clawing at the doors of dirt Late
Model racing begging our industry to take their millions in sponsorship. They had the rap
down, they knew what they were selling but unfortunately for the industry it was mostly all
Those pickpockets changed the way sanctions were perceived and what was expected of the
sanctions due to their laying of the manure.
Prostitution is said to be the world’s oldest profession. During those couple years,
especially if you scanned the various message boards, owning a sanction, according to
some, ran a close second.
That’s too harsh and obviously too unfair, but that was the attitude.
But to be fair there are some series out there who are in it to do what is right, and felt that
way during the recent appearances of the latest (and former) ‘messiahs’ of the sport.
Now along comes several new folks (and a new sanction) and they fight the perception that
sanctions have to provide all the above and more, promised and in some cases,
implemented, by the former bullshit artists who are probably sipping martini’s on a beach.
The ‘new’ sanction chiefs today are long tenured in dirt racing and good folks who know
racing but I am afraid they are paying for the sins of others who came before them.
But depending on how things fare, the importance and impact of sanctions may wane
considerably. The promoters, for the investment and risk they have to take, are expecting,
and will soon be demanding, more services for the sanctioning fees. If the sanctions can’t
provide that, and help put butts in the seats, the scheduling will be mighty thin for many
national and regional series methinks.
What the series need to do, someway and somehow, is come up with some major
sponsorship FINALLY! Judas Priest, it’s been promised for how many years now but the
time is to put your money where your mouth is. That’s what promoters are starting to say
It’s time for sanctions to secure enough sponsorship so there doesn’t have to be a
sanctioning fee. That will give the sanctions more leeway and choice in where they book
their shows. The sanctions need to be self-sufficient and able to support themselves without
it all coming from promoters (through the fans). On the flip side most promoters could put
forth better effort to secure event sponsorship, that appears to be a dying art somewhat,
but the time may be approaching where the sanctions will have to ‘get a job’ and get off
Another thing I’m finding is many promoters are starting to feel the sanctions, as time
wears on, may be losing the economic impact they once had. It’s a two-way street to a
successful race/promotion to be sure, but if the current Sprint Car paranoia filters down to
the Late Model world, and in a few isolated cases it has, then some serious changes need to
Some promoters feel they “need to take the sport back”.
In other words, there may come a day when promoters won’t allow others to spend the
promoters’ money anymore. Pay the money, create a buzz, create an ‘event’ in the truest
sense of the word, and they will come without sanctioning is the sentiment of more and
more promoters these days.
The first priority for this sport is the weekly shows and putting more butts in the seat. Let’s
face it a strong weekly show feeds the industry as a whole. And for too many years all the
attention, hand wringing, anxiety and attention have went to the sanctioning bodies all
across the country. The be-all and end-all to sanction dirt racing has been the perception
and I have been one of the guilty ones in thinking that of late.
From a fuel price perspective, that alone should make the sanctions look for alternatives.
The focus has to change before we lose the backbone, the spine of this business.
We must always keep in mind that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.
It’s all about the weekly racer and the weekly tracks.
Weekly racers are what keeps this sport alive, keeps it nurtured, keeps it growing and just
You know, the thousands who pay the bills.
For several years weekly racing has been cast aside, lost among the glitter and dazzle of the
big time national sanctions. But there are thousands of them spread all across the country.
Whether they run a ‘Super’ Late Model, Steel Block Late Model, Limited Late Model,
Spec Late Model, no matter what tag you stick on them, there are several thousand who
race some form of a dirt Late Model.
Do the math.
Who keeps the tracks in business? Who keeps the manufacturers in business? Who keeps
the racing media in business? It all comes back to weekly racing, weekly racers and the
fans. They are the fuel that fires this industry, they are the ones who pay the bills
internally, they are the ones who grow the sport, who build their skills and their programs
and if, like winning the lottery, they might get lucky enough to finance a team to go on the
Traditionally, as soon as one hot dog would leave the weekly track, there was usually a
couple more to take his place. That’s not necessarily the case right now. Check car counts.
In fact, drivers are already dropping off some tours.
PROMOTERS NEED TO GET TOGETHER: As has been noted before people often go into
the racing business whistling like Andy Griffith & Opie skipping rocks and leave more
pissed off than Kobe Bryant’s wife. Mostly by their own doing because let’s face it,
incompetence isn’t a rarity in racing, but no matter how good a promoter you are the
incessant rain during April and May have been a killer on the bottom-lines, and the drivers
have felt the pinch too by keeping their cars parked.
As this is being written in July it’s been tough, in the spacious farmland of Ohio anyway,
to get two weeks of racing in a row in. It’s been that kind of spring and early summer for
most tracks during the first quarter of the regular season in the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic
region. This spring it just didn’t rain out a couple tracks, the rain often wiped out racing
at tracks across states!
And now reports are coming in about various short tracks, dirt & pavement, closing down.
A few people have gotten nervous but it’s the nature of the beast. It happens every year, a
thinning of the herd if you will. Look deep down and the closings are not always, but
usually related to inept ‘promoters’, the few who give the rest a bad rap, the ones you want
to say, hey, get your medulla oblongata out of your duodenum for a few minutes, and
hang up a flyer or two in town, OK?
To those who fit that description, take a look around. Do you see a blinking roadside
warning-sign that says, "Hey Asshole, Something’s On Fire And It's Not Your Promoting
Career"? If so move on because you’re hurting the rest who are trying to do the right thing.
Racing is at a precarious state right now. NASCAR numbers are dropping and if their over-
charged ‘entertainment’ continues to evolve into even more of a controlled puppet show,
maybe, just maybe the tides will shift back to dirt racing and the grass-roots will grow
strong and tall again. With some effort and commitment.
But bottom-line, this sport could use a serious kick in the butt in regards to ‘growing’ the
sport and putting more butts in the seats. We need to attempt, collectively, to try to make
inroads into the mainstream and publicize, market and promote the sport more
aggressively, more comprehensively, more professionally, more oriented to the young.
We need to sway those NASCAR fans over to the dirt side, or at the very least attempt to
convert those NASCAR couch fans who are becoming slovenly and being force-fed a
version of racing that is far below the blood, sweat, tears, passion and consternation of dirt
But it’s not all doom and gloom. While some promoters are getting 12 Late Models
weekly, there are those that are getting 25, 30 and more weekly. Having a bazillion series
also tends to keep car counts down for weekly shows in some areas but the promoters who
take care of business will have a full house, pit side and grand stand side.
We could expand the sport successfully if we could do it collectively.
(And this includes all the sanctions.)
That would mean working together and, of course, we all know that dirt racing, hell, any
racing, is rife with paradox. It's brutally competitive and yet attracts people with egos as
fragile as my 82-year-old father’s hip. If everyone could get past that and be willing to
make a serious effort to collectively come up with a strategy and plan of action to attack
this across the board there would have to be some benefits if implemented correctly.
Maybe the folks at the two promoters’ workshops could figure something out and spend
less time figuring out ways to cut out headline divisions and spend more time, collectively,
working together to contain costs to racers and marketing the sport correctly and aimed at
the mainstream rather than this continuous tunnel vision of preaching to the choir.
But maybe figuring out the price of popcorn and cutting advertising/promotional budgets
is more important.
There has to be some folks out there who could put together a syndicate of tracks with
some savvy, guts and money to make a concerted effort marketing and promotional-wise
to make an impact and presence in the mainstream. If each dirt track in the country would
donate one dollar from each admission on one night alone think of the advertising space or
time that could be purchased in national publications or television. Maybe a spot or two
on national TV during a NASCAR race aimed at those couch potatoes who only need to be
made aware of what’s down the road.
There has to be something the industry can do as a whole to bring more butts to the
grandstands that will benefit all the weekly tracks (and racers). No, I don’t have the
answers but there are some bright minds out there who could come up with a plan, a way
for the industry as a whole that can work and contribute to convert the masses. Hell, most
of the sanctions are boastful of the high-powered marketing talent on staff, maybe they
could have a meeting with the more progressive and gutsy promoters in the business.
Those writing the checks will have to make the sport flourish. A fat, bald, gray, aging hack
can’t pull it off, hell, he doesn’t even have a real game plan to offer the powerbrokers. But
sometimes it’s just fun to speculate, surmise and expound on things in the sport, you
know, classic Monday morning quarterbacking.
Of course, I lead the league in being sacked.
©2006 Doc Lehman