Friday, November 7, 2008

A Few Antioch Speedway Observations

This was another bidding year for Antioch Speedway. Will there be a change? Who else wants it? What will anybody else do with the track that isn't being done now? I don't have enough information to endorse anybody, and I doubt I would anyway. Change is needed, but that doesn't have to mean change in management. Just change in the way things are being done.

I grabbed this from the September minutes of the Contra Costa County Fair Board Meeting:

I. Long Term Contracts-President Parsons

President Parsons stated that the RFP for the Speedway went out and asked Manager Marshall to comment. Manager Marshall stated that three RFP’s went out. Manager Marshall stated that the bid packets are due back by October 2nd and scoring is tentative for October 7th. Manager Marshall stated that a $15,000 contract reduction had been granted to the current promoter, so the same numbers were used as a minimum guarantee for the new RFP.

Manager Marshall stated that she estimated approximately $80,000 in revenue.

Director Spinola stated that the current promoter seems to run a single minded venue. Manager Marshall stated that he does offer a variety of races throughout the season. Manager Marshall stated that it is hard to recoup the cost for specialized events but the possibility of doing so next year has been discussed.

Take out of that what you will. Would anybody want the track at this point? They mention three RFP's went out, but were three returned? I fully expect John Soares Jr. to remain in charge for the next five years. I just don't think anybody cares at this point. Those left out there just want to race. In this economy, local race enthusiasts should just be happy they have a place to race. It's not 1988 anymore, it's 2008. Times have changed.

I was looking around the web last night out of boredom and found this column that talked about the struggle coming into the 2008 season. Observations to follow:

Antioch track tries to weather storm

By Curtis Pashelka

JOHN SOARES JR. had to postpone last year's season-opening race card at Antioch Speedway twice due to rain. The year before, the season-opener had to be pushed back an incredible seven times because of bad weather.

The speedway's owner and promoter didn't want to risk the same thing happening again this year and scheduled the start of the season for Saturday. Ironically, the weather has been ideal three of the past four Saturdays, and there's a chance of showers for the Bay Area this weekend.

Any postponement would be a bad beginning to what looks like a make-or-break season for Soares and the 56-year-old facility. Attendance was down last year as the speedway struggled to attract first-time fans from East Contra Costa County.

"It's the last year of our (five-year) contract (with the Contra Costa County Fairgrounds)," said Soares, whose company, Oval Motorsports Inc., has owned the speedway since 1997.

"As bad as things are getting for motorsports at short tracks, we really need to have a good season to even consider re-upping. It's tough to keep going if you can't make a living at it."

Soares said he faces many challenges. The local economy is in a rut (East County is one of the state's hardest hit areas in the subprime mortgage crisis), newer residents are less aware of the facility's history or location (1201 W. 10th St., Antioch) and televised motorsports on Saturday nights has kept some race fans at home.

"They don't have to leave the house, and that's killing local speedways," Soares said. "(Televised) Saturday night racing totally kills Saturdays for the local tracks."

To keep Antioch Speedway competitive, Soares kept ticket prices the same as last year ($12 for adults, $6 for kids and seniors for most events). Next weekend, a large field is expected for the Golden State 410 winged sprints race and in June, a yet-to-be-determined NASCAR Sprint Cup driver will race in the Western All Stars Late Models event.

Okay, cue the violins.

Seriously, people aren't aware of the track? Who's fault is that? It isn't the people's fault John. It's yours. Simply put, if you want people to know about this track, than YOU have to do something about it. It's that simple.

It starts by hiring somebody to get the word out. No, I'm NOT lobbying for a position for myself. I don't think I want to go back out there, and my price would probably be to high at this point. I like Jack Menges. He's a nice guy, but he has never demonstrated since John hired him that he can get the job done.

When I worked in publicity at Antioch (handling the racing publications), I heard Jack tell John how we could never get the newspaper coverage, and John believed it. That right there is the problem. The Contra Costa Times traditionally did cover the track for decades until John came in and barred Tim Tyler from the track.

I'm not saying removing Tim was a problem. But replacing something with nothing was a problem. Suddenly you don't read stories about the track in the local newspaper. NOTHING. The Publicity Director at ANY race track should do whatever it takes to get the track covered in every newspaper possible.

When I went down to Chowchilla, Tom never really asked me to do all the newspapers, but I did. I knew if we were going to build support from the people, they needed to know we were there. In 2000, I think I focussed on the Chowchilla News (They printed my full race review stories), Merced Sun Star, Fresno Bee and Modesto Bee.

Tom can attest to this, I was known to rip newspapers at our post race dinners sometimes if I didn't see our track covered. Buddy used to laugh at that. I didn't always get printed, but in 2001 we started getting coverage in several newspapers. Attendance that second season went up too.

Now, we didn't always get printed, but I sent a race review story immediately following the races to several papers and a hype story on Wednesday to those same papers. By doing that, they knew what was coming on a regular basis and the track started getting better coverage. that is what it takes.

There are other tactics that need to be employed, but that's a good example. It's not up to the newspapers to just realize you are there and respect you with coverage. There are dozens of other events competing for that ink. It's up to the track to show the newspapers why they should be covering them. And IT CAN BE DONE. Any PR guy at my track that told me they couldn't do it would be fired.

Don't even get me started on people not being aware of the history. I lobbied hard for a Hall Of Fame night at the track in 2000, only to be put off on the subject because John basically wasn't impressed with the list of potential inductees. Jackie and I were prepared to organize the first pre race picnic and induction ceremony.

I also had the Antioch library ibnterested in featuring the track in their display case for all to see. Ariel shot of the track, story of the history and list of past champions would have been included. As I could see track management's attitude changing, I backed off and just did the basics that were expected. That was a lot in itself.

But, I don't want to get off subject. I see the bit about people staying home and watching the races on TV. This is true. People have other options, and they are exploring them. What the track promoter has to come up with is the even ideas that will make the races a must see for the race fan.

Back in the day, the NASCAR banner and Regional and State points were an attraction. Special events, like 100 lappers that attracted the out of towners, were a factor. When John first got Antioch, huge car counts drew in the fans.

These days, (I'll use the words of a former local car builder) you get a "cookie cutter show" with too many divisions with not enough cars in most. You need more than that. Fewer divisions with more of a traditional show would be a positive change. Time trials, trophy dashes for all (with trophy ladies presenting).

So when you book the show, you need to ask if this will be good enough to draw a few people away from the TV race or the movie theater or whatever to check out the action? Be honest. Also, are you doing enough, or is your PR guy doing enough, to get the word out?

It's a different world than it was 10 or 20 years ago, and if you want the fans (Or the racers for that matter), you need to do what it takes to get them to come out and support your show. They aren't coming out just because it's been there for 56 years.

Please don't misunderstand me I wish nothing but the best for the race track and continued success to come. I just wanted to put a few thoughts out there for consideration. Here's to a strong 2009 season.