Sunday, January 17, 2010

Using The Internet To Create Hype For Racing

Ah, the wonderful internet. Everybody is an expert. Everybody can offer an opinion, and many of them do so anonymously. Yes, I know the negatives. But, guess what? It can be a positive too. It's all in how you use it. I hear all this talk about no publicity and no hype. I have spoken with John about this, and he's told me his ideas. One of them is he is the new owner of Racing Wheels Magazine.

This is a magazine created by the late Gary Sterner back in 1960 or so. Actually, I believe Gary used to do the souvenir programs in the 50's for tracks like Vallejo Speedway and Contra Costa Speedway. They had little stories in them from other tracks. So, the history is there. People used to get that magazine to find out what happened at other tracks, check out the classified section in the back and see what tracks were advertising the big race. This was long before the internet.

Gary Jacob had a huge influence on me, and he wrote for that magazine for years. When I read Gary's stories, back in 1984, I knew how I needed to write a race review. Gary's stories took you to the races, and you got the play by play. The man could write. True, it wasn't in the format Wheels preferred, but the readers loved it. I did it that way and tried to add my own touch, because that's the way it needed to be done.

Printed media is still important, in my opinion, but it's being hit hard by the internet. I had DCRR Racing News for 18 years, but by the end of the 90's, the internet was breathing down our necks. I felt I had stuff the net didn't, but you can still go to a track web page and get the results for free. How do you compete with that? Wheels tried printing in color. That was a money loser. The road is littered with many magazines that have tried and failed. Can a printed racing magazine for our area even survive now?

The internet can be used for a positive effect on racing. Let me take you back, and I'll tell you a story about how it was done before.

In 1998, John had Antioch Speedway for his first season as promoter. I had looked around, and Altamont, Watsonville and San Jose had web pages and message boards. Yeah, sometimes the boards got out of hand, but it created interest. I decided The DCRR needed a web page. I even created a page for Antioch Speedway and Petaluma Speedway before the official pages were created.

The DCRR page had the occasional story and snippets from the magazine that I added to every week Then, I decided to do something different. I knew how to record a wav file, and I figured that I had enough space for 11 minutes. The DCRR Racing Radio Show was born. It's funny, because I'd have to rush those last two or three minutes to get that show all the way in. At that point, I don't even know who was listening.

As Don O'Keefe Jr. and I started Wingless Spec Sprints for John, Don decided to start a Spec Sprint page. At the time, there was nothing else there, but Don made it something others wanted to do.

During the 1999 season, I had corresponded with a guy named Jim in Merced about what was going on at Merced Speedway and efforts to bring about change. I was privy to a lot of information at the time that I kept under wraps by request. Jim eventually broke the news to me of what Tom Sagmiller was doing at Chowchilla, and I knew I'd have to go check it out.

When 2000 came, I made it for the second or third race of the season. I don't know if I missed a race there the rest of the season, because I was hooked. That first night, I met Jim. He was filming the races then, and he gave me a copy. Walking across he track, I met Joe Martinez. Joe and his wife Lynn were the photographers. I gave him a copy of my magazine and went on my way.

It was a few weeks at the latest when Joe called. We ended up having a lot of late night conversations about the state of racing. Not long after that, Joe created California Racing Online in a section of the L&J Photography page. He felt that there was something to this news thing, and he was right about that. I hooked him up with the sources I had, and that page began to grow. It didn't do a lot for The DCRR, but I think it helped the sport.

Joe confessed to me that he had listened to my little audio shows when he was in LA as a way to keep track of the racing scene here. He suggested we should do a show with more production to it. The radio show was reborn. I recoded my bits, sent them to him, and we'd have an hour long show streamed using Real Audio. The show was filled with race results, schedule updates and my sometimes controversial observations.

Next, Joe started doing post race interviews and posting them and we opened a chat room. That chat room became big in a short amount of time, and it produced results. The Hobby Stock $500 and Open Wheel Round Up at Chowchilla were born in that chat room, and both were successful. Joe got into hyping up the big shows at CRO as well.

At the end of 2000, I had the bright idea of doing a State point race to see who was the best in the state. We used the open comp season as a test model. Bobby Scott was our Modified champion, and Street Stock escapes me at the moment. While up in Reno, we settled on the name, California Racing Alliance. We were hoping to get sponsorship for this, and Spec Sprints were added to the mix to make it three divisions. Joe and Lynn landed big trophies for the champions.

By the end of 2000, I was also doing audio calls people could listen to at the site. At CRO, you could come chat about racing, get the latest news, listen to the audio show, audio calls, post race interviews, see a few photos and more. We kicked butt. It was a lot of work, but it promoted the sport better than anything else in the area.

The down side is the same thing that happens when people have success. There is always that small minority that wants to be petty and take you down. The imitators that aren't happy just putting something else out there, they want to make it personal. Who isn't important. We lost our focus. Joe had started the sim racing thing in place of the chat. The attackers really got to him and I'm sure took a lot of the fun out of it for him. I didn't care much for it either. Plus, for all we did, there was no sponsorship coming in.

On the internet, people expect it to be free. Charge any kind of fee for this stuff, even $5 a month, and people will stop coming. No sponsorship didn't help. The fact that I left Chowchilla after 2001 didn't help. CRO's two year run as a top notch racing news site was over, but it still showed what can be done. It costs nothing or very little to do it, and it helps create hype. CRO made a difference.

I refocussed on The DCRR in 2002. I renamed the State point race, The DCRR Sweet 16/Terrific 12 and expanded to 6 divisions. I scrolled the feature winners on my page as soon as possible and put links up on my page to newspaper stories. The audio show moved to Don O'Keefe's page along with the audio calls. Dana Craig would step up and sponsor the DCRR web page for me to host my own stuff.

For my final two seasons in the sport, I still had a pretty good news page, though the CRO page was more polished. The point is, I used the internet to create hype.

Where is that page that is willing to cover the tracks in this area the way CRO did? Not just message boards, but a news page? I've seen a few pop up, but they disappear just as quickly as they came. It's work to do it right, and people like to get paid for work. Passion and love for the sport only get you so far.

Still, it's not that hard to do something. With the technology we have now, it's easy to be a broadcaster. An audio show wouldn't be that hard to produce, once you know what you're doing. An audio race broadcast wouldn't be that hard to do recorded. You could even set up for a live broadcast. Anything to create buzz.

What amazes me is how little these race tracks do to remember the past. Past champions aren't even listed on most of these web pages beyond maybe the last few seasons. Some web pages don't even archive race results so people can look back during the season. I guess it's all about doing the bare minimum needed.

You want people to get excited about things, give them a reason to be excited. I know people were listening to the things I did. When they come up and tell you they like what you're doing, you'll know you are making a difference.