Local race tracks facing what could be a pivotal summer
Stock car racing did well navigating the pandemic, but now the sport faces an important summer.
With the public shuttered inside, the pandemic was hard on many local businesses. For the local race tracks, it was a time to capitalize.
The combination of being outside and having the space to socially distance, stock car racing was the only show in town for months.
Despite the delay in the start of the 2020 season and having to keep up with constantly changing guidelines set down by the state, Deer Creek Speedway (Spring Valley), Mississippi Thunder Speedway (Fountain City, Wis.) and Chateau Raceway (Lansing) navigated tighter budgets and found new ways to deliver memorable seasons that brought even the most casual of fans to the track.
“You had to operate with the things that were necessary and eliminate some of the luxuries,” Deer Creek Speedway promoter Cole Queensland said. “You found what really mattered and did matter. And things that you can want to focus on and work on harder in certain areas. Made things more efficient.”
“I think a lot of the tracks and the promoters that are really flourishing right now in dirt racing are because the pandemic kind of made them revolutionize what you would do in the sport and how we do it,” MTS promoter Tyrone Lingenfelter said. “It’s just, you have to get with the changing times. With dirt racing I think people are doing a really good job of going with the times, with upgrading everything that they do, being more transparent has helped the sport grow in general.”
Tracks have become more efficient in the way they sell tickets, their products and concessions. Digital media has become better utilized with drivers and the speedways being able to develop their own brands. But one of the biggest developments came in the forms of live streaming.
Both MTS and Deer Creek started streaming a few races with RacinDirt.TV in the summer of 2020 and now every race is available with a subscription to RacinDirt.TV. Being worried that people would stay at home instead of coming to the track, Queensland and Lingenfelter admitted they were both a bit nervous to dive head first into streaming.
“The pay-per-view has really taken off and at first we were kind of scared and hesitant,” Lingenfelter said. “But what we have found out is that if the pay-per-view numbers are high, then usually the attendance numbers are also high. And I think it kind of has a correlation because not everyone can make it all the time. Everyone's got busy lives and stuff going on. But at least for pay-per-view you can keep up to date with it. People can stay up to date better. They know who the best are now, they know who’s coming.”
Chateau Raceway didn’t have the live-streaming capability like MTS and Deer Creek, but the better prioritization of social media and their website made a difference.
“You didn't know if they were racing, you didn't know if they weren't, you never knew what was going on,” track promoter Mark Wytaske said. “But I think we're over that hurdle anyway.”
The sport carried the momentum from 2020 into 2021.
The casual fans that came the year before returned.
MTS actually expanded, installing bleachers alongside the grandstands, as well as more campground space, before the season as they welcomed in the World of Outlaws — considered the premier national touring series for dirt track racing — for the first time. The Outlaws return — this time for three days — for the second annual Dairyland Showdown on May 5-7 as part of a season that will be as close to normal as before the Pandemic.
Yet, the tracks are approaching it with cautious optimism.
Operating and being successful during the pandemic was no easy feat. However, coming out of it might prove to be just as challenging.
The rise of gas and oil prices is a concern as is a shortage of parts, specifically tires. Some drivers may not be able to race every weekend and it's unlikely there will be as many who come from multiple states away.
“There's definitely some concern,” Lingenfelter said. “I don't think it's really hitting us yet because there's been a lot of rain altering the spring, which is probably a good thing. It's helping. It's helping everyone save up some money and save up on parts and stuff like that. But there's definitely some people that are concerned and then they've had issues getting parts. I think the good thing though about the racing community, everyone's willing to usually find a way to make things work and work together.
“Yet, I think this year and next year, they're going to be make-or-break for some tracks. I’m not saying they’re definitely going to fold, but there is some make-or-break stuff going on.”
The future is a bit of an unknown. But like Lingenfelter mentioned, the racing community is a powerful one. They care about the sport and the people involved.
“We have to work together to succeed,” Queensland said. “With racing, where we are in the world today, we need all the fans and all the drivers we can get, so it is cool to be able to get the national series here in the area a couple of times, because it kind of puts racing on the map in the area a little lit. We like to work with MTS, because it is important.”
It’s a sentiment Lingenfelter echoes as well as Wytaske.
“Us and Deer Creek, to have two facilities within an hour of each other, where people can go to each weekend and have top notch racing, it’s good for all,” Lingenfelter said. “For drivers in the area, knowing they have two tracks that are going to put out the best show possible for you each and every week. It’s good for the national level too knowing they can go to Mississippi Thunder on Friday and Deer Creek on Saturday. Top notch facilities and great racing. That builds and it builds, not just locally, but nationally as well. … It’s pretty cool. We’ve grown to have a great relationship with them over the previous years here. The more you do together, the more you can have success together. It’s only going to drive your product to be better.”
“We’ve got two facilities, within 100 miles here, that can support the big boys, you know, they're big enough to get them in there,” Wytaske said. “Their grandstands are big enough to hold the people to afford to get them in there. It's just cool.”
As for Chateau, the track enters its 66th season when the season kicks off with the racing of B-Mods and some of the smaller divisions on May 6. Wytaske and company feel comfortable with where things are at, but these next couple of years will be crucial.
“Obviously, we’ve had our issues,” Wytaske said. “But it’s been a bit more settling. Now, it’s just a matter of time will tell.”